Botanical Discovery in New Zealand: The Visiting Botanists
Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Solander — (Cook's First Voyage)
Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Solander
(Cook's First Voyage)
Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820).
Dr D. C. Solander (1736–1782)
* Observations on the transit of Venus are usually made to determine the distance of the sun from the earth, and this information was thought to be so important that well-equipped expeditions were dispatched to various parts of the world when the rare occurrences of Venus crossing the sun's disc took place.
Sir Joseph Banks was a distinguished scientist who lived during the reign of George the Third. His fame is due not so much to his writings, which consisted mainly of a few papers on agricultural subjects and his Journal, published seventy-six years after his death, as to his great influence on the key men of the day, and his very important work in equipping scientific expeditions. He was President of the Royal Society for forty-one years. He was an ardent collector, and during his lifetime amassed an extensive library and art collection and also much material illustrating the sciences of botany, zoology, and anthropology. When the British Government decided to send an expedition to the South Seas to observe the transit of Venus, Banks applied to the head of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, for leave to join the expedition. At his own expense, stated to be £10,000, he provided all the equipment and stores needed to make collections in every branch of natural science, and engaged Dr Solander, three draughtsmen or artists, and five servants to accompany him.
Banks’ name is now commemorated in those of a number of plants. The name Banksia was given by the younger Linnaeus to an Australian genus of trees, and in New Zealand we have several species of plants named after Banks, for example Blechnum banksii, a coastal fern; Cordyline banksii, one of the species known as ‘cabbage trees’; Pterostylis banksii, a ground orchid; all species widely distributed in the North and the South Islands. Freycinetia banksii, the screw pine or kiekie, is found in the North Island and in the northern part of the South Island. Astelia banksii is a large tussock plant with sword-like leaves occurring in forest undergrowth from the North Cape to Taranaki and Hawke's Bay. Senecio banksii is a handsome yellow-flowered herbaceous daisy found mainly in seaside stations in the Auckland Province.
Dr Daniel Carl Solander, a Swede, studied at the University of Upsala and became a pupil of Linnaeus, who advised him to go to England. There he obtained a post in the British Museum. In 1768 he made the acquaintance of Banks, who in the following year induced him to accompany Banks on Cook's voyage to the South Seas. On this voyage Solander accompanied Banks on all his excursions ashore, and together they collected what was probably the largest number of botanical specimens taken, up to that time, by a scientific expedition.page 6
New Zealand species bearing Solander's name are Nothofagus solandri, the black beech, and Carex solandri, a sedge, widely distributed in the North and the South Islands; Astelia solandri, the kahakaha, with edible fruit, found in the North Island and in Nelson and Marlborough; and Olearia solandri, a tall shrub with small leaves found in the North Island and in the Marlborough Sounds, mainly near the sea.
Banks’ artists were John Reynolds, Sydney Parkinson, and Alexander Buchan, all of whom died on the voyage. Parkinson is the best known of these, as he wrote an account of the voyage which was published in 1784.
The Endeavour sailed from Plymouth round Cape Horn to the Society Islands. Here a stay of three months was made at Tahiti in order to take observations on the transit of Venus. The voyage was then continued southwestwards and on October 7th 1769 land was sighted. Landings were made on three successive days, at the place Cook called Teoneroa (now Poverty Bay).page 7
Banks and Solander were able to do some plant collecting at Teoneroa and gathered altogether over sixty species. It must have been a truly exciting experience for the botanists to find themselves in a land where every species of plant was new to them. Solander did, indeed, record the finding of two plants already known — the common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) and the black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) —but it now seems probable that in both cases these were New Zealand species. Solander's list contains the names of many of the trees and shrubs which are now familiar to us, among them the karaka, ngaio, kowhai (the large-leaved species, Edwardsia tetraptera), rangiora, koromiko, makaka (Carmichaelia australis), and the New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), which, according to Solander's manuscript, was found everywhere.
* The origin of the name Tigadu is uncertain, but the locality is the present-day Anaura Bay. The spellings of the Maori names of localities adopted in this account are those given in Solander's manuscript on the plants of New Zealand. In some cases other ways of spelling the names are used by different writers on Cook's voyages.
* The name is used at the present day, though we cannot identify it with any Maori place name. One version is that when Cook asked a Maori the name of the place, the Maori thought he was being asked the direction of the wind and replied ‘Karapu’ (northeast), and Tolaga is Cook's interpretation of this reply.
