Fish Art History: Page 2

Forty Drawings of Fishes made by the ARTISTS who accompanied
Captain James Cook on his THREE VOYAGES TO THE PACIFIC 
1768-71   1772-75   1776-80


Continued from Fish Art History Page 1





posed to Lord North at the Treasury in return for a capital sum and an annuity; it was not accepted) A scheme to copy Georg’s drawings for presentation to George III was begun but was abandoned. Georg Forster then left England for Germany, followed by his father after selling Georg’s paintings to Banks in 1776 (for £400) but taking his own manuscript description of animals seen on the voyage. This latter was not published until 1844 (edited by M. H. C. Lichtenstein, Curator of the Berlin Museum) but it is a most useful work which gives details of dates and localities, references to Georg’s drawings, and for the 96 fishes, a reference to the names that Schneider had used some forty years previously, based on these same descriptions in manuscript. Georg died in Paris in 1794 at the age of 39. His papers (including a complete list and description of the 1772-5 drawings) went to his father and were finally brought by the Royal Library in Berlin. As an old man, J.R. Forster often used to bemoan to Schneider the fate of his son’s drawings that he had been forced to sell to pay his debts.


From the third voyage (1776-1780) there is a bound volume of 115 paintings in the British Museum (Natural History) by William Ellis, who joined the Discovery as Surgeon’s 2nd mate. The drawings are mostly of birds, but there are some mammals, crustaceans, a walrus and 15 fishes (Nos. 97-111). The fish paintings which are probably less than life size, do not appear to have been used by authors. Ellis died in 1785 from a fall from the mainmast of a ship at Ostend on his way to Germany where he was to have been engaged by the Emperor Joseph II to go on a voyage of discovery.


The artist appointed on Cook’s third voyage was John (William) Webber (?- 1750-1793), son of a Swiss sculptor, who had attracted Solander’s attention by a portrait exhibited in the Royal Academy. Webber worked mainly on figures and landscapes, but there are some natural history drawings in the Print Room of the British Museum. Seven of these are of fishes (Nos. 46, 98, 99, 100-102, and no number), but none was used by authors. The Chief Surgeon on the third voyage was William Anderson (1748-1778), who had sailed as surgeon’s chief mate on the second voyage. He acted also as naturalist since, according to Cuvier, Cook had refused to take a professional naturalist – an understandable decision after his experiences with the elder Forster. Anderson compiled a few but excellent descriptions of animals (mostly birds and fishes) from the second and third voyages and these are now bound as a small note-book in the Zoological Library of the British Museum (Natural History). Eleven fishes are described, including two new genera, and at least two of the species described can be matched with Webber drawings. One of the latter (No. 46 Cephalocanthus) bears a note in pencil “Anderson’s descriptions animalium N. 6”, but unfortunately Anderson’s descriptions do not refer to the Weber drawings. A final drawing that may relate to this



voyage is a pencil sketch by John Cleveley bound in a miscellaneous collection of Banksian drawings in the British Museum; it shows a small piked dogfish, John Cleveley, and his twin brother Robert, were noted marine artists of their day, and a younger brother James, carpenter in the Resolution, also possessed some artistic skill. But in comparison with the first two voyages, the natural history drawings from the third voyage are rather meagre, testifying to the need for an energetic Banks of Forster to direct the efforts of the artists.

The Fish Drawings

There are now 262 drawings of fishes from the Cook voyages in the British Museum (Natural History), of which 156 are by Parkinson, 78 by Forster, 15 by Ellis, 7 by Buchan and 6 by Spöring; a further 7 by Webber are in the British Museum at Bloomsbury. Only a small proportion of the drawings are completed, the majority being sketches with washes of colour. They are executed in pencil, rarely crayon or ink, and are occasionally shaded in pencil (vide Plates 1-6). In the fully worked paintings the artist has overlaid the washes of colour with details of scales and finrays and the final result is a very fair representation of the fish. The drawings of Forster and Parkinson are probably life-size except for the largest specimens. Thus the reputed Cook specimen of Balistes vidua (see Plate 36) is most likely not the model for either Parkinson or the Forster drawing, being respectively too large or too small.


The drawings bear a number of notes in pencil and ink, and examples of these are shown here.

Parkinson Volumes

On the face of the completed drawings, Parkinson has signed his name and the date in ink (lower right). Lower left, in ink, is S. Parkinson (or Buchan, or Spöring) written by Banks’ librarian Dryander. Bottom right, in pencil, is often written the vernacular name, and centre the scientific name of the fish, sometimes emended and not always agreeing with the name neatly above or below the fish and the specific name is added in cursive script. Some of the names added to the drawings may date from the nineteenth century (i.e. Richardson or others).

