Art. XLVI.—Notes on MS. Descriptions of Collections made during Captain Cook's First Voyage.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 25th September, 1895.]
It affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Sir James Hector to give a short account of the valuable typewritten MS. which he has had laid upon the table this evening. It will be remembered by all present that the most famous of modern navigators, Captain Cook, was accompanied on his first voyage by two naturalists who took their place amongst the foremost scientific men of the day—Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander—the entire cost of the natural-history investigations made during the voyage being defrayed by the generosity of the former. Captain Cook first landed on the shore of New Zealand at Poverty Bay, on Sunday, the 8th October, 1769, and subsequently visited Tolaga Bay, Opuaragi (Mercury Bay), the Thames River, the Bay of Islands, Queen Charlotte Sound, Admiralty Bay, &c., during which the naturalists collected about 360 species of flowering-plants and ferns. But they were no mere collectors : folio drawings of most of the plants were made by Sydney Parkinson, one of the draughtsmen engaged for the voyage, and on the return of the expedition to England were engraved on copper; while excellent MS. descriptions were prepared by Dr. Solander, the entire cost being defrayed by Banks. Unhappily, these plates and descriptions have never been published. At the instance of Sir James Hector, the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute authorised the necessary outlay for copying the descriptions in London, and the MS. is now submitted for inspection. Sir Joseph Hooker, in the introduction to the original “Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ,” speaks of Solander's MS. in very high terms, and from such references as I have already been able to make I can heartily indorse his testimony to its merit. It is most unfortunate that for a century and a quarter plates and descriptions alike have remained inaccessible to local botanists. Had they been published by their
authors, the botany of New Zealand would have been far better known sixty years ago than was possible under the conditions that then existed, a large amount of error and confusion would have been avoided, and the synonymy of many species greatly simplified. Many of Solander's names, which in the majority of species are most appropriate, have been applied to different plants, while others have not come into use in any way, many New Zealand plants having been described by Continental writers who had no knowledge of Solander's excellent work.
It is perhaps not generally known that Sir Joseph Banks was extremely anxious to accompany Cook on his second voyage, and succeeded in having a grant of £4,000 voted by the House of Commons to pay for the necessary assistance; but, owing to the resolution not being sufficiently well defined, the Comptroller of the Navy, who from some obscure cause wished to thwart Banks, succeeded in preventing him from joining the expedition. John Reynhold Forster and his son George were appointed chief naturalists, and received the sum voted by the Government at the instigation of Sir Joseph Banks. Their botanical work, although of great value, was not equal to that of Banks and Solander either in extent or quality. Their collection of New Zealand phænogams and ferns comprised only 160 species, of which about 150 were published in George Forster's “Florulæ Insularum Austra-lum Prodromus.” A few others were described in “Characteres Generum” and “De Plantis Esculentis Insularum Oceani Australis Commentatio Botanica,” but the descriptions are very meagre, and suffer greatly by contrast with the excellent work of Dr. Solander. The specimens collected by the Forsters were arranged in fasciculi and distributed to various museums and private collections. Unfortunately, in some instances a plant has received different names in different fasciculi, resulting in a large amount of error and confusion. Their drawings of the plants and animals collected during the voyage were purchased by Sir Joseph Banks for £400, and are included in the Banksian Collections now in the British Museum. It is worth while to remark that the three works already mentioned, with another, “De Plantis Magellanicis et Atlanticis,” all published between 1776 and 1787, comprise all that was published respecting the botany of Cook's first and second voyages, and therefore all that was published respecting the botany of New Zealand prior to M. A. Richard's “Essai d'une Flore de la Nouvelle Zélande,” in 1832. In this connection I should like to state my sense of personal indebtedness to C. R. Carter, Esq., who, at my suggestion, has kindly placed copies of these books in the fine collection of works on New Zealand which he has so generously presented to the
New Zealand Institute. Apart from their special value to the botanist, a considerable amount of historic interest must be attached to them by all New-Zealanders.
At the risk of seeming somewhat egotistical, I should like to state that the Minister of Education has sanctioned the small outlay necessary for obtaining a complete set of proofs from the Banksian drawings of New Zealand plants in the British Museum, and that copies reduced by photolithography will be printed at the Government press, to form a special volume of illustrations for the “Student's Flora of New Zealand,” now in preparation. The MS. volume of descriptions now on the table will be bound for the library of the New Zealand Institute.
I am reluctant to allow this opportunity to pass without expressing my thanks to Sir James Hector for his continuous and loyal efforts to insure the new Flora being made as complete and exact as possible. When its publication was first mooted some years back he advised the Government that, as a simple matter of business, it would be wise to send the editor to London to examine the collections of New Zealand plants made by the early botanists, and especially the vast accumulations that have been sent to Kew during the last thirty or forty years. The same course had previously been suggested by Sir Joseph Hooker, but had not been brought under the notice of the Government. When the Government declined to adopt the advice Sir James warmly supported the proposal to secure the MS. copy of Banks' and So-lander's unpublished Flora, which is now before the meeting, and thus rendered material assistance. He has done everything in his power to facilitate the work and render it as nearly perfect as possible. I gladly take this opportunity of acknowledging his many good offices.