Page 1: Biography
Meteorologist, scientific administrator
This biography, written by James W. Brodie, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Edward Kidson was born in Bilston, Staffordshire, England, on 12 March 1882, the son of Charles Kidson, a blacksmith, and his wife, Christiana Dore or Oxley. When he was three his family emigrated to New Zealand, settling in Nelson. Edward was educated at Nelson College between 1896 and 1900 and after winning a university Junior Scholarship went to Canterbury College. He gained a Senior Scholarship and graduated MSc with first-class honours in electricity and magnetism in 1905. The following year he completed an MA.
In 1905 Kidson joined the staff of the magnetic observatory in Christchurch as assistant magnetic observer. Three years later, in 1908, he obtained a post with the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the pre-eminent world magnetic survey organisation. From then until 1914 he carried out surveys in Ecuador, Colombia, at sea, in Newfoundland, and Australia. In this work he displayed the conscientiousness that would be evident throughout his career. In 1915 he was based in Washington until he joined the war effort in England.
During the First World War Kidson served in the meteorological section of the Royal Engineers from 1915 to 1919. He was promoted to the rank of captain in 1917 and worked on the application of wind and temperature measurements to gunnery, and developed a forecasting service for artillery for the expeditionary force in Salonika. His success in this work earned him a mention in dispatches and he was made an OBE (military division). At Salonika he developed an interest in the historical traces of Greek, Roman and Turkish influences in the Balkans.
After his military service Kidson worked in London for a short time at the Meteorological Office. On 2 July 1919, in London, he married Isabel Maria Dann. That year, he returned to Western Australia to become observer in charge of the Carnegie Institution’s new magnetic observatory at Watheroo. Such was the regard for his war-time work that in 1921 he was appointed supervising meteorologist of the Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau in Melbourne, and in 1923 he became assistant director. From this time his scientific work was devoted entirely to meteorology. In 1924 he was elected a fellow of the Institute of Physics and was awarded a DSc from the University of New Zealand for his research on cloud heights.
In 1927 Kidson was recruited as dominion meteorologist by Ernest Marsden to instill life and purpose into the New Zealand Meteorological Service, then a small institution with a staff of five and lacking even one station with satisfactory long-period records. During his 12 years as director Kidson applied his remarkable energy to building up an efficient organisation with a sound basis in science using modern methods of interpretation. He also continued his own research on forecasting and many other aspects of New Zealand’s weather and climate.
Kidson saw clearly the importance of accurate forecasting for farming, shipping and aviation and set about improving and extending the existing service. One of his early studies was an analysis of meteorological conditions during the first flight across the Tasman Sea, and by 1939 special aviation forecasting had become a routine part of the Meteorological Service’s activities. In 1937 he convened a conference to plan for a sound organisation in aviation meteorology for the south-west Pacific.
In 1931 Kidson attended the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in London, and on the same trip (in Locarno) was elected to the International Meteorological Committee. In 1935 he attended the conference of Empire meteorologists in London and the International Meteorological Organisation’s conference in Warsaw. Of major importance were his visits in those two years to Norway, where he gained first-hand experience in the frontal methods of analysis of weather data, newly developed by leading Norwegian meteorologists. He subsequently introduced these advances to New Zealand.
One of Kidson’s main personal interests was in Antarctic meteorology. He undertook a critical analysis of the meteorological records of Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition of 1907–9, which was published in 1930. Following this he commenced an examination of the records from Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–14. He continued this for the next eight years (mainly in his own time), and the results were published, after his death, in 1946 and 1947.
Kidson’s scientific work took up most of his time, and his evenings were devoted to keeping up with international meteorological literature and his research interests. Competent in Spanish, French and German, he was a shy, unassuming man, who was kind and considerate to his colleagues. His work in science and as the founder of the present day Meteorological Service was highly regarded by his contemporaries and he was elected a fellow of the New Zealand Institute in 1931. He died suddenly of a heart attack on 12 June 1939 in Wellington, survived by his wife, whose practical support had enabled him to devote so much of his time to science. They had no children.