Glow worm trap  Wellington Botanic Garden

Who was

George Vernon Hudson?
Biographical articles

George Vernon Hudson was  closely associated with the early days of the Wellington Botanic Garden, and is historically important, both to the Garden and nationally because of the work he completed during his lifetime.  The Karori Historical Society ( has published two fascinating articles on his life.  While these and the other article duplicates some material, these two articles provide a further insight into the man and his times.

The articles have been processed several times, and some scanning errors may exist, although  checks have been completed some mistakes may remain.


K. Cave

A well known amateur entomologist and astronomer George Hudson lived for many years in Karaori at Hillview 80A (as it is now) Messines Road.

The Hudson’s were a London family. George's grandfather had a shop in Cheapside selling artists materials and stationery. His father Charles Hudson as a young man sailed to Sydney New Zealand and the Chatham Islands on a second trip making an unsuccessful bid to settle in Canterbury. Back in London he became a professional artist and designer of stained glass windows. George himself was born in London and as a boy showed a notable interest in drawing and natural history. His father gave him every encouragement in these hobbies. At the age of eleven the future entomologist wrote and illustrated his first book on insects. He also began the diary which for the rest of his life recorded the details of his growing collection of insects. In 1880 then aged thirteen he published a paper in The Entomologist. In 1881 he and his father embarking in the Glenora followed other members of the family to New Zealand. On the day of his arrival in his new country he caught his first local specimen, a Red Admiral butterfly. In the boy's luggage was 15 shillings worth of insect collecting material for his purpose was to begin work on the complete identification and naming of New Zealand insects. Up till then a number of distinguished naturalists had done some work on such a project. Sir Joseph Banks who sailed with Cook had included a small number of insects with his vast collection of botanical specimens. In the 19th century Dr Ernst Dieffenbach was just one of many enthusiastic collectors who dispatched samples of their work to the British Museum. None of these however had produced a definitive book on New Zealand entomology. This was what George Hudson set out do do. Over the next 60 years he wrote 7 books and 122 papers on every imaginable aspect of this subject . His field work was very extensive involving trips from mountain tops to off shore islands through areas all over the country. He gathered hundreds of insects for himself while other enthusiasts sent him specialized collections. He also raised many of the specimens on which he based his researches so as to study their life history and to obtain perfect models from which he draw and painted the more than 3 000 illustrations which appeared in his published works. His books, several of which are standard works, are An Elementary Manual of New Zealand Entomology (1892), New Zealand Moths and Butterflies (1898), New Zealand Neuroptera (1904), The Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand (1928), New Zealand Beetles a/id their Larvae (1934), A Supplement to The Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand (1939), and Fragments of New Zealand Entomology (published posthumously in 1950).

His monumental book on butterflies and moths is especially worthy of note. It became much more than just a revised edition of the earlier work and took him another 24 years of concentrated study. It will rivet the attention of any person who finds pleasure in the beauty and diversity of nature. It contains nearly 400 pages of precise descriptive text and 62 pages of coloured plates, each page with up to 50 meticulously accurate drawings delicately coloured and wonderfully detailed. Each insect is shown in the larval stage and in the full beauty of maturity. One marvels also at the separate drawings of wing antenna and eye. Another area of particular interest is George Hudson's investigation into the life history of Arachnocampa luminosa, an old friend though perhaps not under its Latin name. The clue lies in the word luminosa which helps to identify the glow worm well known to New Zealanders and overseas tourists alike. The study of the glow worm was a difficult one. He said that this investigation presented him with the most complicated entomological problem he ever met.

The Wellington Botanic Gardens provided the setting for his first studies in the neighbor hood of the stream at the foot of the Glen. He began to observe the glow worms in 1888 and felt that sixty years later he was still adding to his fund of knowledge. Since those early days many lovers of nature have walked quietly past the fern covered banks to gaze at the glowing points of light shining in the darkness.

