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Botanical Discovery in New Zealand: The Visiting Botanists

Dumont d'Urville — (Voyages of the ‘Astrolabe’)

Dumont d'Urville
(Voyages of the ‘Astrolabe’)

In his account of his third Antarctic expedition d'Urville shows the aspirations that shaped his career: ‘In my opinion nothing is nobler or worthier of a lofty spirit than to devote one's life to the pursuit of knowledge. That is why my inclination urged me to voyages of discovery rather than to the purely fighting Navy.* Jules Sebastien Cesar Dumont d'Urville joined the French Navy as a midshipman when he was seventeen. His remarkable capacity for work enabled him not only to perfect himself in his duties but also to study natural history, and botany in particular. By the time he was thirty he had brought back from a voyage to the Eastern Mediterranean a large collection of plant specimens which he presented to the Paris Museum. These formed the basis of his Enumeratio Plantarum, published in 1821 at his own expense.

In 1822 the Coquille sailed from Toulon on a voyage of exploration in the South Seas, with Duperrey in command. D'Urville was not only Executive Officer (second in command) but was also charged with carrying out botanical research at the places where the ship touched. In this he was assisted by P. A. Lesson, an industrious botanical collector.

* Quoted from Olive Wright, New Zealand 1826–1827, Wellington, 1950.

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Dumont d'Urville (1790–1842)

Dumont d'Urville

In the course of the 73,000 mile voyage (round the coast of South America, to Australia and New Zealand, to the South Sea Islands, and round the Cape of Good Hope back to Toulon) the Coquille remained for four weeks at the Bay of Islands in 1824. The plants collected here were, however, described in Richard's report on the botany of d'Urville's second expedition; but d'Urville brought back ready for publication a manuscript on the flora of the Falkland Islands.

In the official account of the voyage Duperrey refers to d'Urville's botanical work in these words: ‘d'Urville was not content merely to gather the plants that he saw: he has analyzed them with care. In the case of plants too delicate to be preserved, excellent drawings were made on the spot by M. Lesson' further on, Duperrey continues: ‘M. d'Urville, in striving to note as far as possible the relative degree of frequency of each type of plant in all the regions he explored, will thus have furnished very valuable data for all who make botanical geography their special study. No less interesting are the notes which accompany his collections on the use made of certain plants in domestic life, on the nature and elevation of the soil in which they grow, on the names by which they are known in the different islands.*

When he returned to France, d'Urville urged the authorities to make further explorations in the South Seas. As a result, the

* Quoted from New Zealand 1826–1827

page break Coquille was renamed the Astrolabe and d'Urville was commissioned to command her on her second voyage. In April 1826 the Astrolabe sailed from Toulon on a mission that was to be the greatest achievement of d'Urville's life. On board the Astrolabe were three naturalists other than d'Urville: the surgeon, P. A. Lesson, who assiduously collected plants at each place where the vessel stopped, and two zoologists, Quoy and Gaimard.

After calling at Port Jackson, d'Urville sailed for New Zealand, and sighted the coast of the South Island in January 1827. D'Urville first dropped anchor in New Zealand on the west side of Tasman Bay, at the place now known as Astrolabe Bay. The island behind which he sheltered was named Adèle Island after his wife.

At this place a considerable collection of plants was made and several new species were founded on the material obtained. Among these were the taupata (Coprosma repens), kanono (C. australis), kanuka (Leptospermum ericoides), kahikatea (Podocarpus dacrydioides), and the aka (Metrosideros perforata). Other plants collected were the rimu, kamahi, manuka, mahoe, patete, karamu, koromiko, and toetoe. It must be remembered that several of the species discovered by d'Urville were new to science only in the sense of being first validly named; they were first found by Banks and Solander.

From Astrolabe Bay d'Urville moved across Tasman Bay to Currents Basin, on the west side of French Pass. Botanical collecting was done on the mainland and on D'Urville Island, but
Kahikatea (Podocarpus dacrydioides)

(Podocarpus dacrydioides)

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Houmapara (Pseudopanax lessonii)

(Pseudopanax lessonii)

in the report on the botany of the expedition Richard does not name these two localitics, merely recording Currents Bay.

D'Urville continued his voyage through Cook Strait and east of the North Island, making short stays at Tolaga Bay and Bream Head. In the second of these localities he discovered the houmapara (Pseudopanax lessonii), a tree found only on the coast of the Auckland Province. He then explored the Waitemata Harbour and again visited the Bay of Islands before leaving New Zealand.

The botanical results of the voyage were published in 1832 in a volume entitled Voyage de Decouvertes de l'Astrolabe Botanique, the New Zealand portion being by A. Richard under the heading Essai d'une Flore de la Nouvelle-Zelande. Richard's work was based on the New Zealand collections in the Museum Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. These included a series of the specimens collected by the Forsters during Cook's second, voyage and those collected during the voyages of the Coquille, 1824, and the Astrolabe, 1827. Besides the descriptions drawn up by Richard himself, he included descriptions which he copied from Forster's unpublished manuscript. These are important, as they are much fuller than the brief definitions contained in G. Forster's Prodromus. Richard's Flore contained accounts of 29 seaweeds, 27 lichens, 28 liverworts, 28 mosses, 57 ferns and fern allies, and 210 flowering plants.

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The Third Antarctic Expedition in which d'Urville took part comprised the Astrolabe under his own command and the Zelée under the command of Captain Jacquinot. In 1837 the ships sailed from Toulon. Hombron acted as botanist. Leaving Hobart at the beginning of 1840, the expedition visited the Antarctic continent and then sailed north to the Auckland Islands. After a short stay there they called at Stewart Island and then the ships sailed along the east coast of New Zealand until they reached the Bay of Islands. From here they sailed for France.

The botanical results of d'Urville's third voyage were published in volumes 12 and 13 of Le Voyage au Pole Sud, 1853. There was also a folio atlas of black and white plates. Sixteen flowering plants and ten ferns were described from the Auckland and Campbell Islands, but all of the species had previously been named by other botanists.

D'Urville's name has been given to a genus of seaweeds, Durvillea, which includes the large kelp weed, D. antarctica* common on the coasts of New Zealand. It has also been used for the specific names in Dracophyllum urvilleanum and Pimelea urvilleana.

* See Post-Primary School Bulletin Vol. 3 No. 13 Seaweeds, p. 266.