Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Botanical Discovery in New Zealand: The Visiting Botanists

Joseph Dalton Hooker — (The British Antarctic Expedition)

Joseph Dalton Hooker
(The British Antarctic Expedition)

One of the greatest botanists of the nineteenth century and indeed of all time was Sir Joseph Hooker. He collected plants in many parts of the world and it was he who laid the foundations of modern systematic botany by his great six volume work on the Botany of the Voyage of the ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’. Three of these volumes related to New Zealand.

Hooker was the son of Sir William Hooker, Director of the Kew Gardens, and he succeeded his father in this position. His connection with New Zealand botany began with the visit of the British Antarctic Expedition under the command of Sir James Clark Ross, Hooker being posted as assistant surgeon to the Erebus. The assistant surgeon on the Terror was Dr D. Lyall who, like Hooker, was a botanist. Lyall carried out botanical work in New Zealand after the return of the Antarctic Expedition to England.

page 27
Joseph DaltonHooker (1817–1911)

Joseph Dalton


The expedition originated through the British Association for the Advancement of Science urging the Government to carry out magnetic observations in various parts of the world, but especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Both Captain Ross' ship, the Erebus, and the second vessel, the Terror, were strongly built so as to resist ice pressure, and were liberally equipped. The expedition finally left England in 1839. Various islands in the South Indian Ocean were visited, a call was made at Hobart, and, on November 20th, the ships entered Port Ross at the northeast end of Auckland Island, eight months after d'Urville sailed from the same spot in the Astrolabe. Hooker, reporting to the commander, says: ‘Perhaps no place in the course of our projected voyage in the southern ocean promised more novelty to the botanist than Auckland Island.’ He then enumerated the five species of trees which he observed to form the forest and scrub of Auckland Island: Metrosideros umbellata, southern rata; Dracophyllum longifolium, inanga; Nothopanax simplex, haumakaroa; Hebe elliptica, coastal koromiko; and Coprosma foetidissima, hupiro. But it was on the hills that he came across the more beautiful plants. One can judge the feelings of this enthusiastic botanist when his eyes first fell on such remarkable herbs as Chrysobactron rossii with its poker-like heads of golden purple-rayed daisy flowers, Celmisia vernicosa with glossy leaves spread out like the spokes of a wheel, and Hebe benthami, a shrub with bright blue flowers. Besides these there were buttercups page 28 gentians, geraniums, and forget-me-nots of species hitherto unknown to science.

From Auckland Island the expedition sailed to Campbell Island. Here more specimens were collected and more new species discovered. Hooker's general conclusion was that the floras of the Auckland and Campbell Islands were most nearly allied to that of New Zealand and that where they differed they approximated more closely to the flora of Antarctic America. Later botanists have amply confirmed this far-reaching conclusion.

From Campbell Island the Erebus and Terror sailed southwards until the Antarctic continent was reached. Here Ross penetrated as far as the Great Ice Barrier and discovered two volcanoes, an active one which he named Mount Erebus and an extinct one which he called Mount Terror. On the return voyage a short call was made at Sydney and the course then set for the north of New Zealand. The ships arrived at the Bay of Islands on August 17th. Here a stay was made until November 23rd, when the expedition sailed for the Antarctic, eventually reaching England towards the end of 1843.

Hooker carried a letter to Mr Colenso whom he met the day after he arrived at the Bay of Islands. Colenso, who had then been in New Zealand for over six years, had given a good deal of time to collecting and was well acquainted with the flora of the northern part of New Zealand. Colenso and Hooker made many excursions together, while during the last month of Hooker's stay they had the company of Dr Andrew Sinclair, a keen naturalist. During his sojourn at the Bay of Islands, Hooker visited the Keri-keri River, Waikare Inlet, Waimate, Waitangi, and the vicinity of Paihia. He collected assiduously on every occasion, though he admitted that his collection ‘contained no novelty among flowering plants not known to Mr Colenso and Dr Sinclair’, with whom he spent many days. Among the lower plants—mosses, liverworts, fungi, seaweeds—Hooker collected much that had not hithertc been found in New Zealand. Perhaps one of the most significant botanical aspects of Hooker's visit to the Bay of Islands was that it began a friendship and correspondence with Colenso that lasted for over fifty years.

A glance at Hooker's Handbook of the New Zealand Flora will show the help that Hooker obtained from Colenso, for on almost every page Colenso is quoted as being one of the authorities who provided the specimens on which Hooker worked. Indeed, in his preface, Hooker says that Mr Colenso was the one to whom he was most indebted for specimens and information.

page 29
Clematis HexasepalaReproduction of coloured plate in Hooker'sFlora Novae Zelandiae. This species is common in the North but rare in the South Island. The flowers, one to one and a half inches in diameter, are white.

Clematis Hexasepala
Reproduction of coloured plate in Hooker'sFlora Novae Zelandiae. This species is common in the North but rare in the South Island. The flowers, one to one and a half inches in diameter, are white.