On the reverse of the drawings are pencilled colour notes by Parkinson (lower left). These show a disregard for spelling (finn, colour, redish, etc.) and punctuation, together with a use of abbreviations (wt, ting’d, etc.), reminiscent of Banks himself (whose English was erratic but yet adds a



curiously human touch to his journal and letters). The notes are, however, by Parkinson. Lower right is pencilled the species name (corresponding to Solander’s names in his MS descriptions), usually preceded by a number, and these appear to have been written by Solander. Below this is the locality written in ink by Solander, but occasionally by Banks.

Forster Volumes

On the face of the drawings, in ink bottom left, is written Ge. Forster by Dryander. In pencil below this fish are written the species name, locality and date and sometimes some notes. The localities are occasionally abbreviated, e.g. S.C.Q.C.S.N.Z. for Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand. The Symbol <> is sometimes placed between the month and the year, or before the date, where its place may be taken by other medieval signs. <> <>.
Linnaeus gave such signs a special biological significance in the Species



Plantarum, the sign <> (Jupiter) meaning perennial, and the sign <> (sun) meaning annual, and so on. Meteorological application of such signs was proposed in 1758 by J. H. Lambert (Acta Helvetica, 3 : 324), but J. R. Forster may have merely used them for the days of the week. A second name to the fish is often pencilled below the first, with the addition, Mss., Brit. Mus., British Museum or Mus. Britannic added, probably by Solander.


There is usually nothing written on the reverse of the Forster drawings.

Ellis Volume

On the face of the drawings, bottom right in ink, the artist’s name is written by Dryander. Some paintings are signed by the artist, and a few have the species name in pencil.

Few of the Cook fishes have ever been described beyond Solander’s MS notes, and the drawings alone were not used as the sole basis for descriptions until 1826. Broussonet (in 1782-1786) and Shaw (in 1792) appear to be the only early authors to have described new fishes on Cook material, and since the specimens were still extant, the drawings play a comparatively minor role. Schneider’s descriptions, in Systema Ichthyologia Blochii of 1801, merely used J. R. Forster’s MS notes, without sight of specimens or drawings. But in the third decade of the nineteenth century, in the exact twenty year period 1826-1846, the drawings suddenly assume importance. They were used by leading ichthyologists of the period, including, Cuvier, Valenciennes, Lay and Bennet, Müller and Henle, Richardson, Swainson and Gray. The Forster drawings were copied for Curvier at this time by Sarah Lee, formerly Mrs. T. E. Bowdich.


Even allowing that naturalists held back in favour of Solander during the latter’s lifetime (Broussonet did not), it is curious that forty years were to elapse before fish drawings were used. Bloch and Lacepède, who were both compiling comprehensive treaties on fishes, would be expected to have used the Cook drawings, but neither seems to have come to England. Shaw, together with the artist Frederick Polydore Nodder (whom Banks also employed) produced the Naturalist’s Miscellany (1790-1813), but none of the fishes described appears to have been based on a drawing, possibly because specimens were still extant.


By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the amount of material brought back to the European museums by expeditions and collectors so greatly exceeded the Cook collections, that reliance on the drawings alone was un-



necessary. In the vast body of literature since then there may be occasional references to the Cook drawings, but probably no new species based solely on them.


The Parkinson drawings came to Banks (he paid £500 to Sydney’s brother Stanfield in compensation for Sydney’s death since the drawings belonged to banks in any case.) The Forster drawings were bought by Banks, and presumably also those by Buchan, Webber and Ellis. The drawings remained in Banks’ collection, where they were looked after by Solander. After the latter’s death in 1782, Banks employed another Swede as librarian, Jonas Dryander (affectionately known as “Old Dry”), whose Catalogus Bibliothecae . . . Josephi Banks was published in 1796-1800; he also compiled a manuscript catalogue of all the zoological drawings in Banks’ library. Banks’ third librarian was the great botanist Robert Brown, to whom banks bequeathed his library, herbarium, manuscripts, drawings, etc. Brown joined the staff of the British Museum in 1827, and the drawings then passed to the British Museum, but most were later transferred to the British Museum (Natural History).


Often, it is possible to identify the species in even a poor drawing more easily than in a photograph, but neither is entirely satisfactory and the identifications given here are not intended to be definitive. Nevertheless, a number of species descriptions are based solely on these drawings, and future ichthyologists will now have the opportunity to check colours and those external features which are not given in later descriptions.


The Fish Specimens

The fate of the zoological specimens collected during Cook’s voyages is a long and tangled story, and in an age when type specimens still hold a vital place in systematics, one can only regret that so little material survives. But two centuries ago, the British Museum was not the largest not the most obvious depository for natural history specimens; thus Banks, who became a Trustee of the Museum, allowed his shells and insects to go to the Linnean Society. The Leverian Museum and later the Bullock Museum were two important rivals in the capital, as well as the Duchess of Portland’s collection, and there were a number of provincial museums and collectors only too eager for exotic material. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the Banksian material fairly widely distributed.


