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Sir Algernon Thomas geology field notebooks and teaching materials.

Identifier: MSS-Archives-2012/02

Scope and Contents

This collection comprises field notebooks, lecture and laboratory notes and related material dating from 1873 to 1914, the majority of which was created by Thomas while employed at Auckland University College. This collection is one of three held by Special Collections which contain the papers of Algernon Thomas; researchers should consult all three for a complete picture of his life and work. In addition there are also relevant items in the University of Auckland History Collections; MSS & Archives E-8 and 97/5.

This collection contains 16 notebooks and an exercise book containing a list of photographs. The field notebooks appear to be part of a set presented to the Geology Department in March 1938 by the Trustees of Thomas’ estate. The original donation included 20 notebooks, one exercise book with a list of photographs and one exercise book containing the results of tests upon samples of ash from the 1886 Tarawera eruption (Algernon Thomas papers: MSS & Archives A-54, folder 3). The other seven field notebooks donated in 1938 can be found in MSS & Archives 89/15: Algernon Thomas further papers.

The teaching materials in this collection are especially interesting as they provide a detailed picture of how geology was taught at Auckland University in its formative years, at the end of the 19th Century, prior to the discovery of concepts such as plate tectonics.


  • 1873 - 1914


Conditions Governing Access

Not restricted.

Biographical / Historical

Algernon Phillips Withiel Thomas was born at Birkenhead, Cheshire, England on 3 June 1857. Thomas attended Manchester Grammar School and then studied at Balliol College, Oxford on a scholarship graduating with a BA in 1878 and an MA in 1881. While at Oxford Thomas was awarded a Burdett-Coutts scholarship and as a result was appointed as a demonstrator at the University Museum under the biologist George Rolleston. At Rolleston’s suggestion Thomas studied the life cycle of the parasitic fluke, which caused liver rot in sheep. Thomas’ discovery that in its larval stage the fluke lived in an intermediate host, a snail, was integral to efforts to control the parasite.

In 1883 Thomas, aged just 25, was selected as one of four founding professors for the new Auckland University College. Thomas was selected to lecture in natural sciences: geology and biology but on his arrival in Auckland he also assisted with teaching mathematics due to the unfortunate drowning of the mathematics professor, G.F. Walker.

In addition to his University teaching Thomas, a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand gave many public lectures and was often called upon to give advice on many geological, biological and bacteriological matters in the Auckland region. He had an interest in New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna and advocated for the protection of the tuatara and areas of native forest in the Waitakere Ranges. In 1886 immediately after the eruption of Mt Tarawera, Thomas was engaged by the Government to undertake an extensive study of the area. He was accompanied by Harry Lundius a member of the Auckland District Survey Department who described Thomas as one of the gamest little men I have ever met, a real plucky sort, and as dogged as they make them.

Thomas retired from university teaching 1913. In his retirement he served on the Auckland Grammar School Board, the Dilworth Trust Board, the Council of the Auckland Institute and Museum, the Auckland University College Council and the New Zealand University Senate. Thomas was also a keen gardener and was well known for the many new varieties of daffodils which he bred and displayed in his extensive garden on Mountain Road, Epsom.

In May 1937 Thomas was appointed a KCMG; he was invested on 14 December of the same year and died two weeks later. Busy to the last in the fortnight between his investiture and his death he had spoken at more than three school prize-givings. Thomas was survived by his wife, Emily, their daughter and three sons.

The Thomas Building for Biological Sciences at The University of Auckland is named in recognition of Thomas’ work and a portion of his garden on the corner of Withiel Drive and Gillies Ave, Epsom is now a park named Withiel Thomas Park.


Ross Galbreath. Thomas, Algernon Phillips Withiel - Biography, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10 URL:

Obituary – Professor Sir Algernon Phillips Withiel Thomas, 1857-1937. Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Vol 68 (1938-39) pp 26-27.


1 metres (6 boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Geology Department per Libby Nichol, University of Auckland, Records Management Programme, August 2011.

Related Materials

MSS & Archives A-54: Sir Algernon Thomas papers.

MSS & Archives 89/15: Sir Algernon Thomas further papers.

MSS & Archives 97/5: University of Auckland History Series, Item 4.1 Lecture roll, 1st Term, 1898. Professor Thomas, Subject: Laboratory.

MSS & Archives E-8: Box 3 folder 2 - Letters of Thanks to N.R.W Thomas on the publication of his biographical sketch of this father A.P.W Thomas.

Inventory of the geology field notebooks and teaching materials of Sir Algernon Thomas, 1873-1914.
Katherine Pawley.
March 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, University of Auckland Repository

5 Alfred Street
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142 New Zealand