The first volume of Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand : General was published in 1967. It was one of four publications that had evolved from the original Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand, one of New Zealand's most important research publications, particularly for science. The other three publications to emerge from the splitting of the Transactions were Botany, Geology and Zoology.
The Royal Society (known as the New Zealand Institute before 1933) published an annual collection of papers read before its various branches (the Transactions) in combination with accounts of the Institute’s activities, and the activities of its Board of Governors (the Proceedings) from 1869. In 1958 the Proceedings and Transactions were split and published separately.
In November 1960 entomologist and general editor John Tenison Salmon (1910-1999) suggested to the Society that the Transactions be divided and published in sections. Although his proposal was carried ten votes to eight, internal opposition to it meant that it wasn’t until May 1961 that the titles for the four series were agreed upon and the final issue of the combined Transactions was published.
It was also decided to publish papers when they were ready, rather than waiting to publish them as part of a volume. This meant that from 1961, papers were released at irregular intervals and at greatly varying rates. The first General paper was actually published on October 10, 1962. Volumes were completed when about 250 pages had been published, regardless of the dates the individual papers had been issued. There were only two volumes of the General series produced.
The first editor was malacologist (a specialist in shells) Richard Kenneth (Dick) Dell (1920-2002) and the second, Burton Wallace Collins (1916-). Associate editors who worked on the General series were geomorphologist Sir Charles Cotton (1885-1970), botanist Bruce G. Hamlin (1929-1976), and zoologist Walter Clive Clark (1927-).
In 1970 the Royal Society agreed that all further papers would be published in a unified periodical, the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. The first issue of the Journal was published in June 1971, and the Biological Sciences, Earth Sciences and General Transactions ceased.
In 2017 the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand was still published by the Royal Society, alongside the six scientific journals that the Society took over in 1991 when the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) was restructured.
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