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The Flower Chain

1. Chapter 1 The Flower Chain Begins

Convict chains are associated with early British settlement of Australia, but there were also lighter chains in those grim days. Chains of flowers and seeds to be grown and classified stretched across the oceans from Botany Bay to Europe, looping back again with plants and seeds of the old world that were to Europeanise the landscape and transform it forever. The following chapters look at the links in that chain, the discovery, identification, appreciation and cultivation of Australia's plants, together with the sea captains, botanists, artists, gardeners, laymen, books and drawings, which all contributed to the slow introduction of the Australian flora to Europe and the rest of the world. And slow it was indeed. Also examined are the reasons for the delays in the dissemination of knowledge about Australia's unique floral heritage.

[1.1 Illustration: Mimosa decurrens Colour]: Acacia decurrens, described here under its old name of Mimosa and painted by Pierre-Etienne Redoute. Acacia is a typically Australian genus. (Linean Society collections.)

Australia has an exceedingly rich and diverse flora. Eucalyptus, Acacia, Correa, kangaroo paw, Prosanthera, Chamelaucium (Geraldton wax), Brachyscome (Swan River daisies) and everlasting daisies are all Australian and are now grown everywhere from California to the south of France. The top selling house plants in Europe are two Queensland rainforest trees: stunted versions of Ficus benjamina and the long-suffering umbrella plant Schlefflera actinophylla churned out by propagation factories in southern Spain and elsewhere. The number of native vascular species alone in Australia—ignoring the lower plants such as algae and lichens—is estimated at 25,000, and 90 per cent of these genera are endemic to the continent. Only a small number, though, provide sustenance for a stranger on foreign soil. It was patient foraging, day after day, mainly by women and children that provided the non-flesh portion of Aboriginal diets. For the white sailors who did not know the secrets of the native plants, parts of Australia has been described as the ‘Scurvy Coast’.

Despite its novelty and potential, the flora of Australia was disregarded for 150 years after European discovery. From the time of the first documented European landfall in Australia—by the Dutch in 1606—until the early nineteenth century the collection of plants was intermittent and uncoordinated. The earliest known botanical specimens from Australia, probably collected in 1697 by the Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh, were misidentified for over two hundred years. Picked in the Swan River area near Perth, they are fragments of Synaphea spinulosa, a faded, grey, flowerless twig, and Acacia truncata. Now only the Synaphea is still known to be extant. Preserved in the herbarium of the Conservatoire et Jardin Botanique, Geneva it is the sole botanical souvenir from more than a century of Dutch exploration of the coasts of Australia. A few cycad seeds were also bought back to Holland but they were not filed in any herbarium.

Although the Dutch made over twenty voyages to Australia they left scant records of its flora and no collections. The Flower Chain really begins with Somerset-born William Dampier, buccaneer and author, picking Swainsona formosus—Sturt's desert pea—in the west Australian bush in 1699. Despite shipwreck in the Atlantic and subsequent court-martial, Dampier got this flower, dried and pressed along with over twenty other specimens of Australian plants, salvaged from his sinking ship, back to England and into the hands of one Dr Woodward. These plants are now preserved in the herbarium at the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford. Nine of them were illustrated in Dampier's best-selling account of his adventures, A Voyage to New Holland, which went into several editions even in his lifetime. These plants at Oxford form the earliest extant collection of Australian plants yet, in contemporary botanical literature, they only merited an appendix and a few inadequate descriptions.

[1.2 Illustration: Dampier specimens B+W]: William Dampier made observations and collections of its natural history on his second voyage to New Holland and illustrated his findings. These are the first published illustrations of Australia's flora. (Linnean Society collections.)

Sixty years after Dampier's dried specimens were deposited at Oxford Joseph Banks arrived there from Eton to spend three years studying botany. We do not know whether he saw Dampier's plants, but he certainly had Dampier's books on board Cook's Endeavour in 1770 when, with Linnaeus's pupil Daniel Solander, he made the first extensive botanical collection in Australia. This groundbreaking voyage produced a massive haul of plant specimens. Banks initially planned a splendid publication illustrated with life-sized engravings of the highest quality—a florilegium of the plants of the places visited. But despite many years' work, and the expenditure of a small fortune preparing the illustrations, the book was never finished. Even the exquisite illustrations were destined not to be published for over a century. The consequences of this non-publication were far-reaching.

When the British Government sent the First Fleet to establish a penal colony in New South Wales, the convicts, marines and officers sailed knowing nothing about the vegetation of Botany Bay. In the seventeen years between Banks's brief visit in 1770 and the departure of the First Fleet, the British made no inspection of the site. Not only was there no reconnaissance, but information that might have helped settlers was still awaiting completion in the London home of Joseph Banks. Over three thousand precious specimens collected on his first landfall—the reason for its being christened Botany Bay, languished unpublished in Banks's herbarium cabinets. The First Fleet arrived in 1788 magnificently equipped, but lacking in four essentials—a trained botanist, a gardener, a farmer and information on the soils and flora of this new and alien land that they were supposed to farm. Settlers found that the soils that Banks had described as fertile were in fact, marshy, thin or sandy. Without any expert to assess it, they found Australia's uniquely different flora nutritionally and economically worthless. One of the many consequences of this disregard by eighteenth-century settlers was the perception of the land as terra nullius—belonging to no-one. The repercussions of this perception reverberate today in the issue of native land rights.

