Page 1: Biography
Geographer, university professor
This biography, written by Jane M. Soons, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
George Jobberns was born on 2 June 1895 near Te Moana in rural South Canterbury, the son of John Jobberns, a farmer, and his wife, Elizabeth Helem. His primary education at Te Moana was followed by secondary schooling at Geraldine and Temuka and a period as pupil-teacher in Ashburton. George's father committed suicide in 1911, leaving his mother with four children to provide for. As a result, almost all Jobberns's tertiary education was part-time, which undoubtedly accounted for his sympathy for part-time students in later years. Yet he equipped himself with an impressive range of degrees: BA with a geology major in 1918; MA with first-class honours in geology in 1921; BSc in mathematics (with economics and philosophy) in 1923; DipEd in 1929; and DSc in 1936.
He spent some time as a travelling science teacher, based in Dunedin, and as assistant master at Gore High School in 1921. During this period a growing fascination with the form of the landscape rather than its constituents underlay his move from geological to geomorphological research. He utilised the concepts of landform evolution introduced to New Zealand by Charles Cotton of Victoria University College's geology department, and published work focusing on the geomorphology of the New Zealand coastline. There were many practical difficulties to overcome – maps were inadequate, air photography was virtually unknown, and field travel was a matter of boots, bicycle or Model A Ford – but the opportunities for original research were unlimited.
From 1922 to 1933 Jobberns was a lecturer in physiography at Christchurch Teachers' Training College. He was assistant lecturer in geology at Canterbury University College in 1934, and lectured part time at both institutions in 1935–36. He was appointed in 1937 as the sole lecturer at the university college's geography department, the first in New Zealand. He became foundation professor in 1942. Jobberns insisted that the department serve the teaching profession and so scheduled all classes after 4 p.m.
Jobberns was well aware of his lack of formal geographic training, and with the aid of a Carnegie fellowship in 1939 he visited Columbia and Chicago universities, where some of the more eminent geographers in the United States were to be found. A second Carnegie fellowship in 1952, supported by a Fulbright travel grant and an honorary position at Yale University, enabled him to maintain the contacts that resulted in a succession of visiting lecturers coming to the Canterbury department.
A committed teacher and researcher, George Jobberns nevertheless gave considerable time and energy to community activities. For some 25 years from 1944 he was an elected member of the North Canterbury Catchment Board, becoming chairman of its committee on soil erosion. He was also a member, and ultimately chairman, of the Board of Avonside Girls' High School. Jobberns was a vigorous and determined opponent of the proposal to move Canterbury University College from the heart of Christchurch to the fields of Ilam. His contributions to the university were recognised on his retirement in 1960, when he became professor emeritus. He was made a CBE in 1963 and received an honorary LLD in 1972.
George Jobberns was a pleasant, humorous, wise and highly respected member of the community. His marriage to Doris Emily Thompson at Christchurch on 21 December 1921 produced two daughters, Helen and Janice. Doris's death in 1961 closely followed his retirement from the university. The gap which these events left in his life was bridged by his continuing interest in public activities. His long association with Avonside Girls' High School culminated in his marriage, on 23 February 1963, to Veda Frances Townsend, its former headmistress. He was an office holder in the Canterbury branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand, the New Zealand Geographical Society, and the Freemasons.
George Jobberns died at Christchurch on 30 August 1974, survived by his second wife and his daughters. His vision in the fields of university education and his multi-disciplinary approach to geography had guided generations of students. He wrote school textbooks on geography and did much to popularise the subject. 'Jobby' was a source of advice and support – tempered with humour – for students and colleagues throughout his life.