New Zealand Plants and their Story
Chapter II. — How the Story has Been Written
How the Story has Been Written.
Sir Joseph Banks—His love of natural history—Banks and Solander in New Zealand—The first work on the New Zealand flora—Explorations by the French—Allan Cunningham and his brother—Raoul and the plants of Banks Peninsula—The work of Colenso—A novel collecting-kit—Sir Joseph Hooker and New Zealand botany—Classical works on the plant-life of New Zealand—Explorations of the Southern Alps—Hector, Buchanan, and Haast—Thomas Kirk and the modern period of New Zealand botany.
As was shown in the last chapter, if long descent counts for anything, the plants of New Zealand rank high among the aristocracy of the vegetable kingdom. On the other hand, their first historians became acquainted with them only one hundred and forty-one years ago.
Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Daniel Charles Solander, during the month of October, 1769, found themselves in a new world, whose plant-life was all strange, and where every tree and shrub and herb was a fresh surprise and a great joy. And yet for ages before these intrepid scientists had ventured forth, and for ages, likewise, before the remote ancestors of the Maoris had completed their most perilous voyage, year by year unseen, the alpine meadows of the Southern Alps had decked themselves with a wealth of blossoms, the pohutukawas of the northern cliffs had been each summer a crimson glory, and in the swamps the lurid blooms of the flax had attracted countless bell-birds and tuis with their nectar.
Even from boyhood Banks had shown much taste for natural history. The story goes that, walking along an English lane gay with wild flowers, he exclaimed, "How beautiful! It is surely more natural that I should be taught to know all these productions of nature in preference to Latin and Greek!" From that time onwards natural science was his occupation, and during a long lifetime he devoted his wealth and energies to its advancement. Thus it was that, at his own expense, he presided over the natural-history investigations of Captain Cook's first voyage, accompanying that illustrious navigator, and taking as his colleague Dr. Solander, as well as several assistants.page 15
Banks and Solander, whose names are always bracketed together in New Zealand botany, investigated only a comparatively few places on the coast. These were: Queen Charlotte Sound and Admiralty Bay, in the South Island; and, in the North Island, Poverty Bay, Tolaga Bay, Anaura, Mercury Bay, the Thames River (near its mouth), and the Bay of Islands. They collected in all 360 species of floweringplants and ferns—a remarkably large collection considering the difficulties they had to encounter—a land without roads, and Natives who at any moment might prove hostile. One of their "finds" deserves a passing word. This is the beautiful shrubby groundsel (Senecio perdicioides), which they collected at Tolaga Bay, but of which no more specimens were gathered for more than a hundred years. But now, since its rediscovery some time ago, it has been introduced into cultivation, and may be admired in many gardens.
Banks caused about two hundred fine folio copperplate engravings to be prepared, and descriptions of more than three hundred plants were written by Solander. Plates and descriptions both are preserved in the British Museum, but, marvellous to relate, they have never been published!
The Forsters, Father and Son.
Sir Joseph Banks's explorations in the vast unknown lands of the south spurred him on to fresh exertions. He accordingly made arrangements to join Cook's second voyage, the Government of England accepting his services, as well it might. So extensive were the preparations he made that he was obliged to specially raise money to meet the expenses. He engaged, so we read, "Zoffany the painter, three draughtsmen, two secretaries, and nine servants acquainted with the modes of preserving animals and plants." The Comptroller of the Navy, however, succeeded in putting so many obstacles in Banks's way that he withdrew in disgust from the project. Notwithstanding all this, Banks, to his everlasting credit, took great interest in the voyage, and succeeded in getting Dr. John Reinhold Forster, with his son John George, appointed naturalists to the expedition.
This second voyage of Captain Cook was of special interest to the botany of New Zealand, since a portion of the real South Island vegetation was investigated for the first time, that of Queen Charlotte Sound, examined by Banks and Solander on the previous voyage, page 16having closer affinities with that of the North Island. A lengthy stay was made at Dusky Sound in 1773, and Queen Charlotte Sound was revisited. Only 160 ferns and flowering-plants were collected, a small gathering for a district so rich in plant-life as that including the West Coast Sounds of Otago.