Initially plans included for two ships of the First Fleet after dropping convicts at Botany Bay would, on the return trip, detour north to Tahiti. Here they would collect hundreds of breadfruit tree seedlings and take them to the West Indies to be grown as food for slaves on sugar plantations in the West Indies. Shortly before departure from England Banks, who had been intimately involved in the preparations, altered the plans: there would be a separate and independent expedition to Tahiti and the Caribbean led by William Bligh. Both the Kew-trained gardener—who had briefly visited Tasmania on Cook's last voyage—and his assistant, who were to have sailed with the First Fleet, were diverted on to the newly acquired Bounty and sail direct to Tahiti. Little did they realise that within a year one would be a willing mutineer with Fletcher Christian and end up laying the foundations for the settlement on Pitcairn Island—instead of New South Wales—and the other, staying loyal to Bligh, would die in Timor.

[1.3 : Breadfruit section Colour]: The starchy fruit of the breadfruit tree, Artocarpus altilis, was a dietary staple throughout the islands of the Pacific. This illustration is from Curtis' Botanical Magazine. (Linnean Society collections.)

In the crucial early days of the colony, the vital task of studying and using indigenous plants of New South Wales was left to amateurs, busy surgeons—and the Spanish and the French. Nobody qualified to study the newly discovered plants resided in the colony. Australian vegetation would have seemed very different to the first settlers, full of diversity and contradiction. The greatest number of characteristic Australian species live in the poorest soil, indeed, the poorer the soil, the more varied the vegetation. In contrast to the water-retaining cactus and cactus-like perennials of the dry regions of America and Africa, Australian dry areas have few perennial succulents. Instead, woody plants, such as the Banksias, Hakeas, mulga and Acacias predominate.

No British expert systematically assessed the flora on-site; nor studied or fitted it into the developing world system of families, genera and species, until Robert Brown arrived with Matthew Flinders on the Investigator in 1801. The colony was then thirteen years old. Brown remained in Australia for three years and collected an amazing 3,400 species, of which more than 2,000 were previously unknown. In the early years plants had to be sent to Europe for naming and classifying by botanists who had not even been to Australia. James Edward Smith, the founder of The Linnean Society, did most of the early work on these Australian plants in England. He published A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland, and later Exotic Botany, describing, illustrating and giving notes on the cultivation of many Australian plants including the waratah and the Boronia. Many of these had been sent to England by John White, the chief surgeon of the colony. White would have his own account of the first six months of settlement published in 1790.

[1.4 Illustration: Banksia from White's Journal B+W]: Some of the first published images of banksias, such as this Banksia serrata in fruit, appeared in John White's journal, expertly engraved by Frederick Polydore Nodder. (Illustration from collections in the London Library.)

Early settlers found the land and its wild food either strange, non-nourishing or completely alien. Much of the vegetation was treated with aversion, fit only for clearing with the saw or the axe. The prevailing attitude was: ‘Chop the bloody thing down!’ Apart from the potential of the magnificent timbers and eucalyptus oil, there was no real attempt to look for commercially attractive plants for horticultural, medicinal or pharmacological uses. Of course, some of the officers, to counter the agonising disease of scurvy, attempted to find remedies in locally growing wild berries and plants, but this was done in a haphazard, amateur fashion. Although there was also a steady stream of plants despatched on boats to England, such as the waratah and Norfolk Island pines sent by Phillip Gidley King to Joseph Banks, little useful information filtered from the experts back to the colonists.

Why was not a botanist sent to assess local resources? For over 40,000 years the Aboriginal people had lived off the land. Although their good health was obvious to the new settlers—their wounds healed quickly and they had strong white teeth—the depth of Aboriginal culture and their knowledge of the land were vastly underestimated. Typical of their time, settlers did not seriously consider trying to glean knowledge from native Australians. Some attempted to find out about the native flora, but their efforts were uninformed and generally unsuccessful. The colony as a whole preferred instead to rely on imported foodstuffs and crops grown from imported seed. As a consequence, the settlers nearly starved while they watched their European crops struggle in the alien, nutrient-poor soils and fall victim to the vagaries of New South Wales weather. And all the time their supplies were dwindling.

As the French Revolution exploded in France, two French botanists and a gardener landed in Tasmania and Western Australia on an expedition looking for the lost ships of the explorer La Pérouse. One of the botanists was Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière who had studied Banks's Australian plants in London. La Pérouse's ships were never found, but Labillardière collected thousands of botanical specimens. These became the basis of the first major book on the Australia flora, and some were grown in the Empress Josephine's magnificent garden at Malmaison, outside Paris. Even before the gardener who had travelled to Australia with Labillardière started working for Josephine, she raised the first expatriate eucalyptus from seed—as well as bottlebrushes, Acacias and Leptospermum, all of which were to be immortalised in paintings by Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

By 1800, across the English Channel at the Royal Gardens, Kew, 170 plants had been introduced from New South Wales. Kew, with Sir Joseph Banks as its unofficial Director, developed links with Australia that it retains to this day. Their Australian plant collection became so extensive that it later had its own Botany Bay glasshouse built, but in New South Wales itself the emphasis was on establishing agriculture based on introduced crops and animals. There has always been a reluctance to grow Australian native plants commercially in Australia, despite the economic potential.

