Articles | Volume 12, issue 2
Research article
01 Mar 2016
Research article |  | 01 Mar 2016

The "dirty weather" diaries of Reverend Richard Davis: insights about early colonial-era meteorology and climate variability for northern New Zealand, 1839–1851

Andrew M. Lorrey and Petra R. Chappell

Abstract. Reverend Richard Davis (1790–1863) was a colonial-era missionary stationed in the Far North of New Zealand who was a key figure in the early efforts of the Church Mission Society. He kept meticulous meteorological records for the early settlements of Waimate North and Kaikohe, and his observations are preserved in a two-volume set in the Sir George Grey Special Collections in the Auckland Central Library. The Davis diary volumes are significant because they constitute some of the earliest land-based meteorological measurements that were continually chronicled for New Zealand.

The diary measurements cover nine years within the 1839–1851 time span that are broken into two parts: 1839–1844 and 1848–1851. Davis' meteorological recordings include daily 9 a.m. and noon temperatures and midday pressure measurements. Qualitative comments in the diary note prevailing wind flow, wind strength, cloud cover, climate variability impacts, bio-indicators suggestive of drought, and notes on extreme weather events. "Dirty weather" comments scattered throughout the diary describe disturbed conditions with strong winds and driving rainfall.

The Davis diary entries coincide with the end of the Little Ice Age (LIA) and they indicate southerly and westerly circulation influences and cooler winter temperatures were more frequent than today. A comparison of climate field reconstructions derived from the Davis diary data and tree-ring-based winter temperature reconstructions are supported by tropical coral palaeotemperature evidence. Davis' pressure measurements were corroborated using ship log data from vessels associated with iconic Antarctic exploration voyages that were anchored in the Bay of Islands, and suggest the pressure series he recorded are robust and can be used as "station data". The Reverend Davis meteorological data are expected to make a significant contribution to the Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions across the Earth (ACRE) project, which feeds the major data requirements for the longest historical reanalysis – the 20th Century Reanalysis Project (20CR). Thus these new data will help extend surface pressure-based reanalysis reconstructions of past weather covering New Zealand within the data-sparse Southern Hemisphere.

Short summary
The meteorological diary of Reverend Richard Davis (1839–1844; 1848–1851) is the earliest continuous daily instrumental weather observation record for New Zealand. It pre-dates James Hector's meteorological network by more than 20 years, and it contains evidence that temperatures for May–August were on average colder than present day in Northland. Some weather extremes Davis also witnessed may have been more frequent in the mid-1800s relative to the modern era, including frost, ice and snow.