David Usher

David Usher – 1949


On May 13th 1948 we left England on the P&O Strathaird and arrived in Sydney about 5 weeks later. From there we took a DC3 across the Tasman Sea and were ferried by car down to Wellington, arriving in July 1948. My dad worked for the Dunlop Rubber Company and had been transferred to New Zealand. For the first six months or so we lived in hotels, first the Midland and then the St George. It was towards the end of this time that I started at Wellesley College, taking a bus from Wellington out to Days Bay. Eventually we bought a house on Maire Street in Eastbourne, and the journey became less onerous, but, as a result, I cannot remember quite how I then got to school.

Memories of my one year at Wellesley are pretty fragmentary, but some things still stand out clearly. Mr Stevens was immensely supportive of my interest in chemistry, and I shall always be grateful to him for this. He even gave me an alcohol-fueled burner for my home lab. Ron Grieve’s mention (elsewhere in theses accounts) of the headmaster putting a mouse in liquid oxygen and then hitting it with a hammer, is quite correct. I know the mouse was already dead because in 1949 I was the one who supplied it. It had been caught in a trap in the washroom at our house in Eastbourne. Other memories are of the sharp explosions that can be made by igniting a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen. I seem to remember that he mixed the gases in a large rubber balloon and made soap bubbles by using a nozzle on the end of the balloon immersed in a tray of soap solution on the bench.

The other teacher I remember with gratitude is Miss Margaret Mace. It was she who introduced me to tennis, a sport that I play to this day. I don’t know if the tradition continued, but back in 1949 we played a friendly tennis match against our “Sister School” Marsden. I think we were not very well behaved, and I don’t remember who won.

Recently I was delighted to discover some footage of the Wellesley sports day from 1949, taken by my father on his 8 mm home movie camera. I think that I also have a digitized clip of a cricket match somewhere on a hard drive. I must find it.

Other memories are of making flax whips and learning how to make them crack. Possibly this was outlawed a little later in the year. The speech competition was new to me, but I still remember parts of the “Robert Falcon Scott” passage, and the Tennyson quote therein.

My sister reminded me about the boxing competition. I remember entering the senior level event, where there was just one other entrant. I came out swinging, right after shaking hands. The barrage took him aback (literally), but I soon became tired and then it was his turn to pummel me. He won. My sister, now living in Nelson, told me that she remembered my bloody nose.


David A. Usher was born in Harrow, England in 1936. He attended Whitgift School in Croyden and immigrated to New Zealand in 1948. There he was educated at Wellesley College (1949), Wanganui Collegiate School (1950-54), Victoria University (B.Sc. 1958, M.Sc. (first class honours) 1960), and Cambridge University (Ph.D. 1963). He worked with Frank Westheimer as a postdoctoral associate at Harvard University 1963-65, then joined the faculty at Cornell University where he has been ever since. He teaches in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.