The Flower Chain can be followed to the publication of the first comprehensive flora of Australia, Flora Australiensis by George Bentham in the 1870s. Bentham managed this massive work in seven volumes without leaving England, without ever setting foot on Australia. He used mainly herbarium specimens from collections in London, Paris and sent from Melbourne. For the thirty years leading up to this the Chain was gradually changing from a single thread into a web of connections. The lone collectors visiting from Europe were replaced by a network of botanists, including for the first time residents of the new country. Information from the past string of botanists and plant collectors and from these new resident experts, particularly Ferdinand von Mueller, was amalgamated by Bentham into his magnum opus. To tell the story of the plant collectors up to this point in the 1870s would require more pages than this book allows, so we leave the Flower Chain in the early years of the nineteenth century. We focus on 1804, the year Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, the year Robert Brown, the first professional British botanist to work in the colony botanised around Sydney, and the year of the publication in Paris of the first serious attempt to give an account of Australia's flora as it was then known. Weighing a hefty 14 pounds 6 ounces, and including 265 black and white illustrations and 242 pages of text, Novae Hollandiae Plantarum Specimen by Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière, made an uncomfortable contrast with the shameful lack of British effort. It was over a hundred years since the first English official voyage of exploration to the continent—that of Dampier—and sixteen years since the English had established a colony; yet they failed to launch a systematic study of the flora, or to publish anything of broad significance on the subject. Even Robert Brown's ambitious attempt to produce a flora on his return from Australia in 1805 was doomed to failure. He only published the Prodromus, the introduction, in 1810. This was received so poorly he never completed the work. Yet today, Brown's Prodromus is regarded as the most important single contribution to the study of Australian plants, and its publication marks the end of the exploratory period. If it had been granted recognition at the time, the story of the publication of Australia's flora would have been very different, indeed.

[1.5 Illustration: George Bentham Colour]: Author of Flora Australiensis, the first attempt at a complete account of Australia's plant life, George Bentham was widely regarded as a genius. He spoke 14 languages and also made learned contributions in the fields of philosophy, logic and law. (Linnean Society collections.)

Contrasting the lack of success with either the cataloguing or use of Australian plants, is the ruthless triumph of the exploitation of the breadfruit tree. Its story—despite the loss of well over fifty lives and two naval ships in five years—runs parallel with the early connections the British had with Australia and embraces five of the same protagonists: Dampier, Cook, Banks, Bligh and Flinders.

It is now nearly 400 years since the European discovery of the continent—the quatercentenary is 2006—but it was not until 1979, after a painfully long gestation period, that the Federal Minister of Science launched a twenty-year project to produce a definitive Flora of Australia, funded by the Federal Government in Canberra. The task is still proving monumental and the Flora will far exceed its original twenty-year estimate for completion.

The lack of regard for the Australian flora has been no temporary setback, it has lasted well into the twentieth century. Most Australian plants sold in world markets are grown in other countries. The Australian native plant movement is growing in strength, and many Australians are truly proud of their plant heritage, but as the botanist Alex George in Volume One of the Flora of Australia says, ‘the Australian flora is still far from being adequately known’. He continues:

Few parts of Australia have been fully explored botanically. New species and records continue to be turned up, even close to civilisation, and there are very large areas—thousands of square kilometres—where no work at all has been done. This applies especially to parts of the north and to Western Australia.

It has been estimated by John Yencken, Melbourne-based nursery industry consultant and author of a 1994 paper The Australian Wildflower Industry—A Review, that less than 1 per cent of the plants grown in domestic gardens in Australia are native. In 1993 Israel exported nearly 17 million stems of Australian native waxflower to the flower auctions in the Netherlands while Australia only sent a mere 500,000 to the same market. Although Australian plants can be bought in Covent Gardens flower markets, little has been done to create a healthy domestic market in native plants for vases or gardens. In 1998 Sales of Australian native cut flowers worldwide amounted to about A$440 million annually, but only an estimated 10 per cent were actually exported from home territory. Apart from Israel they are widely grown in South America and the south of France. Even in Australia itself only a tenth of the total value of the annual retail cut flower industry for florist shops and supermarkets is from Australian natives. Compared to roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, gerberas and other exotics, the number of native species grown for commercial sale is insignificant. Globally, the cut flower industry is gigantic—a turnover of well over A$22 billion a year. Yet Australia, with one of the largest genetic floral resources in the world, contributes less than 1 per cent to the global trade.

The dismissive attitude of the early settlers towards the country's flora continued into the twentieth century, only changing with the work of individuals such as Lindsay Pryor, who encouraged the planting of native trees and shrubs. Yet in 1956 the City of Brisbane chose the showy red poinsettia from Mexico as its floral emblem instead of a native flower. Canberra, although the capital city of Australia, was built around exotic trees, mostly those found in English parks: millions of oaks, elms, beeches, birches, North American firs, cottonwoods and Mediterranean cypresses. Australian trees do not change to autumn colours as they do not lose their leaves in winter, but the thousands of northern hemisphere trees in Canberra mean that there is an autumn spectacle of oranges and browns. This book hopes to make Australians aware of the need to redress the balance.

