Fish Art History

Early New Zealand fish art 1
Early New Zealand fish art 1

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Early New Zealand fish art 2
Early New Zealand fish art 2

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Early New Zealand fish art 9
Early New Zealand fish art 9

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Early New Zealand fish art 1
Early New Zealand fish art 1

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Slideshow of early New Zealand art featuring fish in the subject matter

Images are courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library

The History of New Zealand Marine Biology
And the Marine Art of the Amateur & Professional Naturalists

TWO very good reference documents throw light on the evolution of marine science studies in New Zealand, but from slightly different angles. When considered together, they offer a wonderful and valuable insight into an important part of our Natural History and serve to qualify the true value and legacy status of the Natural History marine paintings of Eric Heath as seen reproduced here on Fish Art Gallery.

One reference document is reproduced on this page in full below; the second is a research document by George Putnam, Harvard University, and is titled A Brief History of New Zealand Marine Biology  and was published in the Victoria University publication, 'Tuatara: Volume 22, Issue 3, February 1977'.

The online reproduction of said Tuatara issue is held on the Victoria University servers and can be read here.


We are indebted to Mr Putnam for his efforts in producing this article, it is certainly a most interesting read - the document is 10,099 words.

NATURAL HISTORY and scientifically based study and recording of New Zealand marine life began with Captain Cook's arrival here in 1769. What follows is an extremely enlightening account of the activities, artistic output, fate of the men and the art they produced, during and after their historic visits to the south Pacific.

This text is by Peter James Palmer Whitehead and is sourced from the introduction to the limited edition book "Forty Drawings of Fishes made by the Artists who accompanied Captain James Cook" published in 1968. The text has been reproduced with faithful accuracy to that of the book.

Please Note: only the text has been reproduced, not the fish plates mentioned throughout.


Forty Drawings of Fishes made by the ARTISTS who accompanied

Captain James Cook
1768-71   1772-75   1776-80

Sydney Parkinson              Georg Forster               John Webber                Joseph Banks              Daniel Solander              J.R. Forster


THE year 1968 marks the bicentenary of Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific, an occasion worthy of celebration, not only by geographers, seafarers, historians, and also by scientists of many disciplines. For the natural historian, the combination of Cook’s genius in navigation, coupled with the energy, enthusiasm and sheer curiosity of the young Joseph Banks, produced an extraordinarily rich harvest of specimens and observations. The biological material that has survived these two centuries is now for the most part preserved in the British Museum (Natural History). It ranges from a large sailfish, honorably mentioned by later authors, to several thousand carefully pressed plants, the nucleus of Banks’ large herbarium.


Not least among these treasures are the natural history drawings made by the artists who accompanied Captain Cook. They portray birds, mammals, fishes, reptiles, invertebrates and plants, many of which were then observed for the first time by Europeans. Despite difficult, and at times most unpleasant working conditions, these artists have left us many volumes of sketches and drawings, the majority still unpublished and known only to the few who came to London to study them.


Whereas a certain amount has been written on the birds and plants from Cook voyages, the fishes have received rather little attention, especially in the last hundred years. There are now two hundred and seventy paintings and drawings of fishes, and of these about fifty were used by nineteenth-century authors wholly or partly as the basis for descriptions of new species. Forty drawings and sketches are reproduced here (all but three for the first time) and because the specimens often cannot be traced, the drawings now have an importance far beyond their artistic merit. Where they formed the sole basis for a new species description, the drawing itself must be considered the type (i.e. the iconotype) of that species. Some twenty-seven species are listed here as being based solely on a drawing.


The publication of these drawings is offered as a tribute to the considerable skill and industry of the artist, and as a recognition of the service rendered to natural history by the naturalists who collected the material and supervised its portrayal. It is surely fitting that acknowledgment of the work of these men should in itself be a useful and practical contribution to natural history, for the drawings shown here are often the only evidence we now have of the identity of these species collected during Captain Cook’s three historic voyages.
Chairman of the Trustees
24th June 1968
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The Natural History of the Voyages