The remains of Captain Cook's hut at Dusky Bay still stand, and the spot was visited by the author some years ago. There nature is exactly as it was at the time of Cook's visit. The same rich shrubbery marks the shore; kidney-ferns now, as then, clothe the forest-floor and climb up the beech and pine trees, from whose boughs, too, depend the long dark-green shoots of a drooping lycopod (Lycopodium Billardieri).
The elder Forster published an account of some of the plants in a work bearing the ponderous title, "Characteres Generum Plantarum quas in insulis Maris Australis collegit. J. R. Forster." This was followed by a work by the son, "Florulae Insularum Australium Prodromus," giving descriptions in Latin of 170 New Zealand plants; but these descriptions are altogether too short to be of any real use.
Menzies, D'Urville, and Richard.
In 1791, Captain Vancouver, of Arctic fame, visited Dusky Sound, and in the dripping forests Mr. A. Menzies, the surgeon of the expedition, reaped an abundant harvest of the lower plants, which there grow in the richest profusion—the mosses and liverworts. Many of these are beautifully figured in Sir W. J. Hooker's fine work, "Musci Exotici," which appeared in 1818-20. For twenty-seven years to have elapsed between the collecting and publishing of these plants speaks volumes for the leisurely methods pursued by scientific men a hundred years ago as contrasted with the haste of the present age.
And now the French come into our story, for science is cosmopolitan. In 1822, Admiral D'Urville, then an officer, but five years later captain of the same vessel, the "Astrolabe," occupied himself on the shores of Cook Strait in making collections, in company with an excellent naturalist, M. Lesson. The plants they gathered were described by A. Richard in a sterling work bearing the title, "Essay d'une Flore de la Nouvelle Zélande." So well did Richard perform his task that the book is a necessary adjunct to the library of any New Zealand botanist at the present day, especially as it clears up certain points left in doubt by the Forsters. The names of D'Urville, page 17Lesson, and Richard remain embalmed in the New Zealand flora in Rapanea Urvillei, Pseudopanax Lessonii, and Polystichum Richardi: while D'Urville Island, the French Pass, and Astrolabe Harbour tell of this important expedition.
The Cunninghams and the Plant-life of Northern Auckland.
Allan Cunningham, the colonial botanist of New South Wales, who must not be confused with his namesake the Scottish poet, visited New Zealand in 1826. The scene of his labours was the Bay of Islands and the district adjacent. Cunningham, accompanied by the Natives, spent some five months collecting plants while wandering through those virgin kauri forests, so soon to be destroyed. In 1833 his illfated brother Richard* proceeded to New Zealand in H.M.S. "Buffalo," presumably to assist in procuring spars for maintopmasts. This duty performed, R. Cunningham left the ship at Whangaroa, remaining alone, solely in the interests of science, according to his biographer, "on the shores of a harbour densely inhabited by savages, who had but a few years before massacred the crew of the ship 'Boyd,' and more recently had seized upon the houses and property of the Wesleyan missionaries, who, after much fatigue, privation, and insult, had effected a settlement among them." But, as luck would have it, the Maoris remembered his brother Allan, with whom they had been on most friendly terms, and so they welcomed the venturous botanist, and assisted him to the utmost of their power.
The two Cunninghams found many "new" plants—i.e., such as had not been described in any publication. These, together with a description of the other known New Zealand plants, were published by Allan in his "Flora Novae-Zelandiae Praecursor; or, a Specimen of the Botany of the Islands of New Zealand"—an important work containing valuable details as to the actual stations of the plants, indispensable information so frequently not given by many authors.
Raoul and the Botany of Banks Peninsula.
Fig. 5.—Raoulia australis. Scoria Desert, Mount Tongariro.
Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.
Colenso and his Botanical Work in the North Island.