Over two hundred years after Linnaeus's favourite pupil, Daniel Solander, made the first major collection of Australia's flora with Joseph Banks—and his scholarly followers at the Linnean Society named and classified the plants sent back to England—this book was researched in the Linnean Society of London's library. From these researches came the inspiration for Flora-for-Fauna, a campaign that aims to combine aesthetic horticulture with scientific botany by encouraging gardeners, local authorities and farmers to grow native plants to encourage native wildlife. Emphasis is placed on promoting regional native plants, to make gardens an increasingly important food source for birds, butterflies and other creatures. Cultivated plants are essential to human survival. Now, cultivating wild plants is becoming crucial for wildlife. Flora-for-Fauna was launched in Britain at a reception in the Temperate House, the Royal Botanic Gardens, in 1994. For three years it was a special fund within The Linnean Society of London, and although it is now independent, it still maintains its close links with The Linnean Society and the Natural History Museum in London.

[1.6 Illustration: Linnaeus Colour]: A statue of Carolus Linnaeus, surrounded by Australian cultivars— kangaroo paw, Geralton wax and blue gum—presides in the library of the Linnean Society in London. (Linnean Society collections.)

Flora-for-Fauna may have first been established in Britain but, like the Flower Chain, it now links back to Australia. Publication of this book coincides with plans by the Nursery Industry Association of Australia to introduce native regional plants into garden centres under the banner of Flora-for-Fauna. The Nursery Industry has formed a special Flora-for-Fauna marketing company and provided over a quarter of a million dollars for research and development.

2. Chapter 2 Terra Australis Incognita

Jigsawing Australia's Coastline Together on the Maps

For centuries Australia escaped detection, let alone description. Leaving aside the lichens, grasses and mosses of Antarctica, Australia's flora was the last of any of the continents to be discovered, appreciated or classified by Europeans. Large but sparsely peopled, and protected by its remoteness, this island continent, lying between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, waited for thousands of years to be cultivated. Considering the soil erosion, pollution and damage caused by agriculture and grazing, it is certain that if Australia were a living entity, it would not have minded waiting a few thousand more years to be disturbed by the plough, axe and hard-hoofed sheep and cattle.

Great buildings had been built in India, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, but until 1788, Australia, the smallest, flattest and driest of the continents had never had a permanent house built on it, never been trodden by a hoof, never had a wheel roll across it. The tenure of the land by the Aboriginal people was marked not by ruined temples or palaces but by rock paintings and engravings, middens of shells, and a land permanently altered by fire.

But all this was unknown in Renaissance Europe. Appearing on maps before white seamen ever sighted its shores, a great continent in the southern hemisphere was imagined and rumoured for centuries. These maps were conjectures of Greek philosophers and Chinese sailors, Arab traders and Christian missionaries, and of scholars who misinterpreted Marco Polo.

Five hundred years before the birth of Christ Pythagoras proposed that there must be landmasses to the south of the known continents to counterbalance them—there was no concept of hemispheres at this time. Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria (ad 90–c168), refined this idea, postulating that the world was saved from wobbling because of a huge landmass south of the equator that balanced Europe and Asia. This vast expanse of dense soil and rock, he said, gave stability to the Earth which, he explained, was suspended in the centre of the universe; the landmass prevented the Earth from colliding with the stars and other celestial bodies.

It is highly likely that Chinese explorers and traders knew about Australia very early on. India and China traded with each other even before Buddhism was introduced to Burma, Japan and Java. Huge Chinese junks manned by up to 400 oarsmen, and swift Indian ships, bartering all over the Orient, ranged as far as Java and Timor, just a few hundred miles from the north coast of Australia. If they did reach the continent, however, no evidence survives; but then without the lure of profitable spices, the traders had no incentive to return or to record their discovery.

Much later, Christians debated whether rain fell up in the Antipodes. Did people stand on their heads? Did trees grow downwards? St Augustine (ad 354–430), however, scorned ‘that fabulous hypothesis of men who walk a part of the earth opposite to our own, whose feet are in a position contrary to ours, and where the sun rises when it sets with us’.

Eventually scholars of the thirteenth century, including Roger Bacon (c1214–c1292) who dreamt of horseless carriages, flying machines, explosives and optical instruments, reasoned that the southern hemisphere did exist. It even featured in La Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). In his fictional journey Dante travelled with Virgil, through the Inferno, through the centre of the earth. As Easter day dawned he emerged from the gate of hell into Purgatory, a mountain surrounded by the waters of the southern hemisphere (the Pacific), opposite Jerusalem. Dante probably got his inspiration from an Arab globe as the Arabs, who had observatories at Baghdad and Damascus, knew every sea from Spain to China.

The Europeans began to join the Arabs, Indians and Chinese in the southern seas and lands, often in the hope of bringing back tons of brown pebble-like seeds, nutmeg, so prized in European cuisine even 800 years ago. Ships ranged further to fetch spices from where they grew, instead of being brought along the trade routes of old. By the sixteenth century the galleons of Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator were following the coast of Africa southwards. Oceans became highways between the continents. The supremacy of camel trains as cargo-carriers was challenged by the swiftness of sea-borne ships. With information coming to Europe via these trading vessels a web of knowledge about the southern hemisphere grew.

[2.1 : Ortelius Map, TAI Colour]: In his 1570 map of the world, Abraham Ortelius depicted a vast continent, Terra Australis Nondum Cognita, over the South Pole to balance the landmasses of the north. He included parts of the newly discovered coastlines of the Tierra del Fuego, north and western Auastralia and New Guinea in his continent. (Linnean Society collections.)

