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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


ALLAN, Harry Howard Barton, C.B.E.


Teacher and botanist.

A new biography of Allan, Harry Howard Barton appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Harry Howard Barton Allan was the fourth son and youngest of the six children of Robert Allan, draper, and of Emma Maria, née Lewis. He was born on 27 April 1882 at Nelson and attended the Nelson Central School under F. G. Gibbs. He entered Nelson College with a town scholarship and there won prizes for literature and athletics and completed a section of his B.A. He went next as a teacher to the West Coast mining town of Denniston and from there to King's College, Auckland, where he continued his university studies, graduating M.A. in 1908. He also taught at Napier, was English master at Waitaki Boys' High School (1915–17), agriculture master at Ashburton High School (1918–22), and English master at Feilding Agricultural High School (1923–27). As a teacher of English he was eminently successful and his classes in agricultural botany at Waitaki were probably the first of their kind. In 1908 he married Louise, daughter of John Arnold, farmer, of Korere.

Botanical research work began about 1917 with a study of the vegetation of Mount Peel, Canterbury, with direct encouragement from Leonard Cockayne, and this led to a D.Sc. in 1923. For the next 10 years he collaborated with Cockayne in important botanical papers, and published much detailed evidence of hybridism in New Zealand plants in the wild, and receiving, in 1927, a grant from the Royal Society of London for field studies of hybrids in many parts of New Zealand. In 1928, having resigned from teaching, he was appointed Systematic Botanist to the Plant Research Station at Palmerston North, later to transfer to Wellington under D.S.I.R. in 1937, and to become first Director of its Botany Division until his retirement in 1948. Work then began immediately on a new Flora to replace the Manual of the New Zealand Flora of T. F. Cheeseman, of which the second edition had appeared in 1925. New Zealand collections in British herbaria had been studied in 1930 during a visit sponsored in part by the Empire Marketing Board. A further period of study at Kew followed in 1950, in conjunction with attendance at the Seventh International Botanical Congress at Stockholm as a Vice-President of Section PHG. The greater part of Vol. 1 of the Flora, including all indigenous vascular plants, except the monocotyledons, was completed before Allan's death in Wellington on 29 October 1957.

A long connection with the Royal Society of New Zealand was marked by a fellowship in 1928, the Hutton Memorial Medal in 1941, and the Hector Memorial Medal and Prize in 1942. He held the office of president in 1943–45. He became F.L.S. in 1917 and in 1949 was created C.B.E. He was also corresponding member of the Swedish Phytogeographical Society and foreign member of the Royal Society of Sciences and Letters of Gothenburg. At the celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Linnaeus in 1957, he was one of 12 eminent foreign biologists to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Arts from the University of Uppsala. His published works include, beside Flora of New Zealand, Volume 1 (1961), New Zealand Trees and Shrubs and How to Identify Them (1928), An Introduction to the Grasses of New Zealand (1936), A Handbook of the Naturalized Flora of New Zealand (1940), and more than 100 botanical papers.

Allan's formal training in botany was limited to a few greatly appreciated lectures from A. P. W. Thomas in Auckland. He learned much in the company of his schoolboy pupils in classroom and garden, but Leonard Cockayne he acknowledged as his real master. A good listener, an acute observer, and an avid reader, he took his practical courses on the plains, the hills, and the mountains with, as teachers, not only Cockayne, but also such visiting botanists as Lotsy, of Holland, Hill, of Kew, Du Rietz, of Uppsala, and Sledge, of Leeds. He also accumulated for himself a comprehensive botanical library, now incorporated in that of Botany Division, D.S.I.R.

Allan's contributions to New Zealand botany fall into three parts: (1) The Cockayne period of studies in ecology and hybridism, and especially the experimental proof in Coprosma and Rubus of the origin of typical hybrid swarms. (2) The D.S.I.R. period, building up the Botany Division and defining its functions as a research unit, with special responsibility for plant identification services based on large library and herbarium resources; recruiting and unobtrusively training staff; much travelling and examination of the flora and vegetation of all parts of the country; initiation of research projects on diverse topics, e.g., weeds; poisonous, drug, and fresh-water plants, and marine algae; ecology of tussock grasslands; breeding systems and population genetics of New Zealand grasses; cytological survey of New Zealand indigenous plants; pollen grains and spores and the organic deposits in which they are preserved; and, as a personal spare time interest, New Zealand lichens. (3) The Flora period. “The compilation of a concise, convenient, and eminently satisfactory Flora is a remarkable tribute to Allan's industry and his critical botanical sense.” The inclusion of discussions, suggestions, and a mine of information on specimens and literature of importance for further research is commented upon by most authorities, and in this respect the book is regarded as “surely outstanding amongst the Floras of the world and a fitting memorial to a great taxonomist”. It was a characteristic of this quiet man that he not only added significantly to botanical knowledge himself, but also excelled in opening up avenues of research for others.

by Lucy Beatrice Moore, M.SC., Botany Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Lincoln.

  • Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Vol. 87 (1959) (Obit. with bibliography)
  • D.S.I.R. Botany Division Triennial Report, 1957–59 (1960)
  • Flora of New Zealand, Vol. 1 Allan, H. H. (1961).


Lucy Beatrice Moore, M.SC., Botany Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Lincoln.