Page 1: Biography
Farmer, wildlife ranger, historian, naturalist
This biography, written by Jinty Rorke, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000, and updated in November, 2010.
Bernard Sladden was born in Oxford, North Canterbury, on 28 October 1879, the eighth child of Dilnot Sladden, a sawmiller, and his wife, Elizabeth Letitia Coster. The eight brothers and three sisters in the family were known collectively as ‘the Oxford Eleven’.
After finishing his education at Wellington College, Sladden joined the Bank of New Zealand Assets Realisation Board as a cadet in 1896. Early in his career he was placed on farms in the central North Island. He assisted with the bookkeeping for the 44,000-acre Matamata estate, where he lived and worked in the historic concrete tower building. Moving to the eastern Bay of Plenty, he earned a reputation as a first-class cattle man while managing the Waimana estate, before taking up a block of land near Taneatua shortly before 1914 in partnership with his brother Arthur.
He served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (1916–18), and on his return became a member of the Auckland Land Board (1920–29) administering the Returned Soldiers’ Land Settlement Scheme. For the rest of his life he lived in the Bay of Plenty: at Wainui, White Pine Bush, Ohope and Tauranga.
From his professional interest in agriculture Sladden developed a personal interest in botany and zoology. Appointed honorary ranger for Motuotau Island, near Mount Maunganui, in 1928, he was gazetted inspector with responsibility for all the off-shore islands in the Bay of Plenty in 1932. He held this position for nearly 30 years. A sheltered beach on the central island of the middle chain was named Severn Cove after his launch.
Sladden was a member of the Bay of Plenty Maori Research and Historical Society from 1933 until it went into recess in 1939, and a life member of both the Whakatane and District and Tauranga historical societies. His love of the sea led him to join the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, and he became a flag officer and life member of the Tauranga Yacht Club. He joined the Ornithological Society of New Zealand, the New Zealand Native Bird Protection Society and other naturalist groups. As a member of the Tauranga Beautifying Society he planted native shrubs and trees on the Monmouth redoubt and at the Tauranga Mission cemetery.
A member of the New Zealand Institute, Sladden contributed articles on natural history to the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology. He also contributed to historical society journals and gave talks on his specialist subjects. By studying Cook’s journals, translating from the French Dumont d’Urville’s account of his crossing of the Bay of Plenty and sailing the waters himself he was able to correct errors in the location and nomenclature of islands on charts of the area. Nevertheless, he blamed himself for failing to publish more of his research.
Although his father’s personal library of early imprints on Pacific exploration and discovery formed the nucleus for Sladden’s collection of books, he added others to support his research. After his death his books were placed under the care of the Tauranga Public Library. This donation led to the establishment of a western Bay of Plenty history collection and New Zealand Room, of which the Bernard Sladden Research Library is an important part.
Bernard Sladden was remembered by colleagues as ‘a tall, stooped, khaki clad figure with binoculars on shoulder, and sheath knife on hip’. He had a wiry build, ‘a pleasing sort of face, a hint of a smile at the corner of the eyes’, and was ‘easily approachable, willing to talk, and yet of a retiring disposition’. He never married, and retired to Ohope, then Tauranga, where he died on 25 May 1961 at the age of 81.