A brief review of George Hudson's life clearly indicates that has leisure time activities gave him much more satisfaction than his daily work. He was in fact a public servant in the Postal Department as it was then called. He eventually rose to the position of principal clerk in the Postal Division. Yet the public recognition of his talents was always connected with his achievements and writings in entomology and astronomy. As early as 1885 George Hudson aged 18 became a member of the Wellington Philosophical Society (a good deal later he held the position of President for two years). In 1893 he married Florence Gillon a teacher at Wellington Girls High School. She accompanied him on many of his field trips until her death in the thirties. Two years before his marriage George and his brother Will had bought for £80 two acres of land on the Karori heights overlooking the harbour. They had a hard job clearing away the gorse and scrub but eventually were able to build a small three roomed house on the site. Later George built an observatory at the end of the garden. The Hudson's daughter Stella (Mrs Gibbs) was born in 1897. Well remembered by many Karori residents, she died in 1982.

In 1895 Mr Hudson became an early advocate of daylight saving suggesting the alteration of clocks for two hours between the months of October and March. Though nothing was done at the time his ideas somewhat modified were later incorporated into legislation. For this he was awarded the T K Sidey Summer Time Medal. In1907 he was a member of a scientific expedition to New Zealand s sub Antarctic Islands his research work being especially focused on the Auckland Islands. In 1919 his expertise in astronomy bore fruit in the discovery of a new star through the 4.4 inch telescope set up in his observatory. This star called Nova Aquilae aroused world wide interest. He also became known as an authority on sunspots, his notes on solar phenomena being regularly published in the daily paper. In 1919 he became one of the original Fellows of the New Zealand Institute. The Twenties saw further honours being paid to him. In 1923 the Hector Medal and Prize for research in entomology and in 1928 the Hutton Memorial Medal the highest honour the New Zealand Institute could bestow. In 1946 the Wellington Philosophical Society was newly constituted as the Wellington branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Because of his services to this society and to science Mr Hudson was elected one of the first two original honorary members.

In the Twenties also George Hudson having retired from the Post Office had more time to pass on some of his knowledge to others. For nearly thirty years young and old regularly attended gatherings at Hillview, his Karori residence. Mr A R Simm of Khandallah recalled the monthly meetings which Mr Hudson held for about 12 boys at a time. Tray after tray of mounted butterflies and moths were brought out and examined. This was followed by a visit to his private observatory. After a supper of soft drinks and chocolate biscuits he offered to take any interested boys out on field trips. The prospect of grilling chops over an open fire may or may not have accounted for the enthusiastic reception given to the invitation. An Historical Society member Miss Jean Cathie also remembers that ever well filled biscuit barrel. The young people inevitably nicknamed their teacher Bugs Hudson. Like Mr Simm and no doubt many others I remember vividly the delight with which we as children viewed his outstanding collection of insects. This is now housed in the Dominion Museum (now Te Papa). After his death in 1946 the Royal Society of New Zealand instituted the Hudson Memorial Lecture in his honour. Professor J T Salmon described George Hudson as a man who worked in his special field with unbounded enthusiasm. This dedication continued until his very last days. When aged 79 he went on a field trip to Paekakariki Beach returning in triumph with a very tiny very rare beetle. The next day he was found dead sitting in his armchair with a copy of Moths of the British Isles on his lap.


 G V Hudson s published works

Recollections of his grandson Dr G W Gibbs Reader in Zoology at Victoria University of Wellington

New Zealand Biographies

Evening Post articles

Sharell Richard New Zealand insects and their story

Obituary by Professor J T Salmon in Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand


George Gibbs

The ardent naturalist, George Vernon Hudson, who committed his life to the study of New Zealand's insects and the writing of beautifully illustrated books about them, was a resident of Karori for 57 years. Although his legacy is the contribution to natural history and his concept of summer daylight-saving time, there is no question that he became a well-known and respected figure in Karori between 1891 and 1946. This account focuses on his life in Karori and some glimpses he gives us of the early days. It is based on his diaries, on an unpublished article written by his daughter (and my mother), Stella, and on some vivid recollections that I have as his grandson, up to age seven.

