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

Why was the botany of Cook's first voyage not published?

Why was the botany of Cook's first voyage not published?

A number of reasons have been advanced, but the full truth will probably never be known. There is no doubt that the sudden death of Solander, aged forty-nine, in London on 13 May 1782 slowed down the plans for publication. After Cook's voyage and the trip to Iceland with Banks, Daniel Solander had a very busy life. He continued to work at the British Museum and in 1773 was promoted to keeper, with an annual salary of £100 and an £8 allowance "for coal and candles" (Rauschenberg, 1968). He helped Joseph Banks with his work, and this included cataloguing the plants at the Royal Gardens, Kew. He was employed too by the Duchess of Portland to work on her natural history collections. He identified material for many others, including Dr John Fothergill, an eminent physician and naturalist who had been involved in the publication of a second edition of Sydney Parkinson's Journal (see Beaglehole, 1962, for details).

There is no doubt that Banks too led a very busy life and had many projects in hand. Banks had, by the way, broken off his engagement to Harriet Blosset soon after his return to England. He made her a substantial payment by way of an apology, and this was recorded in, above all things, the foreword to the 1810 edition of James Lee's Introduction to the Science of Botany by Lee's son. Miss Blosset married a clergyman and was "blessed with a numerous and lovely family". Banks became involved with the unknown Miss B . . . n, which led to the birth of an illegitimate child. Then, in March 1779, aged thirty-six, he married Dorothea Hugessen, fifteen years his junior and possessor of "sixty thousand pounds". They had no children.

Banks became a close friend of George III and in 1773, after his return from Iceland, was appointed special advisor and director of the Royal Gardens at Kew, a task that he was involved with for the rest of his long life. In 1778 he was elected president of the Royal Society, a post he held for over forty years and which occupied much of his time. One of Banks's page 31 greatest contributions to science was the way in which he promoted scientific research and encouraged talented young naturalists, making his vast library and collections freely available to them. By 1785 the botany of Cook's first voyage was almost ready for publication. An explanation of why it was never published has been suggested by Professor J. C. Beaglehole (1962):

One is compelled, rather to one's surprise, rather against one's will, to the conviction that Banks did not publish because he had lost interest. He had lost interest because of the very nature of his mind; and his mind was never, in relation to science, truly 'professional'. He was a Gentleman, and a Amateur.

Perhaps this is true, but it does seem strange that, after persevering with publication plans for so long and being so close to finishing the work, he should lose interest.

It is true too that in some ways there was no need for Banks to publish his material, for his home at 32 Soho Square was always open for serious students to inspect manuscripts and illustrations. This, of course, was of little help to overseas naturalists, and in 1771 Linnaeus himself wrote urging "the publication of these new acquisitions, that the learned world may not be deprived of them". Perhaps Banks, who published so little, had an aversion to committing himself to print. As time passed, many of the botanical results of the voyage had been published in piecemeal fashion by others. As far back as 1776, publication of the Forsters' Characteres Generum Plant arum, in which they had substituted their own botanical names for some plants they collected on the second voyage and which had also been collected on the first voyage, had rendered invalid these manuscript names of Solander and Banks.

Yet another reason has been advanced. The American War of Independence and the subsequent fall-off in demand for the type of long wool that Banks exported from his Lincolnshire estates had sharply reduced his income. With apparently no assistance from the Crown towards publication costs, Banks may have considered that he had spent more than enough on the project as it was.

page 32

Plate 7 Carmichaelia aligera (native broom)

The specimen illustrated was collected from Mercury Bay, Coromandel Peninsula. Banks and Solander also collected Carmichaelia from Poverty Bay, Anaura Bay and Tolaga Bay and described all collections in their unpublished manuscript as Genista compressa. Then, in 1825, the taxonomist Robert Brown described these collections, as well as a specimen the Forsters collected from Dusky Sound (which George Forster had named as Lotus arboreus in his Prodromus), as a single species, Carmichaelia australis. It is now recognised that several different species were in fact included in Brown's Carmichaelia australis. The specimen Parkinson illustrated from Mercury Bay would now be classified as Carmichaelia aligera. However, the New Zealand species of Carmichaelia are currently being revised and it may well be that the name of the plant Parkinson painted may change again!

There are about forty species of Carmichaelia, a member of the pea family (Leguminosae or Papilionaceae), and all but one occur in the New Zealand region. The other species occurs only on Lord Howe Island. C aligera is an erect shrub or tree up to ten metres high. The flattened green branchlets, which have lost their leaves in the flowering and fruiting specimen shown at right, function as leaves.

The watercolour from which the engraving was made shows that the flowers are a deep purple colour and that the fruits at upper right are a dark brown. When most of the fruit wall falls to the ground, the bright orange seeds remain attached to the plant, supported by a thin rim of fruit wall tissue (centre right).

Courtesy of the Director, National Museum, Wellington

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Plate 7 Carmichaelia aligera Simpson, (broom) Engraving from Parkinson's painting

Plate 7 Carmichaelia aligera Simpson, (broom) Engraving from Parkinson's painting

Plate 8 Elytranthe tetrapetala (Peraxilla tetrapetala) (mistletoe)

Elytranthe tetrapetala is a bushy shrub about a metre in height, which grows parasitically on trees. It is a semi-parasite, for although its roots draw food materials from the stem of the host, its own green leaves manufacture food too. This species of mistletoe is restricted to the North and South Islands of New Zealand. In the north it grows mainly on the tawheowheo, Quintinia serrata, and in the south on mountain beech, Nothofagus solandri variety cliffortioides. The jed flowers form a striking contrast to the dark green foliage between October and January.

As George Forster's painting indicates, there are four pollen-bearing stamens inside the red perianth, and in the centre of the flower, a style with a terminal stigma on which pollen is deposited. Dissected flower parts are shown, uncoloured, in the illustration. There are three other species of the Elytranthe group in New Zealand. All are endemic and belong to the family Loranthaceae. George Forster's painting is of a specimen of Elytranthe (then known as Loranthus) that was collected at Queen Charlotte Sound on 22 November 1773.

Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History)

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Plate 8 Elytrantbe tetrapetala (Murr.) Engl, (mistletoe) George Forster

Plate 8 Elytrantbe tetrapetala (Murr.) Engl, (mistletoe) George Forster