Ptolemy's Geography was updated by Renaissance mapmakers to take account of new information, and the Indian Ocean and the Americas were shown. But, although these later geographers knew more of the world than Ptolemy, they still did not dispense with the theoretical idea for a great southern continent to balance the earth so it would not be top heavy. Abraham Ortelius's world map, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, published in Antwerp in 1570, shows a massive Terra Australis Nondum Cognita enveloping the south polar area. Ortelius erroneously included the northern coastline of Tierra del Fuego and a large peninsula reaching up towards Borneo marked as ‘Beach’ and ‘Lycach’ in his Unknown South Land. This peninsula was actually part of the outline of the north coast of Australia. The Great Southern Continent, was to reappear again and again, along with the names Luchac, Laach, Maletur, Malaiur, Boeach and Terra Australis Incognita and sections which bear a resemblance to parts of what is now known as Australia.

Between 1530 and 1570 six maps of the southern hemisphere were made by the expert school of cartographers in Dieppe. With each successive map the boundaries of this land mass expanded, contracted, crept upward to the equator and down to the South Pole. Most show the Tropic of Capricorn running through the continent; in all it is located south of Java; in some, it is broken into islands; in others, Australia is not represented at all.

Java-la-Grande was the name given to a continent-sized landmass drawn on the Dieppe maps to the west of Australia's actual position. It mysteriously disappears from maps drawn after about 1566. The mapmakers themselves claimed that the information about the island, whose shape bore a striking resemblance to the actual continent of Australia, was gained from the Portuguese. It is assumed that the information for these maps came from visits by caravels from Portugal's colony at Ternate, in the Moluccas (Maluku), into Australian waters. This is not surprising as the continent is hundreds, not thousands, of miles from the Spice Islands, then Portugal's territory. Australia is a big target and when the Spice Islands drew ships from every maritime nation of the world into southern waters, sailors would have been aware of the continent just 300 miles beyond Timor. Rumours of the wreck of a Portuguese caravel, known as the Mahogany Ship, near Warnambool, off the western coast of Victoria have persisted, despite archaeological expeditions' failure to bring up evidence. Twenty-seven people independently reported sighting it before it disappeared beneath shifting dunes at the end of last century.

Did the Portuguese know about Australia before the first authenticated Dutch landfall of 1606? In one of the earliest atlases still in existence, the Boke of Idrography, presented to King Henry VIII in 1542, the author, Jean Rotz, depicts a ‘Land of Java’, apparently Australia, giving names to places on the east coast similar to those they bear today. The hazardous Great Barrier Reef is the Coste Dangereuse, Botany Bay is Coste des Herbiages, the Bay of Inlets is Baye Perdue and the Bay of Isles is De Beaucoup d'Isles. These seem not to be fanciful names applied to hypothetical maps but actual localities. Rotz states that:

All this I have set down as exactly and truly as possible, drawing as much from my own experience as from the certain experiences of my friends and fellow navigators.

The following description appeared in an exquisitely engraved book of 200 pages and nineteen maps published in Holland by Cornelius Wytfliet in 1597, Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum. An English edition was published in the same year.

The Australis Terra is the most southern of all lands and is separated from New Guinea by a narrow strait. Its shores are hitherto but little known, since, after one voyage and another, that route has been deserted, and seldom is the country visited, unless when sailors are driven there by storms. Australis Terra begins at two or three degrees from the Equator, and is maintained by some to be of so great an extent that, if it were thoroughly explored, it would be regarded as a fifth part of the world.

The evidence for a continent grew. A seventeenth century map clearly shows a landmass south of Java, with a coastline bearing a striking similarity to the north coast of Australia. It is annotated with the information that this land, known as ‘Eendracht’ by the Dutch, was discovered by the Portuguese in 1601, five years before the first Dutch landfall. There is a huge and controversial literature on the supposed pre-Cook discoveries of eastern Australia.

As the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries progressed, and Portuguese and Dutch traders probed south and east on their voyages to the East Indies, coastlines and continents that might, or might not, have been Australia appeared and disappeared on contemporary maps. The desire to find Terra Australis Incognita persisted. Eventually, successive Dutch voyages delineated the west and much of the north coast of Australia. Was this land, called ‘New Holland’ by its discoverers, Terra Australis Incognita? Even after Tasman sailed around much Australia in 1642, proving that New Holland was nothing like the size of the old Great Southern Continent portrayed on the maps, the myth persisted. However, as the jigsaw of Australia's coastline was gradually pieced together it became obvious that if there were a Terra Australis Incognita, it was not the continent already known as New Holland.

3. Chapter 3 The Plant Hunters

Moving plants to improve agriculture, and later scenery and gardens, began with civilisation, and for the last 2,000 years scholarship has been applied in Europe to name and identify plants, to pigeonhole them into families, genera and species. Improving scenery, diet, agriculture and gardens by transferring plants was constant and nothing illustrates this plant exchange better than the English garden. Most of the shrubs, flowers and trees now seen in England—both wild and cultivated—originated from other countries. Before the arrival of the Romans the British landscape was dominated by birch, oak, Scots pine and hazel. There was little choice of vegetables to boil in Celtic pots—nettles, dandelion leaves, and a few root crops. It was the cargoes in Roman galleys in the first century that would change the British flora forever. Off the galleys came bags of seeds and pots of sprouting trees: plane, lime, chestnut, sorbus, box and elm; fruits such as pears, cherries, damsons, quinces, peaches, mulberries and figs and herbs and potherbs, sage, thyme, rosemary, shallots, celery, spinach, parsley, mint, leeks, onions, radishes, lettuces, lavender, and the first of the roses.