There is no list of the fish specimens from the first voyage, although the species collected can be inferred from the drawings and from Solander’s notes. In a letter to Count Laurayais, Banks wrote enthusiastically of “five hundred fishes” from the first voyage. Broussonet visited London at some point prior to



1780 and he recorded seeing some Cook voyage specimens in the British Museum (see Plate2), and others in Banks’ own collection. The reason for retaining some and not others is not given, although the British Museum specimens may have been those on which Solander was working (he became Keeper of the Natural History Department of the British Museum in 1773).


When the Resolution berthed after the second voyage, Banks held aloof, but Solander went down to Woolwich to offer congratulations and he wrote to banks the following week that four casks “have your name on them, and I understand they contain Birds and Fish etc.” Broussonet certainly saw some of these Forster specimens. Although there is, unfortunately, no reference in his letters to banks of specimens, Broussonet listed Forster material in his Ichthyologia of 1782. Two such specimens are now in the British Museum (Natural History) – Chaetodon longirostris and Clupea cyprinoides (see Plate 7)- but the remaining eight species described are not represented. Curvier, however, in the useful introduction to the first volume of the Histoire Naturelle des Poissons (1828), mentioned specimens that were given to Broussonet to continue his work. After Broussonet’s death in 1807, these specimens remained in the Faculty of Medicine in Montpellier and were later sent to Curvier in Paris. There are now over forty Banksian fishes in the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris deriving from Broussonet’s collection, and many of these were specimens collected during the Cook voyages. Some indication of the specimens collected on the second voyage can be gained from the drawings and from J. R. Forster’s Descriptiones Animalium.


Of the specimens collected on the third voyage, Thomas Pennant wrote in the introduction to his Artic Zoology (1792) “it was a great misfortune, in this voyage, that the fishes were promiscuously flung into one common cask, so that it was impossible to ascertain the species belonging to each country.” There are only 23 drawings of fishes from this voyage, few of which have been referred to in the literature, and it is difficult to locate references to any material. One clue, however, offered by Shaw who, in his General Zoology, 4(I):153 of 1803, described as new Gadus leverianus, based on a specimen in the Leverian Museum which was “placed in a collection of fishes taken during the last voyage of Captain Cook.”


There is in the British Museum (Natural History) a large sailfish, 7½ feet in length. Broussonet provided one of his excellent descriptions of it, as well as a figure, but did not name it (1786, Mém.Acad.roy.Sci.Paris:450-455, fig.10). A few years later, Shaw examined it, figured it, and described it as Xiphias platypterus in the Naturalist’s Miscellany of 1792. Curiously enough, it is not depicted in any of the Cook voyage drawings and it is not recorded from which voyage it came. Banks wrote of another and larger specimen from Sumatra, of which there is a drawing in Paris (mentioned also by Broussonet), 



but since neither Banks nor Forster refer to the 7½ feet specimen it must be presumed to have been caught during the third voyage.


Sir Ashton Lever (1739-1788), founder of the famous Leverian Museum (or Holophusikon as its owner preferred to call it), was said to have acquired a large amount of Cook material in 1781. Unable to finance his museum further, nor to interest the government in purchasing it, Lever reluctantly decided to dispose of it in one piece by public lottery. In 1786, for the price of a one guinea ticket, the museum became the possession of James Parkinson (1730-1813). Parkinson moved it from Leicester House, London (where it had been housed since 1744), to the Rotunda in Albion Place, off Blackfriars Road. Unable to make the museum pay, Parkinson was forced to sell it, and it was split into 7879 lots and auctioned in 1806. George Shaw, then Assistant Keeper of Natural History in the British Museum, was one of those who strongly opposed dispersal of the Museum, recording his disapproval in verse in the Naturalist’s Miscellany (volume 17). Once again the museum had initially been offered to the government at a nominal sum, but Joseph Banks appeared to have been one of those who advised against its purchase. There is an annotated sale catalogue in the British Museum (Natural History). Interspersed between eight-legged cats, monkeys enacting human activities (“scarce fit to be look’d at” wrote Susan, sister of Fanny Burney†) and such gems as “Lot 6620. Carved war club, Friendly Isles”, there are a number of fishes. Lots 5077-8 contain seven fishes “collected by Capt. Cook in the Indian Seas” which were bought by Richard Cuming (one still extant in the Cuming Museum) and by Fichtel. Lots 5255-5265 contain 46 fishes “collected by Captain Cook in the S.Seas” and Lot 66 (penultimate sale day) is a specimen of Pleuronectes ocellatus with an ink entry “Capt. Cook collection”. Of the 54 Cook voyage specimens, 44 were bid for by Leopold Von Fichtel, a naturalist commissioned by the Emperor Fancis I of Austria. The Fichtel material, which included 73 fishes, went to the Imperial Museum in Vienna. In a contemporary account of the Leverian Museum in 1793, Robert Jameson, later Professor of Natural History in Edinburgh, described see “A cabinet of fishes brought home by Capt. Cook”, and these were probably the ones bought by Fichtel. Heslop and the naturalist Edward Donovan each bought three Cook voyage fishes. Other fishes were bought by William Swainson, the Earl of Derby and William Bullock, founder of the Bullock or London Museum which from 1809 was housed at No. 22, Piccadilly (the famous Egyptian Hall, which survived long after Bullock’s day and was finally demolished in 1905).