He was born in London in 1867, youngest of a family of six. His mother died when he was three leaving his father to encourage and support young George in the pursuit of natural history. We have a lot to thank Charles Hudson, his father for, because, without the freedom and artistic training that Charles gave him, he undoubtedly would never have been able to attain the goals he developed so early in his life. Charles was a stained glass artist. Young George began producing little hand-written books on British insects complete with coloured paintings from the age of 11 years. He started a diary on 13 May 1879 when he was 12 years old and never missed an entry until the day before he died. These entries tell us details of the weather and any significant insect notes he was able to make, together with the briefest statement of his activities, visitors and other events. No use looking there for details of early life in Karori. For instance his record of the arrival of their only daughter is covered over two entries. On Saturday, 10 July 1897 'Office morning. Brought up Mrs Churcher, Cleaned fowls, ducks etc. Sent for doctor at 12. Very fine day and night'. And for 11 July Baby born at 1.18 am. ' Great excitement1 Did not do much morning. Wood afternoon. Wrote letters evening. Fine but very cold, southerly'. The hatching of a prized insect received far more attention to detail1. His diary entries recorded the observations necessary for the writing of his books.

In 1881, when George was 14 years of age, his father, with daughter Mary and sons Will and George, sailed in the barque 'Glenlora' bound for New Zealand. The Hudson family had been before with their first two children but it did not work out and they returned to London. George wrote in his diary summary ' thus ending my life in England'. It was true, he never returned. He spent the first year at Nelson, living with his older brother Jim and sister Jeanmc and working on a neat by farm but returned to Wellington and entered the Post Office as a cadet in February 1883, spending six months at Palmerston North. In Wellington, he lived with his father and sister Mary in Donald St, thus beginning his long association with both the Post Office and Karori.

His father died in December 1884, an unexpected calamity for George. He later wrote he kept all troubles of his later life away from me. It was through him alone and his influence that I have been able to do the work I have done, and but for his support 1 should inevitably have failed in the life work I had set out to do. ' The lease at Donald Street ran out in 1885 and George sampled various boarding establishments around Wellington until in 1891, with brother Will, lie bought two acres of almost level land for 80 pounds on the heights of Karori, overlooking the harbour. It was then a remote hilltop reached by a muddy cart track (now Messines Road). The brothers divided the property equally, cleared lanes through the gorse and, against the advice of established Karori settlers, planted several hundred young pines for shelter. The pines were fine while young but soon grew to the point where the wind swept beneath them so that they had to put up strong paling fences to regain the shelter. These large pines dominated the property and their needles provided George with a perpetual challenge. 'Those accursed needles' he wrote in his diary. For the next 50 years the needles had to be raked and swept up for winter burning while he remembered the advice he had spumed so many years before.

Within eight months of buying the land, 24 year old George moved into a snug three-roomed house built on the site in November 1891. After life in the city, he was 'supremely happy' in his own 'Hillview' at what is now No 80 Messines Road. And no wonder for in 1893 he was married to Florence Gillon, a school teacher, in St Mary's Anglican Church and extended the house by a further three rooms. 'Hillview' was a busy place in those days. The Hudson s kept ducks, hens, geese and a not too well tempered monkey. An observatory was built down the garden near the back fence, equipped with a 3" inch telescope to follow another interest, astronomy. When not working on his insects, he observed the stars and wrote regular notes in the 'Dominion' about astronomical events. A new observatory and 4 inch telescope was installed in 1904 in time for the passing of Halley's comet in 1910 when the Hudson house became a mecca for those who wanted a closer look at this phenomenon. G V Hudson's days were well organised to achieve the goals he set himself. His 'non office' days (Sundays, times off shift-work, or post retirement) were divided so that drawings could be done while the light was at its best, followed by some exercise in the garden or chopping firewood, and then letters or writing or insect collection maintenance in the evening. The garden produced hothouse tomatoes, large quantities of fruit from an orchard and potatoes sufficient to keep them and neighbours going all year round. His lettuces were famous throughout Karori.  Every fine Sunday the Hudson family (three of them after Stella's arrival) plus friends scoured the hills and valleys of greater Wellington for insect specimens. We can trace their movements and discover something about the location of natural forested areas in the Karori area by looking at the specimen locality records which are kept at Te Tapa where his insect collection (still in its original kauri cabinets) is now housed. This source reveals some well known places where fragments of original bush still remain, for example Wilton's Bush, the Botanic Gardens, Bolton Street Cemetery and the Reservoir Reserve, Kaka Hill [Kau Kau] and other place names that are not in use today like Campbell's Stream, Campbell's Hill Bush, Bush Hill, and Crows Nest Bush.