Even the English rose is not English. The ancestors of today's cultivated roses, scattered with the leaves of the Koran of Islam, spread throughout Western Europe as the Arabs moved from Persia, conquered in the seventh century. It went east to the gardens of the maharajahs of India, and west to the whole world.

The English apple is an import, as is the London plane—a cross between Asian and American species. The oaks, with their massive trunks and acorns are, perhaps, the most associated with Britain. Yet only two of those growing today are indigenous: the brown oak Quercus robur and Q. petraea which are also widespread in Europe. The holm oak, Q. ilex, red oak, Q. rubra and turkey oak, Q. cerris, have all been introduced in the past few hundred years. Even the so-called English elm, Ulmus procera, is, alas yet another doubtful native of England and more likely came from the continent.

Some carnations—Dianthus—probably came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. The jasmine, pomegranate and the cedar of Lebanon returned with the Crusaders. The cornflower Centaurea cyanus came from Turkey in the seventeenth century. Both the marigolds Tagetes erecta and Calendula officinalis came from America, as did nasturtiums and dahlias. Chrysanthemums came from the Orient.

J. C. Loudon, author of the first Encyclopaedia of Gardening, 1822, estimated that before 1700 the number of exotic plants in Britain was probably less than a thousand. In the following century another 5,000 species were introduced. These numbers are estimates. So many foreign plants have been wild and self-seeding for so many centuries in Britain that they are incorrectly accepted as native. By the time Britain began acquiring its empire it had gained a rich, varied and commercially significant non-native flora which it redistributed to its empire while translocating imperial plants back to the Mother Country.

The Naming of Plants

In Europe, scholars laboured at naming and identifying plants, pigeonholing them into families, genera and species.

The first three major Western scholars of botany—Plato, Aristotle and Aristotle's pupil, Theophrastus, all lived in fourth century bc Greece. They laid the foundations of botanical classification that was followed for centuries. In his De Historia Plantarum, Theophrastus attempted to understand the minutiae of plant structure, as well as plant habitats and uses. He also described plants from India and Persia brought back to Greece by Alexander the Great's warriors. The generic names Anemone and Asparagus were first used by Theophrastus, and the names crocus, cyclamen, delphinium, gentian, lily, peony, rose, violet and narcissus have been in use since the days of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Many of Theophrastus's observations on plant structure could not be superseded until the advent of the microscope, and until the arrival of molecular biology his books were thought worth recommending to students of elementary botany.

Although the Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder, writing five centuries after Theophrastus, said much about plants in his thirty-seven-volume Historia Naturalis, most of it was summarised from other sources and is quite uncritical. Accordingly its readers had to try and separate fact from fiction. Eight volumes dealt with medicinal plants with such hints as using the tannin-rich blackberry leaves for treating ‘affections of the mouth’. The Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides, also working in the first century ad, compiled his famous De Materia Medica in which the medical uses of 600 plants were listed.

[3.2 Bock Herbal B+W]: A graphic depiction of the purging effects of the fig—an illustration from a sixteenth century herbal by Hieronymous Bosch. Herbals became popular with the advent of the moveable-type printing press that made the production of books easier. (Linnean Society collections.)

The writings of these classical scholars, particularly Dioscorides, were still being followed in Europe centuries later, and formed the basis of the plethora of European herbals that appeared with the advent of the moveable-type printing press in the sixteenth century. Among the most renowned of these were Hieronymus Bock's New Kräuterbuch (1537) and Otto Brunfels's Herbarum Vivae Eicones (1538). Other workers in Germany, such as Leonhard Fuchs and Valerius as well as Rembert Dodoens, Charles de l'Ecluse and Matthias de l'Obel in Holland and William Turner and John Gerard in England, also published substantial works.

The First Plant Collectors

Botanical knowledge expanded further when travellers began bringing plants back to Europe from far flung corners of the globe. Plant collectors in the New World began to realise that the works of the classical scholars, based on the plants of the Mediterranean region, had little relevance to the myriad new plants being found in the Americas. Explorers and collectors were returning from the New World with so many different species of plants and animals that if pairs of them all had been carried on Noah's Ark it surely would have sunk. The numbers were so great that it raised doubts about the immutability of species and the biblical version of creation. How could God have made all these animals and plants on earth in just four days?

Scholars and collectors experienced increasing difficulty in naming the new species that were being discovered, resorting either to using familiar names—hence mountain lion for puma—or native names, such as tobacco and potato. By doing this, they weren't challenging accepted wisdom, but it gradually became clear that new classification systems were needed. This realisation marks the emergence of botany as a study separate from medicine, with which it had previously been intimately connected. New systems, such as that based on morphology developed by Andrea Celaspino in Bologna, attempted to show the relationships and affinities between different plants, and to describe variation and its relation to habitat. These new ways of thinking about classification paved the way for great thinkers such as Darwin to postulate their theories of evolution.