TWO HUNDRED years ago, on the 26th August 1768, Lieutenant James Cook set sail from Plymouth in H.M.S. Endeavour, bound for the South Seas. This was the first of his three great voyages to the pacific, on the last of which he met a tragic death on Hawaii, an island where, according to Lieutenant Clerke’s dispatches, “he had been treated if possible with more hospitality than at Otaheite”.
Cook’s instructions on the first voyage were to record the transit of the planet Venus across the disc of the sun from the newly discovered King George the Third’s Island, soon to become known as Otaheite (Tahiti). Thereafter, he was to explore southwards in search of the southern continent, the Terra australis incognita that such geographers as Buache and Dalrymple believed must exist to balance the land masses of the northern hemisphere. There was also important political reasons behind the search. During the preparations for the voyage, however, a new note was added. The Royal Society presented the Lords of the Admiralty with a memorandum urging them to include in the expedition “Joseph Banks, Esq., Fellow of this Society, a gentleman of large fortune, who is well versed in Natural History . . .together with his suite . . .”. This was agreed and the voyage immediately took on new broader meaning. For Joseph Banks (1743-1820), the Grand Tour was to be no leisurely jaunt through the capitals of Europe. “Every blockhead does that” he wrote, “my Grand Tour shall be one round the whole globe.” Although Banks himself financed his own part of the adventure, this henceforth set a precedent for the carrying of naturalist on future British voyages of discovery. Cook himself was not only elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on his return from the second voyage, but was presented with their highest award, the Copley Medal, for his paper read before the Society on the control of scurvy.


In retrospect, the importance of naturalist and natural history artists on the voyages was immense. For botanists and zoologists, the Pacific had barley been touched, while the ethnology of the South Sea islanders was as



yet confined to little more than Rousseau’s dream of the Natural Man, brought to life by the brief but idyllic sojourn of Wallis and the crew of the Dolphin when they discovered Tahiti the previous year. Even if the astronomical observations of Cook’s first expedition had entirely failed, or the geographical discoveries proved disappointing, the voyages would still have been a remarkable success (at least in modern eyes) for the wealth of natural history material that was amassed. Never had such a carefully assembled collection of specimens, drawings and notes been brought back to Europe to excite the scientific world. Later, Banks’ own residence at No. 32 Soho Square became the repository for much of this material. His was the best natural history library of its day, and many a contemporary letter and scientific paper acknowledged the liberality with which Banks gave access to his collection. In the same year that the Endeavour returned in triumph to England, Banks began planning his part in a second Cook expedition, carefully distilling the lessons from the first. It seemed that nothing could prevent the riches of this huge area of the world from coming under the scrutiny of the world armed with that key to the realms of nature, the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus.


But even in 1771, while Banks reaped the social glory and scientific acclaim he so rightly deserved, there was at least one voice of apprehension, that of Linnaeus, himself the methodical collator of so much material his own private collectors brought back to him. Although he lauded banks and felt botanists should erect a memorial to him as lasting as the Pyramids, he later wrote to Ellis in an agony of dread lest there be any delay in publishing details of these new treasures owing to Banks’ intention to set out on the next expedition; the specimens, he feared, might instead be “devoured by vermin of all kinds . . .’, or “The house where they are lodged may be burnt . . .” or worse still, “Those destined to describe them may die . . .”.


These words proved prophetic, although it was the frailties of human nature that played the greatest part of subsequent events. There is, indeed, a lamentable contrast between determination, courage, good planning and great care that attended the collection of all this material, and the series of delays, misfortunes, dissensions, intrigues (and at times downright malice) that so beset the publication of the results, of the journals as well as of the scientific works. On the first voyage the two artists and one naturalist met their deaths before the Endeavour reached England, leaving many of the paintings unfinished. Solander, Banks’ righthand man, died early and his descriptions have remained for the most part unpublished to this day. The Forsters, naturalist and artist on the second voyage, left England after a violent quarrel with the Admiralty, and it was seventy years before J. R. Forster’s descriptions of animals were published; Georg Forster’s animal drawings are still mostly





unpublished. William Ellis, unofficial artist on the third voyage, died five years after his return to England, and his drawings have also remained unpublished; William Anderson, naturalist on this voyage, died, before reaching England. It is true that the few hundred insects brought back were studied and described by Johann Christian Fabricius, a pupil of Linnaeus, but it was fifty years before any serious attempt was made to publish on more than a handful of the fishes collection or drawn. On the botanical side, too, there was Banks’ original journal of the voyage, although copied faithfully by his sister and others, and bowdlerized by Sir Joseph Hooker in 1896, was not published until 1962, when it was edited with great care and critical scholarship by John C. Beaglehole.


