Page 1: Biography
Chapman, Valentine Jackson
Botanist, university professor, conservationist
This biography, written by John Morton, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Valentine Jackson Chapman was born on St Valentine’s Day (14 February) 1910, at Alcester, Warwickshire, England, the son of Thomas Jackson Chapman, an Anglican clergyman, and his wife, Amy Evelyn Wynn. He was educated at Marlborough College, and graduated MA in botany from the University of Cambridge. In 1935 he took a PhD with research on the East Anglian salt marshes. He was Henry fellow at Harvard University (1935–36) and lecturer in botany at Victoria University of Manchester in 1936–37. From 1937 he was a research fellow at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and university demonstrator in botany.
Chapman married Phyllis Claire Parks on 23 June 1938 at Alcester; they were to have three sons. In 1939 he led a research expedition to Jamaica that launched a lifelong interest in mangroves. During the Second World War he was engaged in seaweed surveying for the British Ministry of Supply, and was for some time attached to South East Asia Command in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
In 1945 Chapman was appointed the first professor of botany at Auckland University College. He arrived in Auckland in 1946, as biology and ecology were entering a post-war renaissance. It was his vigour of style, more than novelty of research, that made the first impression. For 34 years he was never to be far from the foreground, mostly – in the mode of the day – as permanent departmental head, even autocrat. His ongoing enthusiasm was for marine algae, and his first research students were directed into studies of shore zonation rather than plant anatomy. Chapman was a stimulating if not always patient teacher. As administrator he was tidy and efficient.
With a good parcel of research behind him, Chapman was to become a tireless advocate of new projects. Some of his initiatives were ill-founded or hasty, but his fertility of ideas left him a good credit balance. In the early 1960s he collaborated with the zoologist John Morton in founding the university’s Leigh marine laboratory, and for some years he pressed for a freshwater station at Lake Rotoiti. His was the vision behind the Marine Reserves Act 1971, and he promoted marine farming and coastal conservation. Prominent in the politics of the university, he served on its council (1946–48, 1963–64 and 1966–68), helped plan the University of Auckland School of Medicine, and successfully pressed for chairs in cell biology and plant pathology. He was also for 15 years a governor of Massey Agricultural College.
Chapman did not confine his enthusiasm for change to the university environment. With Dove-Myer Robinson and K. B. Cumberland he was one of the Auckland City Council’s radical Civic Reform group, and sat on the Auckland Metropolitan Drainage Board (1955–56). He was an early advocate of the Auckland Regional Botanic Garden and supported the scheme for a four-storeyed transport terminal at Britomart Place. Long notable as founder and dominion president of the New Zealand Epilepsy Association, he was also active in the setting up of the New Zealand Neurological Foundation. He was a leading Anglican churchman and synodsman, of modernist and ecumenical leanings, and for a number of years a lay reader and governor of St John’s College.
Chapman was much concerned with conservation and resource management. He sat on the New Zealand Oceanographic Committee (1954–61), the New Zealand Nature Conservation Council and the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park Board. In his last years he was deputy president of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society and sat on its national executive. However, he never counted himself a ‘conserve-at-all-costs’ man, and in the new ‘green’ generation some inevitably thought him conservative. In the 1940s he had argued to retain a kauri cut at Waipoua Forest, and in the 1970s for sustainable podocarp logging in the central North Island. In 1973 he supported the marina reclamation mooted at Auckland’s Ngātaringa Bay. A long controversy arose from his advocacy of grass-eating carp to eradicate Rotorua lake-weed. But his cumulative achievement stands high. He was able to negotiate with the timber industry, and with an officialdom whose outlook he had come to understand.
Chapman published some 100 papers and reports on algology, mangroves and coastal conservation, as well as a number of books. He was appointed an OBE in 1974 for contributions to science, civic life, and conservation, and received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. He died at Auckland on 5 December 1980, survived by his wife and children.
Slight in build and compulsively busy, Val Chapman kept his Cambridge style and diction. He stood identifiably in a tradition of English naturalists with a vivid, near-theological delight in creation. In the 35 years he gave to Auckland, he battled on many a front, always an enthusiast and often enough an inspirer.