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 second voyage

The second voyage

During his absence from France on the Coquille, d'Urville's first child, a son, had died. His promotion to commander in November 1825 gave financial relief to his family, and d'Urville became eager to return to the Pacific. He was commissioned to take the same vessel back there and to continue with exploration and scientific research. At Dumont d'Urville's request, the Coquille was renamed the Astrolabe. The previous Astrolabe, under the command of La Perouse (1741-88), had disappeared in 1788 and d'Urville was ordered to search for evidence of the ship and the fate of its crew. Although d'Urville did find relics of La Perouse's voyage (anchors, cannon balls and iron utensils) at Vanikoro (lying between the Fijian and Solomon Islands), it was an Englishman, Captain Dillon, who discovered the wreck of the missing vessel at Vanikoro in March 1828. There seems little doubt that after the shipwreck La Perouse and his crew were massacred by the natives.

In April 1826 the Astrolabe sailed from Toulon on a three-year cruise, which was to be the greatest achievement of d'Urville's life. He sailed to Australia and New Zealand via the Canary Islands, Trinidad, the northeast coast of South America, and south of the Cape of Good Hope. The mapping of reefs and islands close to shore is a hazardous venture in a sailing ship, but one that d'Urville relished. Officers who were with d'Urville on the previous voyage included Jacquinot (now a lieutenant and second-in-command) and Lottin. Although it has sometimes been stated that d'Urville was also accompanied on this voyage by R. P. Lesson, who had been on the page 51 Coquille, it was in fact his younger brother, Pierre Adolph Lesson (1805-88), who served as surgeon (second class) and naturalist on this voyage. Lesson used his second christian name in preference to the first, and title pages of books he wrote cite him as "A. Lesson". There were two other surgeons (first class) on the Astrolabe: Jean Rene Constant Quoy (1790-1869) and Joseph Paul Gaimard (1793-1858). They were trained zoologists, who, with d'Urville, wrote sections of the zoology of the voyage and prepared numerous fine drawings and watercolours, which were published in the atlases.

The Astrolabe spent sixty-seven days (January to March 1827) in New Zealand waters. It made landfall near Cape Farewell and sailed into Tasman Bay and anchored on the west side, under shelter from Adele Island, named after d'Urville's wife. A large number of plants were collected in this region and several new species were subsequently named. Dumont d'Urville discovered French Pass, which separated D'Urville Island from the South Island mainland and Tasman Bay from the Marlborough Sounds. The Astrolabe struck a reef twice while attempting to go through French Pass, and for a time lay on her beam ends with the likelihood that she would be wrecked. The officers, relieved to escape, asked their captain to permit the island bordering the pass to be named D'Urville Island in his honour. He agreed, with the proviso that it revert to its Maori name when this was known. A detailed coastal survey was made around Cook Strait, and the Astrolabe then explored the east coast of the North Island. At Bream Head, north of Whangarei, d'Urville found a species of five finger that is restricted to coastal forest from Three Kings Islands to Poverty Bay. This was named Pseudopanax lessonii, after Adolph Lesson. D'Urville treated the Maoris he met with kindness, welcomed the chiefs on board and gained valuable information from them.

The Astrolabe then explored Tonga, Fiji, New Guinea and part of Indonesia, and returned to Australia via the southeast coast and went to Hobart. The voyage home was via Fiji, Vanikoro, Guam, Indonesia and the Cape of Good Hope. The Astrolabe reached Marseilles in March 1829. In d'Urville's words, the voyage had resulted in a "prodigous mass of discoveries, material and records that we brought back to enrich every field of human knowledge" and was one in which "A thousand times I risked the lives of my fellowmen to carry out the purpose of my instructions and I can affirm that throughout two whole years we ran more real dangers every day than would be met with in the whole course of the longest ordinary voyage" (translation by Olive Wright). There was, as with Duperrey's voyage, a royal command to publish the results of the expedition.

Dumont d'Urville devoted many years of hard work as editor and major author to the account of the voyage of the Astrolabe (1826-9), and it was published between 1830 and 1834 in fifteen parts in thirteen volumes, plus three atlases, normally bound as five volumes.

In contrast to Duperrey's Voyage autour du monde . . . Coquille, a large page 52 part of Voyage . . . de l'Astrolabe was devoted to New Zealand. The work has been described as a "magnificent record", and d'Urville, who wrote the entire narrative of the voyage, a "man of letters, a master of the French tongue". The botanical section was published in two volumes (1832, 1834) with the title Voyage de Decouvertes de l'Astrolabe execute par ordre du Rot, pendant les annees 1826-1827-1828-1829, sous le commandement de M. J. Dumont d'Urville. Botanique.

The first volume was by A. Lesson and A. Richard. Achille Richard (1794-1852) was not on the voyage, but was one of the leading botanists of his time and a member of the staff of the National Paris Museum of Natural History until 1831, when he became professor of botany at the Paris Faculté de Médicin. Richard was author and co-author of a large number of floras of various countries, and wrote taxonomic revisions of many plant groups. This first volume was devoted entirely to the flora of New Zealand and consisted of a 376-page Essai d'une Flore de la Nouvelle-Zélande. It described 211 species of seed plants (conifers and flowering plants) and 169 species of lower plants (twenty-nine seaweeds, twenty-seven lichens, twenty-eight liverworts, twenty-eight mosses and fifty-seven ferns and fern allies), many for the first time. Richard included not only specimens collected on the two expeditions by Duperrey and d'Urville, but also most of those obtained by the Forsters on Cook's second voyage, based on collections in the Paris Museum. Some plants collected on the voyage of the Astrolabe, which were described in print for the first time, had been collected by Banks and Solander on Cook's first voyage, but, of course, their studies had not been published.

The second botanical volume of 167 pages included a seven-page section devoted to additions and corrections to the algal flora of New Zealand, and a nine-page explanation of figures in the Atlas that illustrated New Zealand plants.

The botanical and zoological sections of the Atlas of plates were published in 1833 or 1834 (the title page states 1833, but a preface by Gaimard and Quoy is dated 1834). There are forty-one pages of engravings (numbered one to thirty-nine with numbers seven and thirty-four being duplicated for different plates) devoted to New Zealand plants (eight seaweeds, two lichens, seven ferns, one conifer and twenty-three flowering plants). Some copies of the botanical section of the Atlas have hand-coloured plates (Plate 9), but the number of these coloured plates varies from copy to copy. The artists of the botanical section were E. Defile and Vauthier, and the original paintings are in the National Paris Museum of Natural History. A number of highly skilled engravers prepared the plates and, as the "Mile" or "Mme" preceding several surnames shows, some were women. Thomas Cheeseman noted that Essai d'une Flore de la Nouvelle-Zélande "is the first publication dealing with the flora of New Zealand as a whole, and possesses considerable merit, so much so that it is to be regretted that so little use has been made of it by New Zealand botanists".