Noted anthropologist, university professor and scientist, Walter Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929) was a passenger on the Wimmera on at least two occasions. The first was in January/February 1906 on a voyage which returned him from New Zealand to Melbourne on Saturday 3 February 1906. The second occasion was later that same year when the Professor departed Melbourne aboard the Wimmera on Wednesday 19 December for Bluff, New Zealand via Hobart. On this occasion the Professor’s holiday in New Zealand was to include both climbing in the Southern Alps and a possible visit to the Christchurch Exhibition. Part of his earlier climbing visit was to be recorded by mountaineer, Malcolm Ross, in his work ‘A climber in New Zealand’ and which first appeared as a syndicated newspaper column, including the following which was published in The New Zealand Herald on 10 February 1906 under the title of ‘Holiday in the Southern Alps…[Part] No. III. Days in the Tasman Valley’:


On our arrival at the Ball Glacier Hut we found it already occupied by a party consisting of Professor Baldwin Spencer of Melbourne, Mr. and Mrs. Lindon of Geelong Grammar School, and Mr. L. Stott, junior, of Melbourne. Clark had come up with them, as had also the coach-driver and the stableman, so that the hut was again full to overflowing, with the result that three men had to sleep in the ladies’ room, while Clark and Fyfe dossed on the floor of the men’s room, in which all the bunks were already occupied. So far as we were concerned, it was evident that our party would be the better for a rest; but even had we been bent upon another climb, the weather would again have prevented it.

That night the nor’wester developed in force, and, accompanied by heavy rain, howled around the hut. Turner and Fyfe, the coach-driver and the stableman, returned to the Hermitage, but I was unable to accompany them, and remained behind to treat my now swollen ankle with hot fomentations and bandaging. Nevertheless, I spent a very pleasant day in the company of the Professor, Mr. and Mrs. Lindon, Mr. Stott, and Clark. Our expedition was evidently, for various reasons, becoming an ill-starred one, and the congenial company of my new-found friends came like a ray of sunshine through the gloom.

In the afternoon the weather cleared, and, as it was New Year’s Day, we celebrated with a four-course dinner, served up in Clark’s best style. The menu consisted of soup, fried sardines, cold mutton, and hot plum pudding, with cocoa (decidedly good) á la Baldwin Spencer. The best of the Professor was that you would never know he was a professor, and it was some time before it dawned upon me that he might be, and indeed was, the man who had been guilty of an erudite treatise on a rudimentary eye in the tuatara lizard, and the author of a valuable work on the Australian aboriginals! Evidently I was in luck’s way—he might have been just an ordinary tourist, or a climber who regarded the mountains very much in the nature of greased poles, to be climbed for his own glorification and profit. On the contrary, the new visitors were charmed with the New Zealand Alps, and it was a great delight to Clark and myself to find such a whole-souled appreciation of our mountain glories, and no attempt at belittlement or vain comparison.

A brief news report of his later visit was recorded by the press:

He was accompanied by Mr Lindon, the headmaster of the Church of England Grammar School, Geelong and some others. While in Dunedin the party stayed at the Grand Hotel. They proceeded to Timaru by the first express for the north on Wednesday, en route to Mount Cook, where they will spend a part of their New Zealand holiday, and they will afterwards no doubt visit the Christchurch Exhibition.

Otago Witness , Issue 2755, 2 January 1907, Page 23

Feature image:
‘W. Baldwin Spencer, C.M.G., M.A., F.R.S. Master of Biology’
University of Melbourne Medical School Jubilee 1914

© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021

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