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 voyage

page 37

The voyage

To New Zealand

Other scientists on the Resolution were William Wales, astronomer, who became one of J. R. Forster's greatest critics, and his assistant, George Gilpin. Another astronomer, William Bayly, was on the Adventure. William Anderson, surgeon's mate on the Resolution, was a keen naturalist who served as chief surgeon and naturalist on Cook's third voyage. This voyage will not be dealt with here, for the time spent in New Zealand was brief, collections made were small and, it seems, no detailed illustrations were made of any plants.

The first leg of the voyage was to Cape Town, with stops at Madeira — for provisions, including "a large supply of wine" — and the Cape Verde Islands. The Resolution and Adventure remained at Cape Town for three weeks. The Forsters lived ashore and their "whole time was taken up in the pursuits of Natural history" (Cook's Journal). J. R. Forster soon realised that if the huge flora and fauna of the Cape region was any indication, he' and George would be hard put to cope with describing the plants and animals they would encounter on the rest of the voyage. Fortunately, Anders Sparrman (1748-1820), a young Swedish naturalist who had studied under Linnaeus at the University of Uppsala, had recently arrived in Cape Town. The Swedish Government had sent him there, at the request of Linnaeus, to undertake botanical exploration.

It was soon obvious to the Forsters that this friendly, quiet, somewhat naive man was an excellent botanist. Johann therefore offered him the position of scientific assistant, at a salary of £50 a year, plus expenses. Sparrman thought about it overnight and accepted the next morning. Forster then had, not without effort, to persuade James Cook to grant Sparrman a passage. He was uncomfortably accommodated in the steerage, with the Forsters' large collection of books. Anders Sparrman proved a valuable assistant, who remained in friendly contact with the Forsters throughout their lives. He was not, as has sometimes been stated, hired to make up for the Forsters' botanical deficiencies.

The ships left Cape Town on 22 November 1772 and headed south, spending four months in Antarctic waters. They made the first known voyage beyond the Antarctic Circle, searching for southern landmasses. It was a nightmarish journey at times, with damp, cold cabins and fogs, gales, pack-ice and icebergs to contend with. In early February the two ships were separated during a gale and did not meet again until an agreed rendezvous in Queen Charlotte Sound, 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.

page 40

Winter voyage

From June until October 1773, the two ships sailed through the central Pacific Ocean, from Pitcairn Island in the east to Tahiti, Tonga and back to New Zealand. Soon after the coast was sighted, a storm separated the ships for two days. They were reunited off Cape Palliser, near Wellington. Then another storm drove the Adventure far out to sea. The Resolution anchored near the entrance to Wellington Harbour but did not enter it, and the next day reached Queen Charlotte Sound once more and arrived at Ship Cove on 3 November 1773.

New Zealand again

The naturalists now found a number of plants in flower for the first time, including flax (Phormium tenax) and wild Spaniard (Aciphylla squarrosa). They found too the rengarenga or rock lily, Arthropodium cirratum, now so popular in cultivation. Some orchids were also flowering, and one of them "of a very singular structure & making absolutely a new genus" was named Thelymitra longifolia, a name still valid. George Forster painted it, and it had been sketched by Parkinson (as Serapias regularis, a name George Forster used in his Florulae Insularum Australium Prodromus (1786), despite having used Thelymitra for it in Characteres Generum Plant arum (1776)). Again, three weeks were spent in the sounds, and after two weeks there Johann Forster noted, "I have not yet got 30 new plants; & but few animals, so that my Expectations were not quite answered in coming here in the beginning of Spring. The Season is not much advanced, whether owing to a cold winter, or whether this is the annual constant state of the Climate, I cannot determine."

Despite the three-week stay in Queen Charlotte Sound, the Adventure did not join the Resolution and it was feared it might have been destroyed in the storm. Cook left a note buried for Furneaux in case the Adventure did eventually reach the rendezvous, and on 25 November 1773 the Resolution set off for another summer in Antarctic waters. As fate would have it, the Adventure arrived in Ship Cove five days after the departure of the Resolution. Fumeaux and his crew remained in Queen Charlotte Sound until 23 December. During their stay, ten of the crew, on a trip in the cutter to "gather wild greens for the Ship's Company", met some Maoris, and apparently one of them stole something from the boat (while the crew were dining on the beach) and was shot at and killed. The Maoris attacked the sailors, most of whom had left their weapons on the boat. The sailors were all killed and roasted for food! Furneaux headed south in the Adventure and explored southern waters, reaching 6l°S off Cape Horn. Provisions became short and the ship headed for Cape Town (19 March 1774), where it remained for a month before sailing for England, arriving on 14 July 1774.

The Resolution's 1774 cruise

The summer of 1773-4 was spent in Antarctic regions, with the Resolution reaching further south (71° 10') than any person had been. Then, with Cook himself ill, the Resolution went north and reached Easter Island in March, after nearly five months at sea. J. R. Forster sacrificed his dog to page 41 provide meat and broth for James Cook. On Easter Island William Hodges, R. A. (1744-97), who had been appointed landscape and figure painter on the Resolution, painted his superb oil "Monuments of Easter Island". Murray-Oliver (1969) has described Hodges as "perhaps the most gifted and interesting of Cook's artists" and this painting, like several others by Hodges that are reproduced in Murray-Oliver's book, is, to my mind, quite modern in its style. It has been suggested that George Forster may have received informal tuition from Hodges and that this is reflected in an improvement in Forster's work during the voyage.

The Resolution then sailed to Tonga and the New Hebrides, which were charted in detail. On the way south again to New Zealand, Cook discovered both New Caledonia and Norfolk Island. This was an important cruise, but one in which Johann Forster was, at times, at loggerheads with the officers. On one occasion in the New Hebrides, when he was loudly chastising a native whom he considered had cheated him, Forster ignored Lt. Charles Clerke's command to stop, so Clerke threatened to order a sentry to shoot him.

Final New Zealand visit

Again, Cook headed for Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, and anchored on 19 October 1774. Repairs were made during a stay of just over three weeks. The Forsters and Sparrman collected some plants, but "New plants are not more to be gotten in any plenty ... & as it is the third time already, that we are here in this same harbour; nor can we expect many new plants, having searched for them very closely before." The Resolution left Queen Charlotte Sound on 11 November and headed east along the mid-50s in latitude to examine this unmapped region, reaching South America on 18 December. Christmas was spent on Tierra del Fuego. Cook then went into southern waters again and discovered South Georgia and the South Sandwich group. On 21 March 1775 they reached Cape Town, where Sparrman disembarked. Five weeks were spent there while the ship was refitted and recaulked, and the Resolution reached Spithead, England, on 30 July 1775. They had been away for just over three years and Cook had achieved his objectives — proving there was no southern continent (although he suggested there was probably land in Antarctica below the ice) and more or less completing the exploration of the South Pacific.