The final chapter in this series of misfortunes begins with the wranglings and bitterness over the unofficial, and sometimes inaccurate accounts of the voyages, and the disappearance of some of the journals kept; it ends with the dispersal from the 1880’s of Banks’ letters and papers (and his journal), sold and scattered to all parts of the globe, to prove a nightmare to future biographers and an affront to the care with which Banks filed and preserved his enormous correspondence.


But in spite of all this, in spite of the loss of some material and the delays in publication which now stretch two centuries, the harvest of biological results was a rich one. The material collected during the Cook voyages will remain for many years an important tool in taxonomic work. Indeed, the preparation of the present work has in itself stimulated enquiry in to the fate of Cook specimens and the identity of drawings which have lain so long in virtual obscurity.

The Naturalists and Artists


Even though Banks participated only in the first voyage and published almost nothing on the natural history material brought back, he remains a central figure in the story. It was Banks who kept or distributed the specimens from the three voyages, who kept the drawings from the voyages and who used his house virtually as a natural history museum, a Mecca where naturalists congregated to discuss and to examine the new species that banks and his collectors were amassing; the Thursday breakfast parties were famous. With his large private income, his position as Present of the Royal Society, a post he held for some forty years, and his multitude of interests (coinage,




sheep, cochineal beetles, the gardens at Kew, to name a few), it is difficult to probe the natural history of the period without constantly returning to Banks. He was in the fortunate position of being able to employ his own artists, librarians and naturalists to assist him. Whether by chance or not, Banks seems to have has an affinity for Swedes, employing three and having association with a number of others. Banks’ supposed Swedish ancestry, however, is an error based on Jacob Banks, an unrelated contemporary of his great-grandfather. Of the men who worked for him, Spöring and Solander were his companions on the first voyage.


Daniel Solander (1733-1782) came from a talented Swedish family. He entered Uppsala University and won Linnaeus’ warm approval, becoming his favourite student. He came to England in 1760, and having turned down a professorship in St Petersburg and, more flattering still, the invitation by Linnaeus to become his successor, he eventually joined the staff of the British Museum in 1763. Banks met him there in 1767 and clearly took to this genial Swede, gladly accepting his offer to join him on the first Cook voyage. Later, Solander came to work as banks’ assistant and librarian. He worked tirelessly, although some of his time was taken up with the social aspects of eighteenth-century natural history; he appears to have been as much in demand for his charm and manner as for his ability as a naturalist. Solander died suddenly at the age of 49. Had he lived longer, the botanical results that he and banks were writing up might yet have been published. In the event, they were not, and on the zoological side we are left with many manuscript descriptions now deposited in the British Museum (Natural History). Solander is also remembered as the inventor of Solander cases, special boxes used for the storage of papers or specimens.


The Solander manuscripts cited here are in the Zoological Library of the British Museum (Natural History). They are MS.Z2 (a fair copy of MS.Z1 but in another hand), of which three parts describe the fishes of Australia, New Zealand (erroneously titled Pisces Australiae) and the Pacific; and MS.Z4, which compromises 512 foolscap pages (in another hand but compiled from his notebooks) of descriptions of animals, including fishes (pp.133-278). These descriptions (in Latin) were used by many ichthyologists, notably Sir John Richardson in his papers on Australian and New Zealand fishes. There is also a set of 27 volumes of “Solander slips”, small sheets of paper listing species and genera of animals, of which three volumes relate to fishes. This was to form a revised edition of the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus. The genial Solander, who charmed all who met him, had been accused of sloth, but the manuscripts that remain testify to a slow and careful compilation of the results whose delay in publication appears to have been motivated chiefly by a desire for thoroughness.



The most important artist on the first voyage was the talented Sydney Parkinson (ca 1745-1771), son of an Edinburgh brewer and apprenticed as a woollen-draper but soon to display such skill in botanical illustration that his abilities were brought to the notice of Joseph Banks. Banks took him to his employ in 1767, and there are many of his drawings of animals from Ceylon dating from this year. It was natural that Banks should invite him to joint the Cook voyage as botanical draughtsman the following year, and he was engaged at £80 per annum, a modest salary considering his prodigious output of some 1300 drawings and sketches made during the voyage, as well as his well-kept journal. His remarkable industry was sustained in the face of extraordinary hazards. On Tahiti, for instance, flies were so numerous that, not only did they cover the subject, they even ate the colour off the paper as fast as the artist could lay it on! There is a portrait of Sydney Parkinson in oils (? Self-portrait) in the British Museum (Natural History). Judging from the rather quiet, serious face, and the testimony of the number of drawings he accomplished, one is inclined to believe his brother Stanfield, who claimed that while his shipmates were indulging themselves in “sensual gratifications”, Sydney gratified “no other passion than that of a laudable curiosity protected by his own innocence”.


