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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.


HOCHSTETTER, Dr Ferdinand Ritter Von


Geologist and explorer.

A new biography of Hochstetter, Christian Gottlieb Ferdinand von appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Ferdinand Ritter von Hochstetter was born at Esslingen, Württemberg, on 30 April 1829, son of Professor Christian Ferdinand Hochstetter, clergyman and naturalist. He attended Esslingen Grammar School, studied theology at Maulbronn, then took up geology (Ph.D., 1852), and was appointed in 1854 to the Austrian Geological Survey as assistant geologist, becoming chief geologist of the Bohemian Section in 1856. In 1857 he was appointed geologist to the Novara Expedition, a voyage of scientific exploration round the world, sponsored by the Austrian Government (1857–59).

Urged by Sir George Grey in Cape Town and later by the New Zealand Government's plea for a geologist to examine Drury Coalfield, Auckland, the Novara visited Auckland from 22 December 1858 until 8 February 1859. Hochstetter's report so impressed the Auckland Government that, when the Novara sailed, he was persuaded to remain, to make extended surveys in Auckland and Nelson. Hochstetter, now 30 years old, was accompanied by Captain George Drummond Hay, by Julius Haast, whom he met in Auckland, and by assistants and porters. He travelled up the Waikato and Waipa Rivers, deviated to Raglan, Aotea, and Kawhia Harbours, crossed to the upper Mokau and to Taupo by way of Ongarue Valley and the west Taupo ranges. From Taupo he journeyed north to Orakeikorako, Rotomahana, and Rotorua, thence to Maketu and Tauranga, came back to the Waikato above Karapiro and returned to Auckland via Kirikiriroa (Hamilton). He called briefly at New Plymouth, and visited Dun Mountain, Croisilles, Lake Rotoiti, and Cape Farewell from Nelson.

Hochstetter's chief publications on New Zealand geology are: Neu-Seeland (1863), a book of description and travel later translated as New Zealand (1867); and Geologie von Neu-Seeland (1864) published in the Novara reports. The companion volume, PaläUontologie von Neu-Seeland, includes descriptions of Hochstetter's fossil collections by specialists. The Geologisch-topographischer Atlas von Neu-Seeland (Hochstetter and Petermann, 1863), republished in English in Auckland (1864) and the explanatory essays and lectures published as The Geology of New Zealand (Hochstetter and Petermann, Auckland, 1864) should also be mentioned. Many other papers on New Zealand were published in Europe.

Hochstetter's later life was full of distinction. He was made a Knight of the Imperial Austrian Order of the Iron Crown, and of the Royal Württemberg Order of the Crown, and was chosen by the Emperor as scientific tutor to Crown Prince Rudolf. He was one of the original honorary members of the New Zealand Institute. He was the first director of the K. K. Naturhistorisch Hofmuseum, Vienna.

On 2 April 1861 Hochstetter married Georgiana Elisa Bengough. He died on 18 July 1884 in Vienna.

Hochstetter was the first to describe and interpret many features of New Zealand geology. In the North Island he depicted the graben-like structure of what he called the Taupo Zone and related the distribution of hot springs to fault lines. He recognised active fault traces near Waimangu and the faulted structure of the Paeroa Range. He left the best description of Rotomahana and the Terraces as they were before the Tarawera eruption. He recognised Taupo as the source of the pumice in North Island rivers and attributed the lake basins to the collapse of parts of the volcanic plateau. He described the volcanic cones of Auckland Isthmus. His fossil collections formed the basis for later advances. Hochstetter also described the Maitai beds of Nelson, and the huge serpentine mass between French Pass and Tophouse (“Mineral Belt”). His name “dunite” for the olivine rock of Dun Mountain is firmly established. He discovered Triassic fossils near Richmond and boldly interpreted the structure of north-west Nelson. His greatest contribution was to establish a tradition of systematic geological mapping that persisted in later geological exploration.

Though primarily a geologist, Hochstetter took a keen interest in botany, zoology, and ethnology. He took to Europe the type specimens of the New Zealand frog and added a number of invertebrates to the New Zealand fauna. In the century that followed, his achievement was commemorated by many names given to southern organisms (e.g., the takahe, Notornis hochstetteri Meyer).

by Charles Alexander Fleming, O.B.E., B.A., D.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Chief Paleontologist, New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.

  • The Geology of New Zealand, Hochstetter, F. (Fleming, C. A. transl.) (1959)
  • The Life and Times of Sir Julius von Haast, von Haast, H. F. (1948)
  • New Zealand Journal of Science, Vol. 2, 1884.


Charles Alexander Fleming, O.B.E., B.A., D.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Chief Paleontologist, New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.