Six years before Raoul's visit, the Rev. William Colenso (fig. 6), then a young man of twenty-three, landed in the Bay of Islands, and from that time on, for a space of sixty-five years, he was a most ardent investigator in ethnology, the Maori tongue, zoology, and botany. This last alone concerns us here.
As a missionary amongst the Natives in the very early days of the colony, Colenso travelled much in the wilds, and was brought face to face with nature. He collected plants of all kinds most industriously, sending them in large quantities to Kew. Before Colenso's explorations comparatively little was known regarding the alpine vegetation, which is, indeed, in more ways than one, the most interesting of all. Enduring considerable hardships, in company with several Maoris he crossed over the Ruahine Mountains, being the first European to accomplish this feat. On the summit the alpine vegetation in all its beauty met his delighted gaze. But here are the explorer's own words: "When we emerged from the forest and the tangled shrubbery at its outskirts on to the open dell-like land just before we gained the summit, the lovely appearance of so many and varied beautiful and novel wild plants and flowers richly repaid me the toil of the journey and ascent, for never did I behold at one time in New Zealand such a profusion of Flora's stores. In one word, I was overwhelmed with astonishment, and stood looking with all my eyes, greedily devouring and drinking in the enchanting scene before me…. Here were plants of the well-known genera of the bluebells and buttercups, gowans and daisies, eyebrights and speedwells of one's native land page 20closely intermixed with the gentians of the European Alps and the rarer southern and little-known novelties—Drapetes, Ourisia, Cyathodes, Abrotanella, and Raoulia."
Fig. 6.—The late Rev. William Colenso.
[From a photo in the possession of A. Hamilton.
Colenso's botanical writings are voluminous, and consist chiefly of papers published, in the "Transactions of the New Zealand Institute," dealing with new species of plants, or what he considered to be new. Many New Zealand plants were named in his honour, including the genus Colensoa.
Sir Joseph Hooker and the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand.
Sir Joseph Hooker was botanist to the famous Antarctic Expedition which left England in 1839 under the command of Sir James Ross. So far as the Dominion is concerned, Hooker visited the Auckland and Campbell Islands, and also the Bay of Islands, where he and Colenso met. He published his splendid results in several magnificent volumes, as a part of the botany of the antarctic voyage, with life-like coloured plates, under the titles "Florae Novae-Zelandiae," and "Flora Ant arctica." But Hooker's work on the New Zealand flora does not end here. By an arrangement with the New Zealand Government he wrote the classical "Handbook to the New Zealand Flora," which deals not only with the flowering-plants, but with the ferns, mosses, liverworts, fungi, and seaweeds. When it is borne in mind that Hooker was compelled to work almost exclusively from dried and frequently scanty material, his results are little short of marvellous. It is true that in some cases recent research has thrown new light on his conclusions, but that does not in the least detract from the admirable accuracy of his work, which will ever remain an object-lesson for New Zealand botanists, and an edifice not to be rebuilt, but merely to be added to.
Hooker's work as a field naturalist, too, in the subantarctic islands was most thorough. Only one who has been to that region of wind and rain, and has attempted to make a botanical collection, can appreciate the completeness of his collections, and marvel at the immense amount of work accomplished in so brief a time.
The Botanical Exploration of the Southern Alps.
Between the publication of the "Flora Novae-Zelandiae" and the Handbook many important botanical explorations were undertaken in New Zealand, and the alpine flora of the South Island stood especially revealed in all its richness. This result was brought about in page 22large measure by the labours of Dr. A. Sinclair, R.N., Mr. J. T. Bidwell. Dr. Monro, Mr. W. T. L. Travers, Sir Julius von Haast, Sir James Hector, and Mr. J. Buchanan. Other collectors and botanists also did excellent work not only in the alpine region, but in other parts; but space forbids further details, with the exception of mentioning the work of Dr. L. Lindsay, who botanized in eastern Otago, and published a most interesting account of that district.
