Charles (Charlie) Edward Douglas (1 July 1840 – 23 May 1916) came to
be known as Mr. Explorer Douglas due to his extensive explorations
of the West Coast Region of New Zealand and his work for the New
Zealand Survey Department. Charlie Douglas was awarded the Royal
Geographical Society Gill Memorial Prize in 1897.
Edward Douglas was born 1 July 1840, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the
youngest of six children, to parents Martha Brook and James Douglas.
His father was an accountant with the Commercial Bank of Scotland.
Charlie Douglas was educated at the Royal High School (Edinburgh)
and worked at the accountant's office of the Commercial Bank of
Scotland from 1857 to 1862. He emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in
Port Chalmers in 1862.
For five years, Charlie Douglas
worked at a variety of jobs, including working on a sheep run, and
gold digging. He moved to Okarito, Westland in 1867.
years Charlie Douglas explored and surveyed the West Coast Region of
New Zealand. He was described as heavily bearded and with a slight
frame, standing about 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) in height. He was
accompanied throughout his years of exploration by a dog, first "Topsy",
then "Betsey Jane" and others.
When exploring Charlie carried
little in the way of equipment beyond some basic provisions,
including tobacco for his beloved pipe, and a swag. He camped
beneath his two piece "batwing" tent of canvas or calico or crude
rock shelters. He supplemented his food stocks by hunting native
birds and living off the land. Although Charlie lived simply he
supported himself by occasional work, supplemented by some
infrequent provisions sent by his family in Scotland, who also
supplied him with some of the books that he read avidly. He worked
for a part-time wage from the survey department for 20 years before
becoming a full-time employee from 1889.
Charlie Douglas was
a quiet, shy man, who was noted for his keen, accurate and
entertaining observations relating to flora, fauna (particularly
birds) and geology in his journals, sketches, watercolours and
survey reports. Later in his life he grew increasingly intolerant of
tourists who were, unwilling or unable, to the endure the hardships
he experienced. Charlie condemned the changes to the natural
landscape he saw occurring in Westland and he became increasingly
embittered as old age and illness began to curtail his later
explorations. When he was not exploring he was known to be a heavy
Between 1868 and 1888 both Gerhard Mueller and
George John Roberts attempted to employ Charlie Douglas full-time at
the survey department, but he instead sent in voluntary reports and
maps of the rugged Westland valleys that he tramped and explored and
earned a part-time wage while exploring for the department.
In 1868 Douglas accompanied Julius Haast on a month long expedition
traveling down the west coast, making stops and exploring at:
Okarito, Bruce Bay, Paringa and Arnott's Point before returning to
Okarito. It is probable that Charlie learned something of Geology
from Haast at this time because he used Haast's terminology in his
later geological notes.
During 1874 Charlie Douglas met
George Roberts and formed a friendship that was to lead to his
growing involvement with the New Zealand Survey Department. Also in
1874, Douglas formed a partnership with Bob Ward and the two men
bought 700 acres (280 ha) of land on the Paringa River and began
cattle farming. The pair also operated a ferry service across the
Paringa. Charlie Douglas gave up cattle farming after his partner,
Ward, drowned. After his time as a cattle farmer, Charlie abandoned
a settled life and began to tramp and explore Westland, picking up
odd-jobs as he needed them.
From a base in Jackson Bay starting in the 1870s Douglas continued
to explore the: Paringa River (1874-1877), Haast River (1880) and
Landsborough River, Blue River (1881), Turnbull River (1882), Okuru
River (1882) and associated passes the Actor and Maori (1883),
Cascade River with Mueller (1883) and Arawhata River (1883),
travelling with Mueller and Roberts on the "Reconnaissance Survey"
from Jacksons Bay to Martin's Bay (1884).
In 1885 Douglas accompanied the chief surveyor, Gerhard Mueller,
exploring the Arawhata River valley. Together, they traced one
tributary of the Arawhata, the Williamson river to the Andy Glacier.
The other branch, the Waipara River they traced to the Bonar glacier
on the west slope of Mount Aspiring. During this journey they
accomplished the summiting of Mount Ionia 7,390 foot (2,250 m).