The Auckland Island party.
Back row (l. to r.): S. Page, A. M. Finlayson, G. Collyns, W. B. North. Middle row (l. to r.): G. V. Hudson, A. A. Dorrien-Smith, H. D. Cook, B. C. Aston, J. S. Tennant, R. Speight. Seated (l. to r.): E. R. Waite, L. Cockayne, W. B. Benham, C. C. Farr. Delayed photograph by S. Page

They also undertook one or two longer collecting trips each year to remote areas around New Zealand particularly in the South Island mountains of Northwest Nelson and Otago were epics in their own right, carefully planned and totally devoted to the gathering of insect specimens and their preparation for the collection drawers. This meant that, unlike modern expeditions the dead insects were not packed tor return to a laboratory, but were pinned spread out, and dried in special wooden boxes as the Hudson's crouched in their tent or small mountain huts. Hudson placed great importance on these rugged exploratory trips where each visit produced masses of hitherto unknown species exciting and new to science. He expected his wife (who was also an ardent naturalist and did the catering) and daughter to assist. Together they combed the serees, tussock lands, forests and ravines for the cryptic native insect fauna. Their rations on these two-week long expeditions consisted of army biscuits rice, tinned tongues, sardines and dried apricots . The weather played a major role. One year they were marooned high in a mountain hut at the head of Lake Wakatipu while the flooded lake rose into the streets of Queenstown. His most intrepid expedition was to the Auckland Islands in 1907 with a Government party of scicntists. The success or otherwise of insect hunting depends on the weather. Hudson was acutely aware of this and faithfully recorded the weather every day of his life, often in brief but colourful language when the need arose. For instance, the week of 1 September 1938 contains the following entries -

1 Sept SE gloom showers & cold & so the damned weather goes on

2 Sept SE showers & gloom a little finer 4 to 6 pm

3 Sept Heavy rain & SE gale an abortive clear at I pm Rain again

             3 pm more infernal weather as the days draw out.  Cursed weather

4 Sept Dull & cold from S. A Iittle sun an abortive attempt at astronomy

evening. The same curse.

5 Sept Another infernal cold day of drizzle. 11 bad days on end. And right across the top of the page 'our rotten climate, another rotten week as usual.

He obviously had other intentions of what he was going to do that week'

His interest in the weather coupled with his early shift-work job at the Post Office mail room, which had him walking to and from Karori at all sorts of odd hours, together with his sense of making the best use of daylight hours, made him acutely aware of how we missed the best of the daylight hours during the early summer mornings. He made the shattering suggestion of adjusting the clocks to save daylight in summer. In 1895 he presented a scientific paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society (later to become the Royal Society) in which he advocated changing the clocks in order to save on artificial lighting costs in the evening and free up more hours of daylight for leisure after work. As might be expected, the idea evoked a storm of derision, 'it was wholly unscientific and impractical', 'out of the question to think of altering a system that had been in use for thousands of years' etc. Undaunted, he tried again in 1898, suggesting a summer time adjustment of 2 hours between October 1 and March 1. Again no response in New Zealand, but during the 1914-18 war, Germany, France and Britain used the system to save fuel. Back m New Zealand, a parliamentarian, T K Sidey, argued for 1 hour of summer daylight saving and in 1927 it was actually trialled . However, it soon lapsed and its innovator never lived to see the widespread use it enjoys today.

G V Hudson's other claim to astronomical fame was the discovery of a 'Nova' in the year of his retirement, 1918. It was the only occasion in his life when Florence doubted her husband's word when he excitedly pointed to a brilliant star and claimed it had not been there the previous night.