In his Journal Banks mentions the names of five kinds of Polynesian plants cultivated by the Maoris, species which they must have brought from ‘Hawaiki’ when they migrated to New Zealand. The date of the great Maori migration to this country is usually put down as about 1350, so the Maoris had six* species of Polynesian plants in cultivation for at least four hundred years before Cook's arrival. At Anaura Bay in the East Cape district Banks records sweet potatoes, cocos, and a plant of the cucumber kind in the native plantations. What Banks calls ‘cocos’ is the taro, and his cucumber-like plant is the gourd from which the Maoris made calabashes. At the Bay of Islands Banks mentions also yams, and the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera) which, because of its rarity, was used by the Maoris only for fillets for adorning the hair of chiefs. This species now appears to be extinct in New Zealand. The yam, uwhi (Dioscorea sativa) bears large swollen starchy roots. During Cook's voyage it was seen at the Bay of Islands and at Tolaga Bay. When potatoes were introduced into New Zealand, however, the yam was neglected and became extinct. The taro (Colocasia antiquorum) is a plant of the arum family and its large root affords a nourishing food with a pleasant taste. It was extensively cultivated by the Maoris up to a hundred years ago, but now exists in a few localities only. The taro now seen belongs to kinds that were introduced within European times. The young fruits of the gourd, hue (Lagenaria vulgaris), were cooked in a steam oven and eaten, but most use was made of the ripe fruit, which has a hard woody skin, for making water vessels and bowls for preserving food. The kumara or sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) has always been extensively cultivated by the Maori, but the kinds now grown are different from that seen by Banks and Solander.
* Besides the five kinds of Polynesian plants reported by Banks there was a sixth, the ti pore (cordyline terminalis), which survived at Ahipara as late as fifty years ago and may, indeed, still be existent.
Leaving Mercury Bay and sailing between Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island, Cook entered the mouth of a river ‘broad as the Thames at Greenwich’ (Banks' Journal). He called the place Oouhuragi, a name which is recognizable as Hauraki, and the river the Thames. Banks describes a kahikatea forest some distance up the river in these words: ‘The banks were completely clothed with the finest timber my eyes ever beheld, of a tree we had before seen, but only at a distance, in Poverty Bay and Hawke's Bay. Thick woods of it were everywhere upon the banks, every tree as straight as a pine, and of immense size, and the higher we went the more numerous they were. About two leagues from the mouth we stopped and went ashore. Our first business was to measure one of these trees. The woods were swampy, so we could not range far; we found one, however, by no means the largest we had seen, which was 19 feet 8 inches in circumference and 89 feet in height without a branch.' Among the kinds of trees Banks and Solander saw at Oouhuragi for the first time were tawa and matai.
The voyage was continued and the coast followed until Motuaro, Maori Motuarohia, Bay of Islands, was reached. Here for the first time Banks saw six plants of aute, the paper mulberry, which as a great rarity the Maoris showed him. As usual, Banks and Solander continued plant collecting and obtained altogether about eighty species. Most were of kinds already collected, including the kowhai-ngutu-kaka.
Specimen of Native Broom Collected by Banks and Solander
This specimen, now in the Dominion Museum, shows part of the original mount of heavy paper (the darker portion at edge) and the original British Museum label (right). This label states that the specimen was laid (mounted) in 1833 and gives the name now used, Carmichaelia australis (R. Brown, 1825), as well as, very faintly, Banks' and Solander's name, Genista compressa. The label on the left, written by Thomas Kirk in New Zealand, gives both names and states that Banks and Solander collected this specimen. Straps of gummed paper hold the specimen in place.
Banks, writing at Botany Bay soon after he left New Zealand, and probably referring in part to his New Zealand collections, says: ‘Our collection of plants was now grown so immensely large that it was necessary that some extraordinary care should be taken of them, lest they should spoil in the books. I therefore devoted this day to that business and carried ashore all the drying paper, nearly 200 quires, of which the larger part was full, and spreading them upon a sail in the sun, kept them in this manner exposed the whole day, often turning them, and sometimes turning the quires in which were plants inside out. By this means they came on board at night in very good condition.’
The natural history collections made during the voyage were very extensive and belonged to Sir Joseph Banks. They were bequeathed to Robert Brown who, on condition of being appointed Keeper of the Botanical Department of the British Museum, made them over in 1828 to the Museum though he reserved to himself the fullest use of them during his lifetime. Two duplicate sets, each of about two hundred species, of the Banksian plants are housed in New Zealand, one in the Auckland Museum and the other in the Dominion Museum.
Title Page of Dr Solander's Manuscript
Translated, this reads:
The First Fruits of the Flora of New Zealand
Catalogue of Plants Collected in the North and South Islands
of New Zealand from 8th october to 31st March AD 1769 and
‘Eahei no Mauwe’ and ‘T'avai Poenammoo’ are Solander's (and Cook's) way of writing the Maori prases ‘he ahi no Maui’ (a fire of Maui) and ‘Te Wai-Pounamu’ (the water of greenstone). Cook adopted these names for the North and South Islands, though he stated he could not be sure whether they referred in each case to the whole island or to a district of it. Actually the Maoris called the North Island ‘Te Ika a Maui’ (Maui's fish) and the South Island ‘Te Waka a Maui’ (Maui's canoe).
The following names, for instance, are the same as those used by Solander. though they are now ascribed to later authors because Solander's manuscript was never published: Metrosideros excelsa (pohutukawa). Myitus bullata (ramarama), Clianthus puniccus (kowhai-ngutu-kaka). and Dacrydium cupressinum (rimu). There are many others where Solander's specific name has been used by later authors (and ascribed to them), though we now place the species in different genera, for example: Solander's Aster gracilenta (mountain daisy) is our Celmisia gracilenta, his Pelaphia acerosa (sand coprosma) is our Coprosma acerosa, and his Aralia crassifolia (horoeka) is our Pseudopanax crassifolium.