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TYNDALL, Sir Arthur, (1891 - 1979)

Arthur Tyndall

Arthur Tyndall, ca 25 May 1929. S P Andrew Ltd: Portrait negatives, ID: 1/1-018718-F. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Arthur Tyndall was an engineer who later became a noted Judge of the Arbitration Court, died in Wellington in June 1979, aged 88.

Born in Dunedin, he attended Otago University, where he qualified in law and accountancy. In 1909 he joined the Public Works Department as an engineering cadet and in 1915 he was put in charge of the construction of the Trentham military camp. From 1920 to 1923 he was engineer in charge of public works in Western Samoa, and in 1925 became highways engineer to the Main Highways Board. In 1934 he was appointed under-secretary of the Department of Mines and two years later was given charge of the Housing Construction Department as well.

In 1940 he became Judge of the Court of Arbitration, a position he held till 1965. In 1944 he chaired a commission of inquiry on apprenticeship and technical education. During 1952 and 1953 he visited Pakistan as a member of a labour survey mission.

Between 1955 and 1957 Sir Arthur was involved with the Royal Commission on Monetary , Banking and Credit Systems, a member of several International Labour Organisation committees and chairman of the Royal Commission on the Scaffolding Act. He retired in 1965.

Address for the funeral of Sir Arthur Tyndall

by R G (Bob) Norman

Arthur Tyndall

Surveyors and equipment, 1920s. ID:1/2-104317-F. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image. Tyndall is on the left.

Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. So, nearly four hundred years ago, Rene Descartes made his profound statement, and reached across two thousand years of silence since Aristotle first attempted to relate the functions of the body and the mind.

For much of the last 88 years, Bay Tyndall has been a living example of Descartes' philosophy. At no time did he pass by an opportunity to exercise that superb mind –a mind embodied in a man of such great stature. This is a time to remember, to be thankful, and to rejoice that such a man has done so much for this country and the world. For a quarter of a century he strove with significant success for industrial harmony in a growing nation subjected to the stress of war and its aftermath.

But this was only one part of his contribution to society. As a qualified engineer, accountant and lawyer, his influence has been profound in so many fields - technical, administrative and judicial - from his early position of authority as engineer to the Main Highways Board as long ago as 1925, to his continued involvement, long after retirement from the Bench, in the chairmanship of boards and commissions of enquiry on so many questions in New Zealand and overseas.

It would not be possible for a man of such eminence and personality to pass without leaving behind him a trail of legends. Everything Bay Tyndall did, he did par excellence -there was no room for failure, no place for the mediocre. In this respect he was a shining light in a society often characterised by the canonisation of the "ordinary bloke", the tax incentive, and the triennial bribes of party manifestos. Bay Tyndall towered above all this - and he used his brain constantly, as he used all his senses.

In his early days as an engineering cadet, he left no leisure moment unused. On a regular two-hour journey by horse between his camp and the job, he used to exercise his brain in mental mathematics. He achieved a facility well known, of multiplying six-figure numbers in his head, and the instant memorisation of scores of objects placed momentarily in front of him. But these are only traits of a great man, a man of personality and power.

Power can so often corrupt, and be attended by ruthlessness and insensitivity. Compare this with Bay Tyndall - an outdoor lover of great fishing and hunting prowess, who was so moved by a close friend's love of wildlife that he put aside his gun, and never again fired a shot at a living creature. Compare it also with a man who for so many years worked hard and effectively for many groups to promote better understanding - the New Zealand-American Association, the Boys' Institute, and the Social Club for the Blind.

His conduct of the Court of Arbitration will ever remain a legend. He showed that human relationships are not things to be put in statute books, but can be nurtured and cemented only by deep understanding, sensitivity, great competence in sorting out facts, and a frequent burst of humour. His decisions often made history and are well known for that.

Perhaps less known was the sight of him as a Sunday guest, pacing hour after hour alone in the garden, marshalling his astonishing inventory of mental resources for an award decision on the morrow. Maybe less known, too, was the fact that all his qualifications in three professions were achieved outside the university, on a part-time basis, and in some cases while he was already committed at an early age to top executive roles in the Public Service.

He starred on another court as well. An energetic and accomplished doubles player, when he and his wife Gladys formed a partnership to beware, he had one of the most devastating spin serves and backhand chop drives to be seen in tennis.

Perhaps most of all we remember and delight in his ready wit, love of fun, and enjoyment of using words. It was not enough to be a man of vision, a man of letters, an innovator, technologist, humanist and administrator. Through all this unrivalled assemblage of human qualities was his eternal joy of living and laughter.

When he achieved the rare distinction of 50 years of corporate membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers London – a fraternity into which he had entered summa cum laude 50 years before - it was not enough for him to apply in the usual way for life membership. Instead, he chose to wait until he was at the South Pole with a visiting party, and from Pole Station he sent the application to London. No one had applied this way before, and no one is likely to do it again.

Now Bay Tyndall has finished his turn at the wheel. The theodolite, the balance sheet, the wig and the gavel must be handed on to us lesser mortals. Meanwhile back here we have our problems. Bay Tyndall rejoiced in such problems because they presented challenges. So many times did he lead and point the way. Now it's up to us to follow.

Extract from New Zealand Engineering, Vol 34, August 1979, pp 193-4

See also

Brodie, James W; "Tyndall, Arthur, 1891 - 1979", Essay T32, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Vol 4 , pp 542-3. (