Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768–1771 [Volume Two]

2. Solander to Ellis

2. Solander to Ellis

Rio de Janeiro, Dec. 1, 1768.

My Dear Sir,

In my last from Madeira of the 18th of Sept. I only had time to let you know we were all well, and that we there met with a very good reception, which is more than I can say of this place, where the Vice Roy has been so infernally cross and ill-natured, as to forbid us to set our feet upon dry land. How mortifying that must be to me and Mr. Banks you best can feel, especially if you suppose yourself within a quarter of a mile of a shore, covered with palms of several sorts, fine large trees and shrubs, whose very blossoms have had such an influence upon us, that we have ventured to bribe people to collect them, and send them on board as greens and sallading for our table.

Now and then we likewise botanized in company with our sheep and goats, when grass has been sent on board for them. Once I have ventured, as belonging to the watering boat, to land at the watering place, which page 309 is in the middle of the town, where happening to meet with a civil captain of the guard, and telling him I was the surgeon's mate, and should be glad to go up to some apothecaries shops to buy drugs, he granted me a guard; which happened to be a very good-natured serjeant, that followed me not only all round the town, but likewise a little way into the country, where I collected a few plants and insects; but I could not get so far as the uncultivated places where the palms grow. This place is very large and well built, very regular and well paved. They reckon 37,000 white inhabitants, and above 400,000 blacks; some say half a million. Their churches are very rich, as are their numberless convents. The Opera-house is large, but they say the performers are indifferent. Every body that lives here cannot be called any thing else but a slave; none dare do any thing without the Viceroy's leave.

We have, nevertheless, by fair means and foul, got about 300 species of plants, among them several new, and an infinite number of new fish. We can hardly buy a plate of shrimps, without finding a dozen of your Pennatula reniformis, or kidney shaped sea-pen, among them.1 This harbour swarms with rays and sharks; among the last, the zygæna [malleus]2, and tiburo of Linæus, or hammer-headed and shovel nose sharks, have given us a great deal of pleasure. It is never heard that sharks do any harm, but in the sea and open roads. In our voyage between England and Madeira, as well as afterwards, we have been lucky enough to meet with a great variety of mollusca, especially of the tribe which Dr Peter Browne calls Thalia, but very ill described by him. We have made above eight or ten new genera, and, I believe, rather too few: I think we have seen above an hundred species of mollusca, especially when we were becalmed near the line; we then every day hoisted out Mr Banks's boat, and sometimes might have caught boat-loads of what the sailors called sea and could remember what we had shewn them, and, consequently, could look out for new ones; some of the sailors have proved very useful hands.

Many of our ship's company have, for a few days, been low spirited from a bilious complaint, which our surgeon generally cured in a week's time.

We have lost no men yet by sickness. Our first mate was drowned at Madeira.

If any of your friends go to Madeira, advise them to get recommendations to Dr Heberden; he has more influence there than the governor. He is just such a philosopher as my friend, and very communicative. page 310 His many instruments, mathematical and optical, have procured him the name of il Doctore Docto. His being a member of the Royal Society of London, has not added a little to his reputation. He procured us access into a nunnery, and when they heard that Mr Banks and myself belonged to the Royal Society, they immediately took us for men of supernatural knowledge, and desired us to walk into their garden, and shew where they might dig for water; they wanted to know by what signs they should be able to foretel tempests, rain, and thunder and lightning. The answers and explanations of all this would have taken us several days; but our captain would not stay for the gratification of the nuns.

The governour was highly pleased with the performance of the new electrical machine; it worked prodigiously well at Madeira, but not half so well near the line; perhaps the air is too damp at sea.

These letters are sent to Europe in a Spanish king's packet, that came here in her way to Buenos Ayres; there is on board of her an officer that has lived seven years in the missions of Paraguay, which he describes as the finest country under the sun, It was not a little mortifying to us, to see all the Spaniards get leave to hire a house on shore, when we were denied to land on any island, or other place that we desired the Vice-roy might appoint, and that under a guard, the very day when our ship was keel'd for to clean her sides, so that we could hardly make a shift to walk. I hope I shall live to see the day when Conte de Azambuja, the new Vice-roy of Brazil shall be ashamed of his impolite behaviour towards us. This letter goes in a Spanish man of war; my last, from Madeira, was sent in an Irish ship. The Spanish officers are the only people that we are allowed to converse with; they are very civil and agreeable, and seem to be unreserved. The captain has been in the South Seas, and went round cape Horn, which, I believe, will be our route. The fruits of this country are nothing near so good as ours are in Europe. Their pineapples are extremely sweet, but no flavour; their grapes bad, so are their few apples, likewise their melons; oranges are good, but rather want acid to give them flavour. Bananas, plantains, very little better than those you might have tasted at Kew. Water melons very good. Mangoes are not so good as they are described in 20.18. taste of a disagreeable turpentine.

Their other fruits, as Iamboeira (Eugenia Iambos of Linnæus,) Papayas, Mammeas, &c. can no ways be equivalent to our fruits; but they have one advantage, that they have here a succession of fruit the whole year round. Their few peaches are abominable; their greens tough and leafy. The country people eat almost every fruit that grows, but very few of them would be acceptable, even to boys in Europe.

Dan. Ch. Solander
page 311

1 ‘The kidney-shaped Sea pen was discovered some time ago on the coast of South Carolina, and sent to Mr Ellis by John Gregg, Esq; of Charles-Town.’—Gent. Mag., xxxiv (1764), p. 370. It is now Renilla reniformis (Pallas).

2 The sense requires this word omitted perhaps by Solander in the haste of writing, perhaps through a slip of the compositor in printing.