Glow worm trap  Wellington Botanic Garden

Who was

George Vernon Hudson?

By P C Tomlinson

The Wellington Botanic Garden has been fortunate to be part of the lives of individuals who have made their mark in life, not only in this garden, city but also the country. George Vernon Hudson, while not widely known to many, is such a person

Born in London 20th April, 1867, G. V. Hudson was the sixth child of Charles Hudson, of London, professional artist. George received his early schooling in England; but his father encouraged his interest in natural history and trained him in painting and drawing. Aged fourteen he left England with his father to settle in New Zealand and arrived at Wellington on 23rd September 1881. Prior to leaving England Hudson had already embarked on his entomological career. He had built up a small collection of British insects, and had published a short paper in The Entomologist in 1880, exhibited a hermaphrodite moth at a meeting of the Royal Entomological Society of London. He was a frequent visitor to the Library of the British Museum. At this early age he also was keenly interested in astronomy, already having observed and recorded an eclipse of the sun and made notes and summaries on the weather.

On his arrival in New Zealand he turned his attention to the study of our native insects. Settling first in Nelson, Hudson worked on a farm; but in 1883, at the age of sixteen, he joined the Post Office in Wellington, where he rose to the position of Chief Clerk, Postal Division, a position from which he retired in 1918. The flexible hours enabled him to fully pursue his entomological and other interests.

Shortly after his arrival in Wellington Hudson moved out into the then “wilderness” of the high hills of Karori, where he built his home overlooking the city. In 1893 he married Florence Gillon, , and in later years their home, “Hillview” as it was called, became known to entomologists the world over.

Hudson's first scientific paper dealing with New Zealand insects was published in 1882, the first of many papers, notes and records on entomology. His greatest achievements, however, were in the publication of his books on New Zealand insects including his first book, Manual of New Zealand Entomology, which appeared in 1892. His first major work New Zealand Moths and Butterflies published 1903 took twenty-four years to complete and which was followed by New Zealand Neuroptera, . Following upon his retirement from the Post Office, Hudson devoted almost his entire time to his entomological studies and concentrated on the completion of his great work, The Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand, which he published in 1928, and which eleven years later, was followed by A Supplement to the Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand. These two works contain figures in colour of all the known species of New Zealand Lepidoptera. These coloured figures, along with those in other books, amounting altogether to well over 3,000 separate drawings, were executed by Hudson with infinite patience and ever-improving skill. In 1934 he published New Zealand Beetles.

As a background to his studies Hudson amassed the finest and most perfect collection of New Zealand insects ever established by any one person. He not only identified and figured his species, but, by rearing and breeding experiments, worked out the life histories of many of our important insects.

Perhaps his most notable achievement in this sphere was the rearing of the New Zealand glow-worm, from specimens found in the Wellington Botanic Garden, principally from along the Puketea Stream. Now we can find these insects along the banks on the paths, but then he had to wade up the rocky stream to study them.

Hudson was intolerant of what he termed “armchair naturalists,” but believed in going into the field in search of nature; and in furtherance of this idea he made many excursions into the virgin country of New Zealand, collecting and observing. On earlier trips he nearly always was accompanied by his wife and later by his daughter. Both Mrs. Hudson and his daughter, in turn, took a keen interest in his work. He made many trips to the Southern Lakes District and the mountains of the South Island. His last big expedition, made at the age of sixty-five, was to Mount Arthur.

In 1907 he served as entomologist with a party of naturalists who visited the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand.

Along with his entomological studies, Hudson developed a lively interest in astronomy. He observed the total eclipse of the sun in 1885 through his own telescope. Later, in the grounds of his home, he built his own observatory, equipped it with a 4 ½-inch telescope, and made continuous studies of sun spots, recording with notes and diagrams what he observed from day to day. His notes on these solar phenomena in the Wellington daily papers were familiar items of interest to everybody. On 9th June, 1918, he discovered a new star, subsequently known as Nova Aquilae, which attracted world-wide attention. Perhaps his greatest contribution to Astronomy arises from his being the original advocate of what has come popularly to be known as “Daylight Saving.” On 16th October, 1895, before the Wellington Philosophical Society, he read a paper which, although not well received at the time, set out in detail the methods of a practice which has now become almost universal in all progressive countries. For his work in this direction he was awarded in 1933 the T. K. Sidey Summer Time Medal.

