Simon Nathan

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Member Profile

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New Zealand science history
About Me

I am an earth scientist with a strong interest in history. Actually the two disciplines aren’t that different – the geologist is trying to read the past using the record of the rocks rather than human writings. As a New Zealand representative on the International Commission on the History of Geological Sciences (INHIGEO), I am interested in the development of scientific ideas, and have written biographies of several mid-20th century geologists.

Much of my career has been spent researching the geology of the West Coast of the South Island. I was awarded a DSc for publications on this distinctive region, for which I have a deep affection. From 2003-2007 I was science editor for Te Ara, the online Encylopedia of New Zealand, covering a broad range of natural history topics. This has led to a growing interest in writing for the web as an effective way of presenting material to a 21st century audience. Two of my major Te Ara articles are overviews of the West Coast region and the Kermadec islands. In 2010 I published a an illustrated biography of Joseph Divis, miner and photographer, who recorded life in gold mines and mining communities, I have recently completed a biography of James Hector (1834-1907), pioneer explorer and scientist (to be launched in September 2015).

Publications and Research

Publications available on the internet

Processing gold-bearing quartz ore in the early twentieth century: an illustrated case study from the Snowy River battery, Waiuta, New Zealand. GSNZ Miscellaneous Publication 142, 19 pages (2015)

A bibliography of publications by or about James Hector (1834-1907). Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133M, 52 pages (2015)

Selected documents relating to the life and work of James Hector (1834-1907). Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133L, 69 pages (2015)

"My dearest Georgie": transcriptions of 22 letters from James Hector to his wife Georgiana written in 1890. Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133A (2nd edition), 35 pages (2015)

Domestic expenditure of the Hector family in the early 1870s. Tuhinga 25:1-25 (2014)

The correspondence of Julius Haast and Joseph Dalton Hooker, 1861-1866. Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133H, 219 pages (2013)

James Hector in Northland, 1865-66. Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133G, 57 pages (2013)

Transcriptions of selected letters from Frederick Wollaston Hutton to James Hector and Julius Haast. Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133F (2nd edition), 175 pages (2013)

"A Quick Run Home": correspondence while James Hector was overseas in 1875-76. Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133E, 144 pages (2012)

The correspondence of Julius Haast and James Hector, 1862-1887. Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133D, 315 pages (2012)

"My dear Dr Haast": transcriptions of selected letters from Robert Langley Holmes to Julius Haast between 1864-65. Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133C, 53 pages (2012)

"My dear Hooker": transcriptions of selected letters from James Hector to Joseph Dalton Hooker between 1860 & 1898. Geoscience Society Miscellaneous Publication 133B, 208 pages (2012)

Living in the Shaky Isles: the human response to earthquakes since 1840. Talk given to the PHANZA conference, 2011.

‘Earth, Sea & Sky’ theme of Te Ara – several articles, including Geological Exploration; Geology; Rock and Mineral Names; Mining and Underground Resources; Natural Hazards

‘The Bush’ theme of Te Ara – articles include Conservation - a history; Collections of Plants and Animals; Lakes

'Places' theme of Te Ara: The West Coast region, Kermadec Islands

'Creative and intellectual life' theme of Te Ara: Research Institutions

Blog contributions to Te Ara; Book reviews for Scoop Books

The 1947 Greymouth Beer Boycott (NZ History Online)
Waiuta - through the eyes of a miner (NZ History Online)
Seddonville - a forgotten coal town (NZ HIstory Online)
The Fighting Frickletons (NZ History Online)


'James Hector: Explorer, scientist, leader'. Geoscience Society of New Zealand, 2015, 264 pp.
[distributed by Potton & Burton]

'Through the eyes of a miner: the photography of Joseph Divis', Steele Roberts, 2010, 112 pp.

‘The amazing world of James Hector’ (editor & contributor). Awa Press, 2008, 185 pp.

‘Harold Wellman: a man who moved New Zealand’. Victoria University Press, 2005 (reprinted 2008), 272 pp.

‘From Mountains to Meteorites’ (with Brian Mason). Geological Society of NZ miscellaneous publication 109, 2001, 72 pp.

‘A Geologist Remembers: recollections of fieldwork’ (with Maxwell Gage). Geological Society of New Zealand miscellaneous publication 102, 1999, 52 pp.

Other recent publications

James Hector and the first geological maps of New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 44 (2/3): 88-100 (2014)

Harold Wellman and the Alpine Fault of New Zealand. Episodes 44(1): 51-56 (2011)

Joseph Divis: mining town photographer. Turnbull Library Record 43: 117-128 (2011)

Earth Science publications

Approximately 50 monographs, maps, papers and reports, including:

‘Geology of the Greymouth area’. Institute of Geological & Nuclear Science 1:250,000 geological map (+ 58 pp text). 2002.

‘Cretaceous and Cenozoic sedimentary basins of the West Coast region, South Island, New Zealand’. New Zealand Geological Survey basin studies 1, 1986, 40 map sheets + 90 pp.

'Geological and tephrochonology of Raoul Island, Kermadec Group, New Zealand’. New Zealand Geological Survey bulletin 95, 1981, map + 105 pp.

A more extensive list of scientific publications is given on the GNS website


Member for
16 weeks 4 days