With his untiring capacity for work and outstanding genius as a classifier, Hooker set to work on his return to England to write up the botanical results of the expedition. Between 1843 and 1860 he produced six big volumes on The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage. They were in large quarto size and were illustrated with coloured drawings by the celebrated botanical artist W. H. Fitch. The first volume, which appeared in 1844 and was entitled Flora Antarctica, contained descriptions of the plants of the Auckland and Campbell Islands. Volume II of the Flora Antarctica, published in 1847, dealt with the plants of the Falkland Islands and Antarctic South America. The next two volumes, entitled Flora Novae Zelandiae, contained a comprehensive account of the plants of New Zealand. The first of these volumes appeared in 1853 and dealt with the flowering plants; the second volume, issued in 1855, covered the ferns and other flowerless plants, mosses, liverworts, fungi, lichens, and seaweeds. The final two volumes, published in 1860, were entitled Flora Tasmaniae.

The publication of the Flora Novae Zelandiae marks the beginning of a new era in the history of New Zealand botany, that of page 30
Ranunculus InsignisThis species, one of the large New Zealand buttercups, was first named by J. D. Hooker. It is found in the mountains of the North Island and of the northern part of the South Island. The flowers measure one to two inches across and are golden yellow.

Ranunculus Insignis
This species, one of the large New Zealand buttercups, was first named by J. D. Hooker. It is found in the mountains of the North Island and of the northern part of the South Island. The flowers measure one to two inches across and are golden yellow.

the appearance of monographs with adequate descriptions and illustrations. Hooker's work was based on his own collections and those of several other collectors, including Colenso, Sinclair1 and Bidwill2 while in his position at Kew he was able to consult practically all the collections made before his visit to New Zealand, namely, those of Banks, Solander, Forster, d'Urville, the Cunninghams3 and Raoul4 In the two volumes of the Flora Novae Zelandiae 1,767 species of plants were described, this being more than twice the number in Raoul's list of 1846. The coloured plates number 130 and there was an introductory essay on plant geography which showed that Hooker had a thorough grasp of the floras of the southern hemisphere.

Hooker's connection with the flora of New Zealand did not end with the publication of the Flora Novae Zelandiae. Colenso and others continued to send him specimens, and in 1864 he published the first part of his Handbook of the New Zealand Flora, the second part appearing three years later. This work was not merely a reproduction of his larger Flora but an entirely new book. Many new species were described from specimens collected by such men as Colenso, Hector5 Buchanan6 Travers7 and others. It remained the standard work on New Zealand plants for over forty years.

page 31

Hooker died in 1911 at the age of ninety-four, and thus his lifetime overlaps by more than seventy years the period of the study of New Zealand plants by resident botanists. His name is commemorated in the following species of New Zealand plants: Pleuro-phyllum hookeri, Asplenium hookerianum, Celmisia hookeri, Parahebe hookeri.

Hooker is known to us mainly by his great work on the plants of the southern regions and especially of New Zealand and Tasmania, In this work he advanced and improved considerably the botany of the day. By defining the limits of the distribution of species he gave a more coherent treatment of the plants of vast areas of the world. We are indeed fortunate in having had Hooker to put in order and greatly extend the knowledge of the flora of New Zealand. Moreover, his botanical work extended into a much wider field than the classification and description of species. In his day he was the greatest authority on the geographical distribution of plants. He was constantly in touch with Darwin when Darwin was writing the Origin of Species, and was his first adherent among biologists. Hooker's Essay on the Flora of Australia, published in the Flora Tasmaniae, was an important contribution to plant geography and the origin of species, and his Himalayan Journals rank with Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, and Wallace's Malay Archipelago as outstanding works on biological and geographical discovery.

1 Dr Andrew Sinclair, originally a surgeon in the Royal Navy, first visited New Zealand in 1841, in which year he met Hooker and Colenso at the Bay of Islands. He was later appointed Colonial Seretary. He devoted his spare time to botanical collecting and visited many parts of the country. He was drowned (1861) when attempting to ford the Rangitata River while attached to a survey party.

2 Mr J. C. Bidwill was the first European to explore the volcanic mountains of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. His botanical collections were the first to be made in this region. Later he collected on the mountains of Nelson. All his specimens were forwarded to the Kew Herbarium.

3 Allan Cunningham superintendent of the Sydney Botanical Gardens, visited the Bay of Islands in 1826 and 1838 and made extensive collection of plants. His brother, Richard Cunningham, visited the district in 1833 and collected plants. A series of Cunningham's plants are in the Dominion Museum, Wellington. Allan Cunningham, in 1835–39, published a descriptive list of all the plants then known from New Zealand.

4 E. Raoul was surgeon on the French ships L'Aube and L'Allier which were stationed at Akaroa from 1840 to 1843. The descriptions of his collections were published in a French scientific journal and reprinted, in 1846, in a book entitled Choix de Plantes de la Nouvelle-Zelande.

5 Dr (afterwards Sir) James Hector was appointed Provincial Geologist to Otago in 1861, and soon afterwards, with his assistant John Buchanan, explored the West Coast Sounds and many parts of Otago. Though the expeditions were mainly for geological purposes considerable collections of plants were made. Hector later became Curator of the Colonial (now the Dominion) Museum.

6 John Buchanan arrived in New Zealand in 1860 and joined the staff of the Geological Survey of Otago, later transferring to the New Zealand Geological Survey under Hector. He was an energetic collector of botanical and geological specimens. He published many papers on geology and on plants and a large work illustrated with 64 plates on the grasses of New Zealand (1880).

7 W. T. L. Travers arrived in New Zealand in 1849 and soon afterwards began collecting plants on the mountains of the South Island, mostly in Nelson. He contributed many papers on botany and other subjects to the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute.