Botanical Discovery in New Zealand: The Visiting Botanists
J. R. Forster and G. Forster — (Cook's Second Voyage)
J. R. Forster and G. Forster
(Cook's Second Voyage)
* The Forsters were born in Prussia, their father being English. J. R. Forster was an expert linguist. When he came to England he translated into English many foreign accounts of voyages. He thus acquired a wide knowledge of geography. and supplemented the botany and zoology which already were his main interests
J. R. Forster
The two ships, the Resolution and the Adventure, left Plymouth in 1772. At the Cape of Good Hope Dr A. Sparrman, a botanist who had been a pupil of Linnaeus, joined the expedition. After some months of unsuccessful attempts to find a southern continent, Cook decided to steer for New Zealand, and put into Dusky Bay in March 1773.
Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum)
Both the illustrations on this page are taken from Captain Cook's Second Voyage (published 1777). In that book this drawing is called ‘The Spruce Fir of New Zeeland’.
The Forsters' botanical work was carried out under extraordinarily difficult conditions as they were much cramped for room on board ship, and they had to sleep in the forecastle with the crew.
During this voyage, as on the first, Cook was especially concerned with the health of all those on board his ships. At Dusky page break Sound and elsewhere, he used the young shoots of the rimu for making a liquor he called spruce beer. George Forster records the method of making the beer. ‘In effect, with the addition of the inspissated juice of wort and some molasses, we brewed a very good sort of beer, which we improved very considerably afterwards, by correcting the too great astringency of our new spruce with an equal quantity of the new tea-tree.’ Of tea-tree or manuka Forster says that the leaves were finely aromatic, astringent, and had a particularly pleasant flavour at their first infusion, but when the teapot was again filled with water the infusion was bitter, so that only newly infused tea was drunk.
The ships left Dusky Sound and moved to Queen Charlotte's Sound (we now call it Queen Charlotte Sound). Here the Forsters continued their plant collecting, and many hitherto unknown kinds were discovered. Some of the most notable species which received from Forster the names we now use are Phormium tenax, New Zealand flax; Rhopalostylis sapida, nikau; Hebe salicifolia, koromiko: Brachyglottis repanda, rangiora; Coprosma foetidissima, houpiro; C. lucida, karamu; Aciphylla squarrosa, Spaniard; Leptospermum scoparium, manuka; and Dacrydium cupressinum, rimu.
The plants with antiscorbutic properties — Cook's scurvy grass (Lepidium oleraceum) and wild celery (Apium prostratum) — were abundant at Queen Charlotte Sound, and boatloads were gathered. These, with fresh fish, cleared up the scurvy from which several of the men were suffering. The greens were boiled with oatmeal or wheat for breakfast and with pea soup for dinner. Sow thistles (Sonchus littoralis) and what we now call New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia expansa) were used as salads.
The Flower and Seed Parts of Rhipogonum scandens(supplejack), from Characters Generum Plantarum.
On the opposite page of that book the parts are named:a Flos (flower), b Calyx (calyx), c Stamen (stamen), d Pistillum, (pistil), e Bacca (berry), f eadem dissecta (the same cut in half), g Semen (seed).
The Vessels left Queen Charlotte Sound to explore the Pacific, but twice afterwards the Resolution returned to the Sound, giving the Forsters further opportunities to collect plants.
After the arrival of the expedition in England it seems that, on account of ill-feeling against J. R. Forster, he was told that he was not to write an account of the expedition and that he was employed simply as a collector. This was manifestly untrue, and offended Forster so much that he returned to Germany. However, it was unlikely that he would submit altogether to this unfair prohibition. He and his son published at least seven books. Those dealing with New Zealand botany were:
Characteres Generum Plantarum, by J. R. and G. Forster, 1776, descriptions of new genera of plants discovered on the voyage. In this work many new generic names were founded. These include some of the best known among the plants of New Zealand, for instance: Rhipogonum, Phormium, Corynocarpus, Melicytus, Leptospermum, Aciphylla, Coprosma, Brachyglottis.* In the Preface to the Characteres it is stated that Sparrman described the plants and George Forster drew them. Each of the Forsters afterwards copied the descriptions into manuscript books for their own use.
* Specific examples of these genera are mentioned in this bulletin: Rhipogonum scandens (pp. 19, 38); Phormium tenax (pp. 23, 35, 38); Corynocarpus laevigata (pp. 23, 38); Melicytus ramiflorus—mahoe (p. 40); Leptospermum scoparium (pp. 35, 38, 40), and L. ericoides (p. 40); Aciphylla squarrosa (pp. 28, 35); Coprosma robusta (pp. 25, 40), C. australis (pp. 28, 40). C. lucida (pp. 25, 35), C. foetidissima (pp. 35, 43), C. repens (p. 40), C. acerosa (p. 32); Bruchyglottis repanda (pp.23, 35).
In addition to these, G. Forster's A Voyage Round the World, 1777, contains various items of information on useful plants. The original descriptions of the plants of New Zealand, much fuller than those appearing in the Prodromus, were published by A. Richard in the botany volume of the voyage of the Astrolabe, 1832, and ascribed to ‘Forster’.
J. R. Forster kept all his own notes but sold George's paintings to Sir Joseph Banks. The specimens were distributed to the University of Gottingen, the British Museum, the Paris Museum, and some other institutions.
The Forsters are commemorated in the name Forstera, founded by the younger Linnaeus in 1780, for a genus of the family Stylidiaceae. Forstera is a peculiar group of plants with three species in New Zealand and one in Tasmania. The name forsteri has been given to several species of plants, for example, Carex forsteri (a sedge found from the North Cape to Foveaux Strait), Myosotis forsteri (a forget-me-not, also found in the North and the South Islands).