Title: Early New Zealand Botanical Art

Author: F. Bruce Sampson

Publication details: Reed Methuen, 1985, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: F. Bruce Sampson

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Early New Zealand Botanical Art



The Endeavour then headed for Tahiti ("Otaheite"), arriving on 13 April, seven weeks before the transit of Venus was due. No sooner had the ship anchored than, in the words of Banks, "we were surrounded by a large number of Canoes who traded very quietly and civily, for beads cheifly [sic], in exchange for which they gave Cocoa nuts Bread fruit both roasted and raw some small fish and apples." The Endeavour spent four idyllic months there, and the naturalists had plants in abundance to collect and describe. Banks had long before this regretted his hasty engagement to Harriet Blosset and was soon charmed by the Tahitian women. In the words of Wilfrid Blunt (in D. J. Carr (ed.), Sydney Parkinson, 1983): "In a country where 'women's lib.' already flourished, he led a rich and uninhibited sex-life." Banks soon learnt to speak Tahitian, the only language he mastered other than English!

Four days after their arrival, the artist Alexander Buchan had an epileptic seizure and died. Banks noted somewhat peevishly in his Journal:

I sincerely regret him as an ingenious and good young man, but his Loss to me is irretrevable, my airy dreams of entertaining my freinds [sic] in England with the scenes that I am to see here are vanishd. No account of the figures and dresses of men can be satisfactory unless illustrated with figures: had providence spard him a month longer what an advantage would it have been to my undertaking.

Buchan's death meant that Sydney Parkinson now had responsibility for landscape and figure painting as well as natural history subjects, which explains, in part, why so many of Parkinson's subsequent plant paintings were incomplete. This did not mean that such illustrations were of no use to Banks and Solander, for almost all of the incomplete illustrations had an page 21 outline of the plant, with a small section carefully coloured and precise notes on any variations in form or colour. When these illustrations were completed by a team of skilled artists hired by Banks after the voyage, results were so similar that "it is not always possible ... to be sure which artist was responsible for any particular unsigned painting" (Wilfrid Blunt in D. J. Carr (ed.), Sydney Parkinson, 1983). Fortunately for Parkinson, Banks and Solander's clerk, Herman Spöring, was a competent draughtsman and he was able to relieve Parkinson of some of the extra work that followed Buchan's death. Painting was not always easy in Tahiti, as the oft-quoted remark from Banks's Journal indicates: "The flies have been so troublesome ever since we have been ashore that we can scarce get any business done for them; they eat the painters colours off the paper as fast as they are laid on."

Sydney Parkinson made 114 drawings and paintings and fourteen sketches of plants of the Society Islands (Fosberg and Sachet in D. J. Carr (ed.), Sydney Parkinson, 1983), a remarkable achievement, for Parkinson had zoological drawings to execute as well as drawing the Tahitians, their homes, canoes, plantations and landscapes. In his spare time he wrote up his Journal, which gives an interesting account of the voyage. Small wonder that Sydney did not take time to indulge in "those sensual gratifications which are so easily obtained among the female parts of uncivilised nations" (Stanfield Parkinson in the preface to his brother's Journal).

The transit of Venus was observed under ideal conditions, and on 13 July the Endeavour left Tahiti, after several would-be deserters were rounded up. When 40° S latitude was reached without any signs of the great southern continent, Cook headed for New Zealand.