Harry Carse was born in December 1857 in Leek, Staffordshire in the United Kingdom. He was working at a bank, when he decided to emigrate to New Zealand.
On 14 March 1885, Harry left Southampton aboard the steam and sailing ship Kaikoura, which arrived in Wellington 45 days later. He settled in Auckland, but appears to have made no attempt to re-enter the banking world. Instead, he met R J O’Sullivan, Inspector of Schools for the Auckland Education Board, and was given work as a teacher.
Harry met Margaret Philp in circumstances unknown. They were married on 11 August 1887, with Harry aged 29 and Maggie 28. Harry’s first teaching position was at Helensville, and later he was sent to open a school newly-establsihed at Chelsea. He taught for the next 30 years, at Hunua (where he was also the psotmaster), Kaitaia, Maungatapere (near Whangarei), Mauku (near Pukekohe), and then for almost 20 years at Kairburn (near Kaitaia).
Harry enjoyed writing short stories, and one published in an Auckland literary journal in January 1889 entitled ‘Was it a dream? A peculiar story founded on fact’ recounts a young man coming to New Zealand after being jilted in love. If there was an autobiographical element to the tale, this would account for Harry upping sticks and emigrating to the far side of the world.
Harry and Maggie Carse were in Kaitaia when in November 1893 the first New Zealand general election was held in which women were allowed to vote. Maggie was recorded on the Bay of Islands roll. In Kaitaia, their fourth child Eva Katherine was born.
In Kaitaia, Harry befriended the Anglican minister Richard Matthews. They found a mutual interest in native plants, and began exploring and collecting specimens around Kaitaia. Harry began a correspondence with Thomas Cheeseman, the director of the Auckland Institute and Museum, and the author of the Manual of New Zealand Flora(1906). As Harry and Richard’s botanical work progressed, it became increasingly clear that the Far North was a distinctly different ecosystem. Their discoveries contributed to the understanding of the biodiversity of New Zealand.
Later, Harry and Richard roamed further afield with their botanical expeditions, going to Great Barrier Island, the Central Plateau, Waikato and the Coromandel.
Harry continued with his botannical collecting when he and Maggie moved first to Maugatapere, then to Mauku. Their fifth and last child Ernest was born here in 1900. Harry wrote to Cheeseman, “I have done very little work botanically lately owing partly to the unfavourable weather and partly to my wife not being in good health. However, as she has, on 19thpresented me with a son, I shall now feel more free to wander forth.”
In 1901, Harry wrote to Cheeseman looking for work at the museum, but this didn’t pan out. In 1902, Harry quit teaching, and bought a property at Fairburn, about 15km SE of Kaitaia, to try his hand at dairy farming. But there wasn’t enough income from the milking, so after four years, Harry took up teaching again at a local school (the school is no longer in existence). Life was hard for Harry and Maggie and their five children. Harry and Richard Matthews continued plant collecting, working on building up a complete list of plants in Mangonui County.
In 1906, Cheeseman acknowledged Harry’s contribution to New Zealand botany: “Mr H Carse, now resident in Mangonui County, has botanized in several portions of the Auckland Provincial District. He has given special attention to the Cyperaceae, adding Schoenus carseiand Lepidosperma filiformeto the list of those already known to occur in the colony. He was also the first to observe the curious little plant which I have provisionally described under the name Trithuria inconspicua.”
Harry published a paper in 1911, On the Flora of Mangonui County. In it, he listed 538 species of native flowering plants, followed by 180 species of naturalised plants.
Harry and Maggie passed the dairy farm onto their daughter Maime and son in law Arthur Gibbings, and moved to Onehunga in Auckland. In 1925, Harry’s collection of 1,900 plant specimens was given to the Canterbury Museum. Seven New Zealand plants have the species name carsei, in honour of Harry Carse.
In his last years, Harry made a second major contribution to New Zealand botany by corresponing and mentoring Mrs Amy Hodgson of Hawkes Bay, encouraging her to study liverworts, of which she became the New Zealand authority.
Harry died on 25 November 1930. In an obituary, it was said his achievements in the field of botany “will be more greatly appreciated when it is remembered that he was largely self-taught, having acquired his fund of botanical knowledge by wide reading and unceasing study and observation in the field. As regards his personal qualities, those who were fortunate enough to be his friends can have but one opinion. He was a gentleman in the highest connotation of that term, and will be much missed by those who have known his kindly and genial nature and his readiness to help all who came to him in difficulty.”
Maggie lived until 1938, aged 79. Harry and Maggie are buried side by side here at the Symonds Street Cemetery, alongside Maggie’s father David Philp.