Dr. Sinclair collected in various parts of the North Island and in the mountains of Nelson. He was associated with Haast in an exploration of the Rangitata, but was drowned in attempting to ford that treacherous river. "Near the banks of the river, just where it emerges from the Alps, wuth the perpetual snowfields glistening in the sun, amidst veronicas and senecios, and covered with celmisias and gentians, there lies his lonely grave," writes Haast. Sir J. Hooker considered Sinclair as only second to Colenso as a botanical explorer, which, is indeed high praise.
Mr. Bid will's explorations began so early as 1839. He made the first collection of alpine plants in New Zealand, in what is now the Tongariro National Park, and an interesting account of his travels appears in his little book, "Rambles in New Zealand," which was published in 1841. Forstera Bidwillii and other plants bear his name.
The extremely interesting mountains of Nelson, whose flora differs in many respects from that of the dividing-range farther south, and has affinities with the North Island mountains, were explored, independently of one another, by Monro and Travers, and also by Bidwill, each adding considerably to our knowledge of the species of floweringplants. The name of Monro is seen in many species of plants, and after Travers was called the genus Traversia, which is now, however, merged in Senecio.
Sir Julius von Haast first made known the alpine flora of Canter bury, and in part of Westland, which is still largely a terra incognita, making every use of his opportunities as Provincial Geologist. According to Hooker, he contributed more new species to the flora than any collector since Colenso. The name of a genus, Haastia, is a slight tribute to his exertions.
Farther south, Sir James Hector and Mr. J. Buchanan performed a large amount of careful and arduous work, and made known for the first time the botany of the Otago lake district. Buchanan also page 23published many observations on botanical matters, and wrote a work on the grasses of New Zealand, in which life-size figures of all the species of that family, as then known, are given. He also paid a short visit to Campbell Island.
The earlier work of Lyall must not be omitted. In 1847-49, as surgeon to the survey ship "Acheron," he collected very largely on the New Zealand coast, paying especial attention to the lower plants. It is a remarkable fact that a plant originally discovered by him, and most plentiful on the shores of Foveaux Strait, Euphrasia repens, is almost wanting in herbaria. The genus Lyallia of Kerguelen Land was founded in his honour; but to us his name is better known through the magnificent buttercup, Ranunculus Lyallii.
Modern New Zealand Botany and Thomas Kirk.
The publication of Hooker's Handbook brings us to what may be called the modern stage of New Zealand botany. Here the late Mr. Thomas Kirk stands foremost. For many years he held the position of leader of botanical thought in New Zealand, and was not only an industrious collector, but a prolific writer, as is proved by the 140 papers to his credit in the Transactions, so say nothing of publications elsewhere. He also wrote the "Forest Flora of New Zealand," which is the classic so far as our trees are concerned. At the time of his lamented death he was engaged on a new Flora of New Zealand, which, to the great loss of science, he did not live to complete. Fortunately, one-half was finished, and, although it lacked the correcting hand of its author, it will stand as one of the foremost publications on New Zealand floristic botany. Other workers there have been to whom New Zealand botany owes much — notably, Mr. T. F. Cheeseman, the author of the admirable "Manual of the New Zealand Flora "; and Mr. D. Petrie, who has added much to our knowledge of the plants of Otago—but most of them are still active, and their work is speaking for itself to the scientific public.
From this short sketch, which does but scant justice to the history of botanical research in New Zealand, it can be seen that our knowledge of the flora has been a thing of slow growth, and that it represents the labour of many men. Such arduous work has, for the most part, brought little, if any, pecuniary gain to its votaries, and in many cases still less recognition from their fellow-colonists, or even from page 24the scientific world. Some, like Sinclair and Richard Cunningham, have given their lives to the cause. All have spent much time and labour. It surely seems that these men are as worthy of the regard and admiration of their fellows as those who, in more public positions and with much blare of trumpets, serve the nation. But the naturalist gets a reward other than the plaudits of the crowd. The constant communing with nature is a source of ennobling pleasure, while the discovery of a new fact is in itself an ample recompense for all the toil of research.