The Hudson house was always home to numbers of caterpillars and grubs of all sorts which had been procured on the field excursions and were being bred through to the adult insect so that he could unravel the life history, discover the link to certain food plants, and draw the stages of development. He kept them in a variety of cages, some made painstakingly by his father, patiently observing and making notes and drawings. One such life history that rocked the entomological world was his discovery that the famous New Zealand glowworm was, in fact, not a beetle as had been supposed, but the larva of a fly. He repeatedly gathered his glow worms from the Botanic Gardens and kept them in tanks in his bedroom. The glowworm saga began in 1885 when Hudson captured some larvae and thought they looked like those of a fly. Then m 1886 a colleague, Edward Meyrick, published an account of the New Zealand glow-worm in Britain, stating that it was a beetle.  In 1888 Hudson tried keeping the larvae to prove his point, but they died. By December he had got larvae through to the pupa stage, but again they died. Success came in April 1889 when he finally reared an adult fly but Europe would not believe him. He had to verify it. In July 1890 he finally convinced the European authority, F Skuse, who put it in print and gave the insect its proper name

C V Hudson was well known around Karori. Apart from his regular comings and goings to the Post Office before retirement, he could be been setting off to Johnston's Hill or Wilton s Bush, dressed in a navy 3 piece suit, with his small backpack, a stout manuka stick and a large white umbrella. He possessed no outer clothing apart from the 3 piece suits which were bought for 'best', then recycled through the office, collecting trips, to finally become thread- bare in the garden. The multiple pockets were invaluable for the many small boxes used to gather the insects .The umbrella was for opening under branches, and the stick for beating the branches to shake the insects off. In most entomological circles a special purpose beating tray' would have been used, but his version was more practical in the event of rain. 

Hudson devoted much effort to promoting a fascination in natural history in the young. He regarded this as his answer to the failings of the education system which he felt suppressed creativity and originality. He was most outspoken about the regimental attitudes of educationists. His answer was to foster a sense of exploration and investigation in young minds by holding monthly meetings for local lads at 'Hillview' where they would look at the insect collection, the live insects, see through the telescope, and afterwards he served ginger beer and two ginger biscuits from the oak and silver biscuit barrel. Many of 'Hudson's lads' still speak of these evenings as a special time in their early days. In some cases his influence might well have swung them towards a career m the natural sciences. Cecil Hayes of Karori, who was Government Seismologist 1920-1960 was one.

 With his keen sense of natural history, Hudson was intensely aware of the inevitable destruction that the agricultural colonists were wreaking on the New Zealand landscape. He commented on the smoke rising from the hills when he first came to Wellington. Night after night as he watched the forest trees burning in the direction of Makara he was filled with a deep sense of concern for the preservation of this unique environment. In 1900 he delivered a Presidential Address to the Wellington Philosophical Society drawing attention to the species of forest moths that were declining at his home in Karori, noting that the lowland forests, particularly those of the North Island, were the places most likely to suffer extinctions from agricultural clearance. G V Hudson s legacy to us and to the future is the insect collection he left us, unlikely ever to be surpassed, and the seven insect books that he wrote and illustrated between 1892 and his death in 1946. These were, quite literally, his life's work. He set himself the task before he left Britain and never wavered from it, retiring at age 50 to devote the last 17 years to full-time insect study. Naturalists like that do not exist now. If they did, they would never again have the opportunity to find and describe so much that was new in a new unexplored country. Today, the specimen is secondary to a scientifically accurate publication of its existence. To Hudson the individual insect he had sacrificed had to be as near perfect as he could make it to reveal its beauty as well as its scientific value. His collection, like many others of his day is a masterpiece of perfection, the work of a true artist.

Hudson actually named very few insect species, leaving that to others But he did draw them, realising that a colour drawing was superior to many lines of text when it comes to identification. Each drawing, and he amassed some 3,500 individual insect portraits, could take several 'sittings' to complete to his satisfaction They were drawn in such fine detail that they could be reproduced in the books without reduction.

I have painted a picture of one of Karori's colourful early characters. A pioneer in the sense of the timing of his life's work in the colony of New Zealand. He was a perfectionist who, without any formal science training carved a very special place m New Zealand's scientific literature . He could have followed his dream anywhere in New Zealand but chose Karori and it suited him well. A most satisfactory career with an output that will benefit many generations of nature lovers


Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Vol 2 p 237-218

Cave K 1984 The Stockade, 17 p 7-9,11