Elwyn Owen Arnold Welch

Elwyn Owen Arnold Welch

Male 1925 - 1961  (36 years)

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  • Name Elwyn Owen Arnold Welch 
    Born 13 Jan 1925  Masterton, Masterton District, Wellington, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Died 10 Dec 1961  Jos, Nigeria Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • Welch, Elwyn Owen Arnold 1925 - 1961

      Farmer, ornithologist, conservationist, missionary

      Elwyn Owen Arnold Welch was born in Masterton on 13 January 1925, the son of Ethel Falkner and her husband, Owen Welch, a farmer. Ethel's family was from nearby Kaiparoro, where her father had built the first sawmill in the district. The Welch family farmed Kelvin Grove on the northern flanks of Mt Bruce. Elwyn was educated at Kaiparoro and Mikimiki schools, and for a time as a correspondence student. He then boarded at Wairarapa College, Masterton, where he took the agricultural course and passed matriculation before returning to the family farm. After his marriage to Shirley Noeline Elizabeth Burridge, in Wellington on 7 February 1948, he took over Kelvin Grove, his parents shifting to an adjoining property they had recently purchased.

      From early infancy Elwyn Welch had an intense interest in the natural world. As a child he frequently brought home wild kittens and young birds; as a teenager he roamed the Tararua Range near his farm, tramping and shooting goats. Birds became his passion, in particular the species he was familiar with from tramping, and he became one of New Zealand?s paramount amateur ornithologists. He commenced his practical conservation work by hand-raising grey teal chicks, and by the mid 1950s, when the work he had carried out on his farm became better known, he was regarded as an expert in raising endangered species.

      When the government decided to attempt to artificially breed the recently rediscovered takahe in 1957, the Wildlife Division contacted Welch. An elaborate plan was devised to bring young chicks out of the Murchison Mountains. Welch trained a team of bantam hens to raise pukeko chicks, then conditioned them for a trip into the wild by carrying them around his farm in specially constructed pens. In 1958 the hens were taken to Takahe Valley in Fiordland, and the takahe chicks brought to the North Island under the wings of the foster-mother bantams.

      The project was undertaken in absolute secrecy. Welch and his two assistants, Gordon Williams from the Wildlife Division and Peter Morrison from the National Film Unit, travelled under assumed names, and even when the chicks were safely back at Mt Bruce their exact location was kept secret. When the takahe were first displayed to the public in 1960, over 13,000 people visited Kelvin Grove in three weeks. The Wildlife Division was keen to initiate a further breeding programme with kakapo. In early 1961 a number of birds were captured in Fiordland and taken to Kelvin Grove, where the division hoped to learn something of the habits of this largely unknown bird.

      At the height of his success as an ornithologist, however, Elwyn Welch felt the call to follow another of his passions. He and Shirley decided to take their children to Nigeria to work for the Sudan Interior Mission. A member of the Open Brethren congregation since his teens, Welch had preached to a number of different denominations in Wairarapa, and studied by correspondence with the New Zealand Bible Training Institute. The government, which had been searching for a base to establish a breeding programme for native birds, purchased Kelvin Grove, and in April 1961 the Welches left for Nigeria. There, they ran a guest house for missionaries based in the interior of the country, as well as undertaking preaching duties.

      In early December Welch started suffering terrible night fevers. He had contracted bulbar poliomyelitis, and on 10 December 1961, just seven months after leaving Wairarapa, he died at Jos, Nigeria, aged 36. He was survived by Shirley, two daughters and a son.

      Elwyn Welch's contribution to conservation is celebrated in the National Wildlife Centre, now on a reserve a kilometre from Kelvin Grove. He is remembered not only for his passion for New Zealand's avifauna but also for his firm Christian faith, and for his willingness to give of himself in following both his callings.

      Source - Winter, Gareth. 'Welch, Elwyn Owen Arnold 1925 - 1961'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007

      URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/

      Takahe breeding story told in new book

      Ali Foster, the late Elwyn Welch's widow Shirley and Viv Walker

      Cloak and dagger takahe breeding on a 1950s Mount Bruce farm spread its literary wings yesterday during the launch of a prize-winning picture book about the secret feat.

      Elwyn's Dream, a short story by Masterton author Ali Foster, last year won the Mitre 10 Takahe Rescue writing contest and tells the true story of the late Elwyn Welch.

      The arrival of a display pair of takahe was timed for the launch at the Pukaha Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre with the event yesterday also held to mark World Environment Day in the region and the annual Yarns in Barns regional book week.

      Event spokeswoman Jane Arnott said a Braille version of Elwyn's Dream, which is published by Random House, was also presented at the launch in special recognition of Ms Foster's work with the visually impaired.

      Also at the launch was Mr Welch's widow, Shirley.

      Source 'Wairarapa Times-Age' - Nathan Crombie 6 Jun 2008

      Carrying on granddad's work with takahe

      The family of one of New Zealand's conservation pioneers is carrying on his work saving the takahe, one of the country's rarest birds. The late Elwyn Welch began the first captive breeding programme for the rare bird, of which there are only 200 left. Now two of his descendants have helped two chicks begin the journey from the Tiritiri Matangi sanctuary to their new home at the Burwood Breeding Centre in Te Anau.

      Elywn's granddaughter and great granddaughter, Ayoka and Sasha Maya, helped to transport the two new takahe chicks, and were quickly captivated by the flightless bird.

      Five-year-old Ayoka decided on the name Elywn for one of the chicks.

      Source - ONE News, Published: 7:08PM Tuesday March 09, 2010
    Person ID I14080  Frost Family
    Last Modified 6 Nov 2011 

    Father Owen Welch,   b. 17 Jan 1897, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Abt 1984, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 86 years) 
    Mother Ethel Falkner,   b. 11 Feb 1898, Kaiparoro, Eketahuna, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 30 Oct 1985, Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 87 years) 
    Married 18 Feb 1920  New Zealand Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Family ID F993  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family S.N.E. Burridge 
    Last Modified 9 Mar 2010 
    Family ID F13695  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 13 Jan 1925 - Masterton, Masterton District, Wellington, New Zealand Link to Google Earth
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  • Photos
    Elwyn Welch
    Elwyn Welch
    Elwyn Welch
    Elwyn Welch
    Elwyn Welch and a takehe, about 1957
    Elwyn Welch and a takehe, about 1957
    Known as an expert in raising endangered birds, Elwyn Welch is pictured with a takahe, a species he helped save in an elaborate plan to bring chicks out of the Murchison Mountains.

  • Sources 
    1. [S293] BDM NZ Historical Records, (http://www.bdmhistoricalrecords.identityservices.govt.nz/home/), 1920/5003 (Reliability: 3), 18 Feb 1920.
      Ethel Falkner
      Owen Welch