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

Planning the Illustrations

Planning the Illustrations

Originally it was envisaged that the Illustrations would appear simultaneously with the Manual, but this would have led to a delay in the appearance of the latter. Originally, too, it was suggested that the Illustrations would comprise, on a reduced scale, reproductions of the unpublished engravings resulting from Cook's first voyage, in which case this book would have gone full circle.

Plate 48 Anarthropteris lanceolata (fern)

This fern has suffered numerous name changes; in the Illustrations it is known as Polypodium dictyopteris. A distinctive fern, with leaves from five to twenty-five centimetres long, it is common as an epiphyte on tree trunks but occurs too on rocks or banks in lowland forest. The fern has a condensed rhizome (stem) to which woolly rootlets are attached. Sporangia are grouped in hemispherical clusters in two rows, one on each side of the midrib, on the underside of the leaves. The presence of each group of sporangia is indicated by a bulge on the upper surface of the leaf. Anarthropteris occurs throughout the North Island and the north and west of the South Island as far as Greymouth.

Figure 1, two clusters (sori) of sporangia (x3); figure 2, two sporangia that contain the spores by which ferns reproduce, and three associated multicellular hairs (considerably enlarged but magnification not stated).

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Plate 48 Anarthropteris lanceolata (J. Smith) L. B. Moore Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)

Plate 48 Anarthropteris lanceolata (J. Smith) L. B. Moore Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)

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The trustees of the British Museum, owners of the plates, were willing to give permission. However, the plants collected on that voyage were obtained from just a few coastal localities in the North Island and the north of the South Island. They would therefore give a very incomplete picture of the flora. Cheeseman noted too: "the plates themselves, although accurate, and undoubtedly of great historic value, were of somewhat antiquated style, and were deficient in the microscopic analyses now considered essential in all really good botanical drawings."

A second suggestion was that the plates in J. D. Hooker's Flora Novae-Zelandiae (1852-5) and Flora Tasmaniae (1855-60) might be reproduced by photolithography, supplemented perhaps with illustrations of New Zealand plants that had been published in Curtis's Botanical Magazine and Icones Plantarum. Cheeseman pointed out that, although one could not object to the style and character of these plates, they did not give an all-round view of the flora.

Few alpine plants were included and important genera, such as Coprosma, were inadequately represented. Some new illustrations could have been prepared to "fill up the blanks", but "the two classes of plates — old and new — would not form a harmonious whole". He therefore recommended to the Education Department that all the plates should be specially drawn up for the work, and this was accepted. Thomas Cheeseman noted in the preface:

I took it for granted that the Government had no desire to trouble with the preparation of plates of a character capable of being undertaken by an enterprising publisher, and treated in a sufficiently popular manner to command a remunerative sale, or, in other words, that there was no intention of producing a series of drawings selected mainly on account of the beauty and attractiveness of the plants portrayed. I assumed that the true object of the work was to issue plates of an educational character, so selected as to present an accurate and comprehensive idea of the main features of the flora, and so designed and executed as to be of real use in the study and identification of the plants of the Dominion. Furthermore, as the work would be issued under the auspices of the Government of the Dominion, it was felt that there would be no necessity to sacrifice scientific accuracy and excellence of design for the sake of cheap production.

The next task was to select an artist. Although there were competent botanical artists living in New Zealand, as many of the foregoing plates have illustrated, Cheeseman was not happy to use any of them. He stated that it

would have been a satisfaction, both to the Government and myself, if there had been some competent botanical artist resident in New Zealand to whom the work could have been entrusted, but no person possessing the necessary qualifications could be found. Nor is this at all surprising, for botanical drawing, together with a knowledge of how to prepare the microscopical analyses required, is an art in itself; and the number of good botanical artists in England even is small. I was therefore compelled to seek for a competent person outside the Dominion, and after some negotiation it was decided to offer the work to Miss Matilda Smith, of the Royal Herbarium, Kew.

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Matilda Smith was certainly well qualified. For some time previously she had been sole artist for Curtis's Botanical Magazine and J. D. Hooker's Icones Plantarum, and had illustrated a number of floras including Aitchinson's Botany of the Afghanistan Delimitation Commission (1888), Collett's Flora Simlensis (1902) and Johnston's Liberia (1906). Nearly 5,000 of her drawings had been published before Illustrations of the New Zealand Flora appeared. The lithographs were made by J. N. Fitch, nephew of W. H. Fitch, the latter of whom has been described as the most prolific of all botanical artists. The plates were printed in London by West, Newman and Company, and the text by John Mackay, Government Printer, Wellington. Matilda Smith remained in England, and plants were collected (mostly by Cheeseman), pressed, dried and despatched to Kew. Fresh specimens were photographed, and flowers and fruits preserved in fluid and forwarded to her so that the drawings could be as lifelike as circumstances permitted. To avoid the cjelays that would be involved in sending proofs of the drawings and lithographs to and from England and New Zealand, Mr W B. Hemsley, late assistant director of Kew, acted as supervisor. He guided the artist in the dissection of flowers and fruits, indicated which parts were to be shown as separate enlargements on each plate, examined proofs and gave final approval for printing.