In one edition of the excellent guide that Bullock produced for his


†Susan Burney married Molesworth Phillips, who had been a marine in the Resolution during the third voyage. Charles Burney, a brother, had sailed on the second and third voyages.



museum, he claimed to have acquired the entire collection of birds from Cook’s first voyage, donated or sold to him by the Royal College of Surgeons. In the guide for 1812, Bullock listed both Sir Joseph and Lady Banks as donors. But like Lever, Bullock has spent probably much more than he could afford on acquiring material, although there is no evidence that he was forced to sell huge [sic] (his) museum. It went by auction in 1819; the sale, by 3342 lots, took twenty-six days and Bullock himself acted as auctioneer. The annotated sale catalogue in the British Museum (Natural History) is as full of curiosities as that of the Leverian Museum. There were many of Napoleon’s possessions, including the military carriage captured on the evening of the battle of Waterloo – and his razor and tooth-brush – but also listed are a large case of exotic fishes, sold for £31 to the Marquis of Buckingham, a case of mainly British fishes sold to W.E. Leach, and Lot 107, containing foreign fishes, that went for £10 to Dr. Adams. Many European museums were interested in the sale; Leach represented the British Museum, Adams the Edinburgh Museum, Lichtenstein the Berlin Museum, Temminck bought for Leyden, Fector for Vienna and Baron Laugier for Paris. Again, a certain amount of Cook material (parrots fro example), and possibly some fishes, was included in the sale. So far no Cook fishes in the British Museum (Natural History) have been found with reference on the label to Bullock, Buckingham, Leach or Adams, but there are no records of fishes acquired before 1837.


Fishes may have been given to John Hunter, who formed the Hunterian Collection in about 1785. On Hunter’s death in 1793, the collection was bought for £15,000 and became the property of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800. Richardson mentioned at least one Banksian fish in the museum, and the kangaroo skull painted by Nathaniel Dance was there but destroyed during the last was. The undissected fish specimens in alcohol were also destroyed. Other Cook fishes went to William Hunter and thence to Glasgow, but no trace survives.


Some of the Cook specimens came to the British Museum. Günther, in his Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum (8 vols., 1859-1870) listed Cook specimens from the “Old Collection”, that is to say the collection as it stood before J. E. Gray initiated the present registration system in 1837. Unfortunately, there is no peculiarity of labelling of specimens or jars that would identify a specimen as being one from the Cook voyages, although some evidence must have existed in Günther’s day.


The fate of the fishes, as indeed of most of the zoological material from the three voyages, probably reflects Banks’ preoccupation with botany and not zoology. As a result of Banks’ generosity, coupled with an apparent lack of documentation, the fishes have become scattered and many small museum



may have such material without realising its great scientific importance. That the Cook drawings alone were so widely used in the description of new species of fishes, shows that by 1826-1846 the actual specimens could no longer be traced. Some have since come to light, but we are now mainly dependent on the accuracy, skill and industry of Parkinson and Forster, Webber, Buchan, Spöring and Ellis for our knowledge of the fishes collected on Captain Cook’s three momentous voyages to the Pacific.



I am greatly indebted to my colleagues Dr N. B. Marshall and Mr A. C. Wheeler for much of the preliminary work on the drawings and the search for specimens, while Mr M. J. Rowlands, Librarian of this museum, enthusiastically shared the hunt for biographical and other details, contributing many valuable suggestions. Much of the general historical material is derived from the published works of Dr J. C. Beaglehole, but I am grateful to Dr Averil Lysaght and Dr W. T. Stearn for additional, material on the natural history aspects of the voyages and for the criticisms of the text. Credit for the overall supervision of lay-out and presentation is due to Mr A. E. Baker, Publications Officer. The ship cover is taken from a drawing of the Endeavour by Adrian Small, one of his many excellent illustrations in “Captain Cook, the seaman’s seaman” by Alan Villiers.