For his entomological work he was awarded, in 1923, the Hector Medal from the Royal Society of NZ, a prestigious award named in honour of another with a very close association with this Garden, Sir James Hector.

You can ask, what has all this to do with the Wellington Botanic Garden?

When Hudson came to Wellington he explored the Wellington Botanic Garden, and in particular the Puketea Stream, where he found some interesting insects, what we now know as glow worms.

 The familiar name glow-worm is really given to a small luminous European beetle and its larva. Once it was thought by many established entomologists that the New Zealand glow-worm is a relative of this beetle. In 1886 an English entomologist, E. Meyrick, maintained that it is the larva of a rove beetle. But already a year earlier, Hudson had suggested that this larva might be the larva of a two-winged fly. In 1886 he submitted glow-worm larvae to Baron Osten-Sacken, a German fly-specialist, who confirmed that it is not a glow-worm beetle larva, but that it belongs to the family of fungus gnats. The entomological establishment did not like this 'youngster' barely out of his teens, telling them things different to what t hey believed, and it took some time for the truth to be generally accepted. In 1890 the insect was named Botitophila luminosa, by an entomologist from the Australian Museum in Sydney named Frederick A. Askew Skuse; but in 1924, Mr F. W. Edwards of the British Museum, placed the insect into a new genus and named it Arachnocampa luminosa. The first part of the name refers to the striking characteristic of this genus, in making spider-like webs to catch its prey (Arachnida - the spiders).

Many workers tried to unravel the insects life-history and habits. This is a most difficult task, as these creatures live in total darkness and cease to be active when artificial light is used for observation. The ground work of all research on this insect , completed by G. V. Hudson, who, together with Albert Norris, kept in captivity larvae caught in the Botanical Gardens and thus were able to observe the stages of development. The results were published in 1890. What his family thought of his bedroom filled with insects can only be a matter of conjecture. Not easy to maintain under artificial culture, his success speaks loudly of his skills. Hudson and Norris were the first to prove that the larva was carnivorous, that it transforms into a pupa, from which the adult gnats hatch. So absorbed was Hudson in finding out all about the glow-worm that, despite the other colossal entomological work he undertook, he continued his studies of it until his death in 1946.

His studies where published in many issues of the Transactions of the Royal Society, and even today make interesting reading. The family tradition for studying insects has been continued, with his grandson Dr George Gibbs following his footsteps. Hudson did not sympathise with professional and government entomologists, being quite outspoken about his feelings. Perhaps for that reason, he intended to bequeath his collection to the British Museum. However, we owe thanks to John T Salmon (1910-99), an enthusiastic entomologist employed by the then Dominion Museum, for persuading Hudson to change his mind and bequeath his collection to the Dominion Museum. It was received on 28 May 1946. The collection is housed in nine cabinets made of kauri timber, which altogether hold 162 glass-topped wooden drawers, lined with cork covered in paper. Specimens are either pinned through the body or, in the case of beetles and small insects, glued to cardboard strips which are also pinned.

This garden has a rich history and George Hudson's contribution forms a significant part of that story. When you visit to see these fascinating insects, remember the pioneer work of this interesting individual.

The Friends website has more information on these insects - including his original drawings used when the species were first described in 1890.

In addition to his insect studies, Hudson was also interested in astronomy, and was a regular user of the telescipes in the garden.  (See   Professional astronomers where not employed for many years, but there were many enthusiastic amateurs able to use the telescopes. Of those involved with the Garden, Dr (later Sir) James  Hector was one such individual. Another was George Vernon Hudson21, who is not so well known. A Post Office clerk he is better known for his comprehensive insect collection, which later became the founding collection of the Dominion Museum, subsequently Te Papa.
Purchasing a home on Messines Road in Karori, Hudson used his own telescope to observe the total eclipse of the sun in 1885. On 9th June 1918 he discovered a new star, subsequently known as Nova Aquilae, which attracted world-wide attention. Perhaps his greatest contribution to astronomy arose from his being the original advocate of what has come popularly to be known as “Daylight Saving.” His initial paper in 1895 was not well received (  but he followed it up with another paper 3 years later. It was not until 1927 that daylight saving was first introduced into New Zealand. Not popular, there were several changes, but in 1941, as a war time measure, half an hour daylight saving was introduced for the year, which remains in force. An additional hours summer daylight saving time also applies. He made continuous studies of sun spots, recording with notes and diagrams what he observed from day to day. His notes on these solar phenomena in the Wellington daily papers were familiar items.