Parkinson was one of the twenty-three who died of diseases following the Endeavour’s ten week stay in Batavia for repairs. His drawings were retained by Banks, and of these there are eighteen botanical and three zoological volumes now in the British Museum (Natural History). A number of Parkinson’s drawings and his sketchbook are in the British Museum at Bloomsbury and others are in private hands. Lithographs of 319 of his botanical drawings, with determinations by James Britten, were published by the British Museum (1900-1905). The zoological drawings, 301 in all (but 12 of these by Buchan, 8 by Spöring and two of the kangaroo skull by Dance), include 163 drawings and sketches of fishes, of which only a few appear to be published. The fruits of Parkinson’s brilliant contribution to the Endeavour voyage have remained accessible only to visitors to the British Museum. Parkinson’s journal was edited and prepared for publication by an unscrupulous hack-writer William Kenrick on behalf of Hawkesworth’s official account of the voyage. This led to considerable bitterness and the exclusion of all mention of Parkinson by Hawkesworth, even on the plates made from his drawings. Parkinson’s journal appeared in 1773 (by which time his brother had died insane), but it contains rather little of zoological interest.


Less is known of Alexander Buchan, the other artist on the first voyage. He was employed by Banks to record landscapes and people. Early in the



voyage, at Tierra del Fuego, he had an epileptic seizure and he died shortly after they reached Tahiti. This threw an enormous burden on Parkinson, and there is noticeable increase in the number of his unfinished drawings thereafter. Of the rather few Buchan natural history drawings that survive, there are seven in the 2nd volume of Parkinson folios (Nos. 37, 50, 51b, 80, 84, 85, and 101 - all fishes) and a further five in volume 3 (Nos. 5, 8, 68, 71, 72). One of the Buchan fish drawings is included here. It shows a competence and accuracy in no way inferior to that of Parkinson. John Reynolds, often listed as one of banks’ artists, was in fact servant to the astronomer Charles Green.


The final member of Banks’ natural history party on the Endeavour voyage was Herman Diedrich Spöring, son of a Professor of Medicine at the Swedish University of Abo. Although fully occupied in assisting Solander, Spöring made a number of very competent drawings. Five of these are included in the 1st volume of Parkinson’s drawings (Nos. 45-48 and 56 – all fishes), one in the second volume (No. 23a) and there are two of crabs in the 3rd volume. Spöring was yet another who was claimed by disease, and he died two days before Parkinson, on the 24th of January, 1771.


Following the success of the first voyage, banks began planning his natural history party for the next voyage. The artist Zoffany, for a fee of £1,000 was to undertake the ethnological drawings, there were to be three further natural history draughtsman, Solander would naturally be one, Priestley was to be the astronomer (but this was decided against and Dr. James Lind was chosen), there would be two secretaries, six servants and two horn players, and so on. But through a series of misunderstandings and disagreements with the Navy Board over the accommodation and arrangements for the naturalist, which would have made the ship unseaworthy, banks withdrew and the able but cantankerous German naturalist, linguist and natural history translator Johann Reinhold Forster (1727-1798) was engaged. An official artist had been appointed, William Hodges, but Forster asked that his son, Georg Adam Forster (1754-1794) be engaged as his assistant and natural history artist. Although not so prolific as Parkinson, Georg Forster was an excellent and conscientious draughtsman, and there are three botanical and two zoological volumes of his drawings and sketches in the British Museum (Natural History). Of the 93 zoological drawings, 78 are of fishes. After the voyage, J. R. Forster quarrelled with the Admiralty, and indeed he seems to have been a difficult person, even trying the patience of Cook (who ordered him out of his cabin on one occasion). The subsequent history of the Forsters, well brought out in their letters to Banks, is one of great financial distress, querulous and self-righteous letters alternating with schemes to raise money (including a plan for funding £20 million without taxing the public, pro-

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