The Royal Society of New Zealand, founded in 1867 as the New Zealand Institute, is the senior scientific organisation in the Dominion. A statutory body for the promotion of science, it performs in New Zealand the functions of an academy of sciences. The Society acts for scientists as a whole, independent of occupational or disciplinary affiliations, in offering the experience and advice of its members to Government on national problems, in representing New Zealand science internationally, and in serving New Zealand scientists in such ways as publication of research, maintenance of a library, and the administration of research grants and memorial awards.
The New Zealand Institute Act of 1867 established “an Institute for the advancement of Science and Art in New Zealand”. The Institute was a corporate body consisting of a board of governors and the members of societies in various parts of the colony that were subsequently incorporated under the Act. The Act stated that the Institute “shall comprise a public museum, laboratory, and public library” in Wellington, and it authorised the Governor to appoint persons to superintend and carry out a geological survey. The Colonial Museum, then recently established for the collections of the Geological Survey, was granted to the Institute. Dr J. Hector (later, Sir James) was appointed Director of the Colonial Museum and Geological Survey and Manager of the Institute; he discharged these duties until his retirement in 1903. The incorporated societies, at first comprising the Auckland Institute, Wellington Philosophical Society, Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, and Westland Naturalists' and Acclimatization Society, later included the Otago Institute and similar bodies founded in other centres for promotion of art and science. The Institute received a statutory grant and published annually a volume containing papers read before the incorporated societies, the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute (Vol. 1, 1869). An Act to reconstitute the New Zealand Institute, passed in 1903, sundered the three institutions that had grown under Hector's management and reconstituted the New Zealand Institute as an independent organisation with an elected president and a board of governors on which members appointed by the incorporated societies were in the majority. In 1903, by gracious approval of His Majesty King George V, the Institute was reconstituted as the Royal Society of New Zealand, with a council including the Minister in Charge of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, four Government nominees, and a majority of councillors appointed by member bodies.