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 engravings

The engravings

Banks had engravings of the finished Parkinson illustrations made on copper plates. His intention was to publish the botanical results of the Endeavour voyage in a series of fourteen or more volumes, with text to accompany the illustrations. Solander had made his descriptions of each plant on oblong pieces of paper during the voyage and these were filed in small boxes, now known as "Solander cases". The descriptions were neatly copied after the voyage into folio volumes and marked ready for printing. Joseph Banks employed eighteen different engravers to make the set of about 740 engravings. It has not been possible to determine whether the engravings, which have strong lines and lack the delicacy of many French engravings (compare Plates 4 to 7 with Plates 9 to 12) were to have been hand coloured after printing.

Joseph Banks, who was made a baronet in 1781, was a man of many activities and had been away on his expedition to Iceland during the last half of 1772. It was not until November 1784 that he was able to state that only two months' work was needed before publication. The copperPlate engravings alone had cost him £7,000, a huge sum then. Trial proofs were made but publication did not eventuate. The New Zealand portion, entitled Primitiae Florae Novae-Zelandiae, contained descriptions of 343 species, illustrated by over 200 plates. Even the title page had been prepared. Had the manuscript been published, we would now be using Banks's and Solander's names for many New Zealand plants. A number of later botanists did, however, use some of the names suggested by Banks and Solander. There are typescript copies of Primitiae Florae Novae-Zelandiae in the Auckland Institute and Museum and in the National Museum, Wellington.

In the 1890s several sets of proofs of the engravings were received by the New Zealand Government from the British Museum. They included 182 New Zealand plants and several hundred from elsewhere. These sets are now at the Auckland Institute and Museum, the National Museum and the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. In 1973 a limited edition of thirty of the botanical engravings, including some of New Zealand plants, was published (Blunt and Stearn, 1973).