England's involvement in serious plant collecting began in the seventeenth century when John Tradescant, gardener to King James I, returned to England with plants from his travels in Russia, Alicante and Algeria, collected for Robert Cecil. Tradescant's son later brought more from North America. Zeal for botanical exploration spread with Christianity. The missionaries, especially French priests, who travelled far to win souls returned with a cornucopia of new species, a few of which survived to adorn gardens and parks.

The chase for plants from the far corners of the world was both a quest for something new, and an attempt to understand the connections between living things. Scientists set out to catalogue everything from the smallest insect to the largest fossil, from the most delicate flower to the tallest tree. Rewards could be high for the sponsors of successful voyages. Ships ventured further in the expectation of finding riches in yet-to-be- discovered lands. The wealthy who wanted exotic new plants to grace their gardens had leisure to study and many became patrons of scientists, gardeners and artists. While there was no official government sponsorship of botanical exploration there was a host of private individuals from captains to adventurers, ship's surgeons to humble ratings who were interested enough to collect and study plants on voyages, either on their own account or for their patrons.

Ships' captains often had instructions from their wealthy sponsors to collect plants-dried or preserved in spirits-for botanical study, and also seeds or living plants for gardens or cash crops. Even ordinary seamen would hide seeds and plants, knowing that such souvenirs might mean quick cash at the end of a voyage.

Quarterdecks were sometimes cluttered with uprooted plants in tubs or sawn off wine casks but casualty rates among these plant passengers were high. Tubs were washed overboard; some were secretly jettisoned by thirsty sailors competing for water rations; others perished if sea spray was not washed off leaves; rats and cockroaches ate them; the ship's dogs and cats urinated on them; some were scorched by the equatorial sun or drowned by tropical storms. Seeds went mouldy or were eaten by weevils.

Plants travelled in straw and mats; in wicker baskets with moss around their roots; in soil over broken shells and stones for drainage; in potatoes; or in an old woollen sock filled with dirt. Acres and acres were transplanted by pocket, sock or barrel.

[3.3 Illustration: Plant collector with hat B+W]: Transporting plants by sea was a haphazard business in the early days. Resourceful plant collectors often resorted to the strangest of receptacles to ensure safe passage for their botanical trophies. (Linnean Society coleections.)

Before a plant was on sale in England it had to withstand two main hazards: the long sea voyage and acclimatisation on arrival. But first, it had to be found in the wild—often in unexplored jungle-like areas—and collected. Carrying live plants back to base could be awkward, although smaller plants could be transported in ox bladders tied to saddles. Once aboard a ship, men sometimes had to forego their own water rations so precious drops could be sprinkled on a plant or they had to suffer the sun when they used their own hat to cradle a delicate bloom.

The main peril was the return voyage. ‘The difficulty of carrying plants by sea is very great’, read the instructions given by Joseph Banks, years later than this early period, to one plant collector:

...a small sprinkling of salt water, or of the salt dew which fills the air even in a moderate gale will inevitably destroy them if not immediately washed off with fresh is necessary that the cabin be appropriated to the sole purpose of making a kind of greenhouse...Every precaution must be taken to prevent or destroy the Rats...and as poison will constantly be used to destroy them and cockroaches, the crew must not complain if some of them that die in the ceiling make an unpleasant smell.

The Development of Classification

The ordeal of obtaining and transporting plants was equalled by the struggle to get them over the seas to an expert for identification and answer such questions as; was it related to known plants? Was it new? What should it be called? At the beginning of the eighteenth century the system of naming and classifying flora and fauna was confused. Aristotle's legacy to biology: classifying according to form or structure and degrees of ‘perfection’ was still current. A different method of nomenclature was used by each botanist and each country. Which name to which plant? It varied from place to place. The appearance of the first truly methodical book on botany in 1548—William Turner's Names of Herbes—did not untangle the chaotic mass of names in loose and meandering Latin and there was still no single concept of the meaning of genera and species.

By this time the interest in plants as an economic resource and as items of trade was greater than ever before. It was more and more necessary to be able to name and classify plants, and the science of botany rapidly developed to meet that need. During the previous century botany had began to move away from its traditional association with medicine to be regarded as a science in its own right. The world of scientific inquiry was changing and in England, centred around meetings, in the panelled room at Gresham College, of an august group ‘for improving Natural Knowledge by experiments’, the Royal Society. Started in 1660 and gaining the patronage of Charles II in 1662, the Society soon attracted intellectuals such as Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle. As well as mathematicians, chemists and physicists, it also numbered botanists among its fellows, signalling that this study was moving into the realms of conventional science.

One Society fellow, arguably the most influential figure in English botany of the time, was John Ray (1627–1705). Although Ray came from humble origins, being the parson son of an Essex blacksmith, he had a headstart in botany as his mother was a herbalist. Ray organised his unique collection of flora and fauna into groups of mutual fertility and refined the term species to a group of animals or plants capable of interbreeding. He also originated some of the basic higher taxa of plant categories: cryptogams (which includes algae, fungi, lichens, mosses, liverworts and ferns) monocotyledons (plants with a single seed leaf such as grasses and lilies) and dicotyledons (plants with two seed-leaves). His work was the foundation for the ‘Natural System’.