In 1886 Douglas and G. T. Murray made a survey trip to the
During 1887, Douglas and Mueller made a
"Reconnaissance Survey" of the Clarke River and the Landsborough
In 1887 and later in 1888, Charlie Douglas visited the
Balfour Glacier near Mount Tasman and the Fox Glacier.
Charlie Douglas, claims in his monograph on the birds of south
westland (c. 1899) that he shot and ate two raptors of immense size
on the Haast River valley or Landsborough River (possibly during the
late 1870s or 1880s):
"The expanse of wing of this bird will
scarcely be believed. I shot two on the Haast, one was 8 feet 4
inches (2.54 m) from tip to tip, the other was 6 feet 9 inches (2.06
m), but with all their expanse of wing they have very little lifting
power, as a large hawk can only lift a duck for a few feet, so no
one need get up any of those legends about birds carrying babies out
of cradles, as the eagle is accussed [sic] of doing."
In light of
Douglas' generally trustworthy, detailed observations and
measurements as a surveyor, it has been hypothesized by
paleozoologist, Trevor H. Worthy, that the dead birds may have
represented a biological relict or remnant of the otherwise extinct
Charles Edward Douglas (left), Arthur Paul
Harper, and Douglas' dog Betsey Jane in the valley of the Cook River
in 1894. From 1889 Charlie Douglas agreed to work for the
survey department full-time for a wage of eight shillings a day. He
was provided with: a prismatic compass, a survey chain and other
drawing tools. For five months, in 1891 Douglas traveled up
the Waiatoto River. He climbed Mount Ragan and reached the Therma
Glacier at the head of the Waiatoto.
During 1892 Charlie Douglas
made an important expedition up the Copland River. It was during the
Copland trip that Charlie experienced the first real illness of his
52 years. Later in the year he explored the Whitcombe River.
Between 1893 and 1895, Charlie Douglas was teamed with Arthur Paul
Harper and the two first explored the Wanganui River in a dug-out
canoe. They then explored the Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier and
in 1894 the area of the Cook River. It was in 1894 that rheumatism
first began to force Charlie to curtail some of his exploration.
In 1896 Charlie returned to the Whitcombe river valley and
crossed the Whitcombe Pass to the upper Rakaia.
Charlie continued track work in the Whitcombe river. It was also in
this year that he was awarded Royal Geographical Society Gill
Memorial Prize. He spent the prize money on a camera that he ended
up giving away.
From 1898 through to 1899 Charlie worked on
hut making and track cutting around the glaciers and along the
Whitcombe river valley.
In 1900 Charlie Douglas made his last
major expedition along the Wanganui River that included an trip to
the Lord Range.
In 1901 Charlie explored the Otira River and
from 1903 he explored the Okarito district. He increasingly suffered
from from ill health.
From 1904 to 1906 Charlie continued to
explore and survey for the department but was increasingly
restricted by illness and old age. In 1906 while on holiday in
Wataroa, Charlie met and was photographed with Richard Seddon,
shortly before Seddon's death. Later in 1906 Charlie suffered his
first stroke. Charlie continued to explore for the department in
1907 and 1908 but his second stroke forced him to retire from the
New Zealand Survey Department after 40 years of almost continual
exploration of the West Coast Region.
Charlie spend much of
his time from 1906 until 1916 being looked after by friends and the
widow of his cattle ranching partner, Mrs. Ward. He was also in and
out of hospital in 1911, 1914 and 1916. Charlie Douglas died, two
months short of his 76th birthday, of a Cerebral hemorrhage in the
Westland Hospital on 23 May 1916.
following works by Charlie Douglas were published, exhibited or are
held and collected:
Contributed to the Appendix to the Journal of
the House of Representatives
Exhibited an oil painting at the New
Zealand and South Seas Exhibition (1889)
Journals and sketchbook
are held at the Alexander Turnbull Library
washes are held at the Hocken Library
Sketches are held at the
Westland Museum, Hokitika.
Charlie Douglas was
awarded the 1897 Royal Geographical Society Gill Memorial Prize for,
"persistent explorations during twenty-one years of the difficult
region of forests and gorges on the western slopes of the New
The following New Zealand
landmarks are named after Charlie Douglas:
Mount Douglas at the
head of Fox Glacier
Douglas pass through the Hooker range
Douglas Névé and Glacier west of Mount Sefton.
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