Story: Ideas in New Zealand

Richard Owen with moa bones

Richard Owen with moa bones

Richard Owen was one of Britain's most prominent naturalists, who became the founder of the Museum of Natural History. His most remarkable achievement, much discussed in the scientific world, came in 1839 when he deduced from a 15-centimetre-long fragment of bone that a species of very large birds had existed in New Zealand. He appealed for further specimens and in 1843 some arrived from collectors in New Zealand, especially William Williams, who had picked up bones on the East Coast of the North Island. Here Owen proudly displays the new moa bones which confirmed his original hypothesis. The debate about the existence of the moa helped to give New Zealand and New Zealand collectors in particular a significant role in mid-19th-century British science. Owen later became controversial for questioning Darwin's theory of evolution.

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How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Ideas in New Zealand - Enlightenment science', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 30 November 2023)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 22 Oct 2014