Inductees – 1 November 2011

BOT Chairman Greg Moyle presents Dr Bassett with his charter

At Mount Albert Grammar School 1953-1955

Michael Bassett started his secondary school education at Dilworth School and came to us in 1953. He was placed in the top fifth form class. He was a harrier and a member of the Drama Club and won a French Prize in his final year.

He studied English and history at The University of Auckland and on completing his MA won a scholarship to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina where he graduated PhD in American history.

Returning to New Zealand in 1964 he became a senior lecturer at The University of Auckland and a member of the Princes Street branch of the Labour Party. Dr Bassett was elected to the Auckland City Council in 1971 and a year later, became MP for Waitemata, for, it turned out, one term. He returned to politics in 1978 as MP for Te Atatu, a seat he held until retiring in 1990. In the fourth Labour Government he was elected to the Cabinet and was Minister of Health and of Local Government, and later, Minister of Internal Affairs, of Local Government of Civil Defence and of Arts and Culture. His biggest legislative achievement was amalgamating 800 small local authorities in the country into 93 larger organisations in 1989.

He was chairman of the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board and of the 1990 Commission charged with the commemoration of the 150 th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. For ten years, 1994 – 2004, he sat on the Waitangi Tribunal. He is currently a member of the Board of the Museum of New Zealand: Te Papa Tongarewa.

When Dr Bassett left politics he returned to academic life, teaching part time at The University of Auckland and was Professor of History at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario and Fullbright Professor of New Zealand Studies at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

He was a columnist for Wellingtons The Dominion Post, Christchurchs The Press and other papers, and has made contributions to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and the British Dictionary of National Biography.

Dr Bassett is probably best known for his books about New Zealands political history. Among a number of other works are biographies of Prime Ministers Sir Joseph Ward, Gordon Coates, Peter Fraser and David Lange. He is currently working on the final history of the Auckland City Council which was amalgamated into the super city last year.

Michael Edward Rainton Bassett, scholar, teacher, politician, cabinet minister, columnist, author, Albertian, Member of the Mount Albert Grammar School Hall of Distinction.

Dame Miriam Dell was presented with her late husband’s charter.

At Mount Albert Grammar School 1933-1936

Richard Dell was in top classes every year and received four Credit Certificates in his last year. He played soccer and was a member of a number of clubs.

As family funds were limited Dick decided to do a BA with the idea of becoming a school teacher even though he had a consuming interest in working as a holiday volunteer at the Auckland Museum under the conchologist AWB Powell. He spent a short time as a relieving teacher and when war broke out he served in the Pacific in 1942-1944 and later in Egypt and Italy.

Back in New Zealand in 1946 he taught for a while before being appointed conchologist at the Dominion Museum. He completed a BSc at Victoria University College in 1948 and an MSc in 1950 with a thesis on New Zealand cephalapods. When in 1955 he was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealands Hamilton Prize (to encourage beginners in science and technology) he had already published 32 papers. He did extensive fieldwork around New Zealand including to the Kermadecs and the sub-antarctic islands. An expedition to the Chatham Islands resulted in the pubication of an important work called The Archibenthal Mollusca of New Zealand, for this he was awarded a DSc.

In 1959-1961 he received a Nuffield Travelling fellowship to the National History Museum, London. He was offered a permanent position. All the family wanted to stay in London, but Dicks high moral sense found him beholded to the Dominion Museum from where he had been granted leave. In 1961 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in 1965 he was awarded the prestigious Hector Medal.

In 1966 he was appointed Director of the Dominion Museum, a hundred year-old institution with a staff of only 22 and a severe shortage of space and inadequate budget. He worked tirelessly to expand the staff and collections not just in National History but in Ethnology, Colonial History and Maori involvement.

All through his time at the Museum he reached out to the community with WEA courses, radio talks and Adult Education lectures. He founded the Wellington Shell Club in 1955 and wrote popular books, carried out detailed work on the history of the Museum and made contributions to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. He was on the Board of a number of regional and specialist museums. He served the Royal Society of New Zealand in many capacities, he was on a bewildering number of committees and wrote more than 150 scientific papers and a number of important books.

Amid all of this he remained a calm, kindly decent family man with an abiding love of the New Zealand environment.

Richard Kenneth Dell, scholar, teacher, biological researcher, administrator, writer, populariser, Albertian, Member of the Mount Albert Grammar School Hall of Distinction.

Notes taken from Janet Davidson FRSNZ, 2002 Academy Yearbook.