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

New Zealand

New Zealand

The Resolution anchored in Dusky Sound on 27 March 1773 and spent some six weeks there. Repairs were made to the ship and supplies were replenished. The Forsters, Sparrman, and Johann's servant, Ernest Scholient (a "feeble man", Cook states in his journal), spent their time collecting. The "division of labour" among the three biologists during the voyage was summarised in a dedication to George in J. R. Forster's book Enchiridion historiae naturali inserviens, quo termini et delineationes ad avium, piscium, page 38 insectorum et plantarum adumbrationes intelligendas et concinnandas, secundum methodum systematis Linnaeani continentur (Halle, 1788):

In sketching plants in particular we used as an assistant our good friend Sparrman: it was your [George's] task to put his work in order, and at the same time describe the plants. It was my particular province to examine more closely these efforts here and there, and to correct them in a very few places, to describe all the animals.

J. R. Forster also set himself the task

to investigate closely the habits, rites, ceremonies, religious beliefs, way of life, clothing, agriculture, commerce, arts, weapons, modes of warfare, political organisation, and the language of the peoples we met: and also I had to take note of the daily changes in the atmosphere, the winds, increase and decrease in temperature and whatever was worth noting.

J. R. Forster painted a vivid word picture of life at Dusky Bay:

I saw with one glance of the Eye an Observatory erected, & filled with the most accurate & excellent Instruments & Men observing & the celestial bodies & calculating their Motions & deducting the inferences for ascertaining the Latitude & Longitude of our abode. I saw a vast number of plants & Animals examined & scientifically described. The polite Arts had not disdained to live on this solitary spot, which was so much left to itself before our arrival. The canvas was gradually animated with the most romantic scenery of this Country, & nature seemed amazed to see her productions imitated by the Son of Apellos. In a lower sphere, more than 70 plants & Animals, were exactly represented by a young Artist in his Noviciate. Here on the brow the Anvil resounded with the strokes of the Hammer. The fresh water river was another animated Scene of business: a brewery provided a salutary & palatable potion from the decoction of spruce [rimu, Dacrydium cupressinum] & New Zealand Tea [manuka, Leptospermum scoparium] mixed with the Essence of Malt & Melasses for our Ships-Company. The cooper & his Man repaired casks, & several people were employed in washing, & dressing fish for our dinner. In the offing there is a boat full of men employed in catching fish, for our entertainment, some hawled fishpots with several crayfish in: here two Sawyers were employed in cutting planks, others split & carried firewood, yet others caulked & paged the Ship & several hands were busy in new setting and overhawling the rigging. In short the whole seemed a most complete scene of business. The brow on the larboard side of the Ship, which a few days ago was an impenetrable forest, is now clear and airy, & contains an Observatory, a forge, a green hut for the woodcutters & a pen for our Sheep; & more than an acre of ground is cleared of the woods; a thing which 500 natives of New Zeeland could not have brought about with their stone-hatchets in more than 3 months; whereas only a few of our hands had been employed, & this not even constantly.

Bird life in Dusky Sound was abundant, and many different species were shot, described and painted. The Forsters' contribution to New Zealand ornithology was considerable. As A. C. and N. C. Begg have pointed out (in Dusky Bay, 1975), studies of New Zealand birds on the first voyage were trivial by comparison. Thirty-eight new species from Dusky and Queen Charlotte Sounds were described by the two Forsters, and George illustrated thirty-five of them. Some of his paintings of New Zealand birds and fish are reproduced in colour in the Beggs' books (1970, 1975).

page 39

It was too late in the season to obtain many plants in flower. J. R. Forster found himself (28 March 1773)

quite tantalized with the sight of innumerable plants & Trees, all new ones, none of which had flowers at this Season & the fruits either were quite unripe or allready gone: so that my collection fell short of my Expectation. Tired with disappointment, the continual rain & the bad walking between wet trees, that rained a double portion upon me from their soaked foliage, & between rotten felled trees & heaps of moss, where I frequently fell in with my legs up to my knees & above, I returned on board.

There were, though, some plants in flower in Dusky Bay at the time, including the autumn-flowering orchid, Earina autumnalis; the manuka, Leptospermum scoparium', Olearia oporina, an attractive shrub restricted to the Fiordland region; and the pate, Schefflera digitata, all of which were described and illustrated. The Forsters met the sandfly for the first time, and having developed no immunity, suffered far more than New Zealanders today! Johann recorded, "my hands are now so much swelled from the Stings of the Sandfly, that I can hardly hold the pen, & have great pain in them, & can pull my Jacket with difficulty off".

One day (23 April) Anders Sparrman and some of the officers climbed a peak behind Cascade Cove and Sparrman returned with a subalpine herb in flower, which he named Forstera (sedifolia) after "my fellow botanist", George Forster. The Forsters were the first to describe the broad-leaved cabbage tree, Cordyline indivisa. Johann Forster recorded finding flowers (as well as fruit) on 7 May in Dusky Sound, which seems strange, as the normal flowering time is from December to January. The Forsters were also the first to publish a description of the climbing supplejack or karoeao, which, like many New Zealand plants, had been described earlier in Solander and Banks's unpublished manuscript. The Forsters named the plant Ripogonum scandens, Ripogonum meaning pliant shoots with kneed joints, and scandens meaning climbing. The description in J. R. Forster's Journal is: "A kind of climbing plant called the supple Jack by our Sailors, on account of its pliancy, bears red berries, something similar to cherries, & runs up the highest trees, climbs over to another, & after having made its way over many of them, it often comes again down & strikes fresh roots."

On 11 May 1773 the Resolution left Dusky Bay, headed north, and on 18 May entered Queen Charlotte Sound, where the Adventure had been waiting for six weeks. Furneaux had hoped to spend the winter there but Cook directed him to prepare for a winter cruise in the central Pacific. The Resolution remained in the Marlborough Sounds for three weeks. During this time the Forsters and Sparrman found new species of birds to describe, a new bat (the New Zealand long-tailed bat, Chalinolobus tuberculatus) and a number of plants, including a snowberry shrub, Gaultheria antipoda; wild Spaniard or speargrass, Aciphylla squarrosa; an eyebright, Euphrasia cu neata; Cook's scurvy grass, Lepidium oleraceum; and the pennywort, Hydro cotyle moschata. Sydney Parkinson had sketched these six plants on the first voyage, but the Forsters published the first descriptions.