The value of reproductive structures in plant classification which was well established by John Ray – a concept which was further developed by Carl Linnaeus (1707–78). Ray expounded his use of flower structure to classify flowering plants in his magnum opus, the three-volume Historia Generalis Plantarum (1686–1704). This work has particular relevance for Australian botany. Included in its index were eleven plants from ‘New Holland’, collected by the pirate-adventurer William Dampier in 1699. These were the first plants then known to have returned to Europe from Australia.

Although an improvement on what had existed previously Ray's system was still inadequate and his idea that living things, including plants, could be sorted in a hierarchical manner into smaller and smaller groups right down to an individual species, was not new. What had not been standardised, by the mid-eighteenth century, was the characters on which this classification should be made. In addition, there was no consistent way of naming species.

It took the analytical mind of a Swedish doctor to provide a system that botanists worldwide could use to name and classify plants. Carl Linnaeus used a beautifully simple method, similar in concept to Ray's, that grouped plants on the structure of their sexual organs. This was essentially an artificial system and didn't, at higher levels, reflect actual relationships in the natural world. It has since been superseded by a more ‘natural’ system, but at the time it provided a much-needed framework that everyone could use—an information retrieval system into which new plants could be fitted. Even more significantly, Linnaeus used Latin as a lingua franca, so that naturalists worldwide could understand each other no matter what their native language. Linnaeus also introduced the use of a Latin binomial—two name—system to identify species. Before this, scientific names had actually been long Latin descriptions. Linnaeus recommended that every plant be given a unique name consisting of just two elements, a genus and a species. The genus name grouped the plant with its nearest relatives while the species name identified the individual. No matter what local name a plant might have, the Latin binomial would uniquely identify it. Latin binomials were extended to the animal world and this system is still used today.

[3.4 Illustration: Linnaeus portrait Colour]: Carl Linne, or Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish doctor who revolutionised plant classification and nomenclature. He introduced the Latin binomial, and a classification based on the sexual organs of plants. (Linnean Society collections.)

[3.5 Illustration: Linnaeus diagram of his system B+W]: Carl Linnaeus' system of botanical classification by the structure of sexual organs, illustrated here by George Ehret, the famous natural history artist. (Linnean Society collections.)

The Establishment of Botanic Gardens

Because plants have always been a source not only of nutrition, but also of drugs to alleviate disease and pain, their study originally fell squarely within the sphere of medicine. The term ‘botany’ was certainly in use by 1660 to describe the study of plants, particularly by physicians and apothecaries.

Medical practitioners, the botanists of their time, used physic or apothecaries' gardens to grow medicinal plants and teach students. It was to these gardens, which later extended into growing non-medicinal plants, that newly discovered species were sent. There were 1,600 botanic gardens in Europe by the end of the eighteenth century; some private, some royal, some ducal, all vying with each other for anything new and anything exotic. Many of these centres of scientific research would receive Australian plants from voyages of exploration, and the continent's new settlements, through the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Jardin des Plantes in Paris was founded by Louis XlII in 1635, originally as a physic garden. By the time of the French Revolution, when its name was changed from the Jardin du Roi, it was a museum, a menagerie, a centre for research and education, and an influential sponsor of scientific expeditions.

The physic garden of Charles de Lecluse in Leiden, Holland, had expanded in the sixteenth century to include extensive collections of flowering bulbs—the foundation of tulipomania. Until the end of the Dutch East India Company in 1795, herbarium specimens and seeds were sent annually to the gardens in Amsterdam and Leiden.

The Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh began in 1670 as a small private garden owned by two physicians. In England, in 1722, the grounds of the Chelsea Physic Garden, established the previous century, were leased at a nominal rent by Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) to the Society of Apothecaries. The garden had two aims, to grow medicinal plants in London for its members and to be an instruction centre for the Society's apprentices. Sir Hans, like John Ray, was a giant of English botany. When in his twenties, as a physician to the Duke of Albemarle, the newly appointed Governor of Jamaica, he accompanied him there and collected 800 botanical specimens, which he classified and published according to Ray's system. His library, manuscripts, natural history specimens, antiquities and curiosities formed the basis of the establishment of the British Museum.

[3.6 Illustration: Chelsea Physic Garden plan B+W]: Chelsea Physic Garden—here depicted in 1751 just two years before the death of its benefactor and leading botanist Sir Hans Sloane—would become an important centre for the cultivation of Australian plants in the eighteenth century. (Linnean Society collections.)

The foremost botanic gardens in the United Kingdom, at Kew on the south bank of the Thames were originally the gardens of Sir Henry Capel, a keen horticulturist. They were purchased by Frederick, Prince of Wales for his wife, Princess Augusta in 1730. After Frederick's death in 1751, Augusta, with the assistance of Scottish courtier Lord Bute, chief minister and mentor to her son George III transformed the grounds. Part was turned into a physic garden and the rest was landscaped in variety of styles. Bute, who reputedly became Princess Augusta's lover, was a man of immense intellectual ability, who initiated an exchange of knowledge about plants with other European botanical institutions. It is usually forgotten that it was he who laid the foundations of Kew, greatly enlarging its plant collections prompting the botanist Peter Collinson to describe it in 1766 as ‘The paradise of our world, where all plants are found, that money or interest can procure’.

[3.7 Illustration: Augusta B+W]: Augusta, wife of Frederick Prince of Wales, took a great interest in the landscaping and developing of the garden he bought for her at Kew. The royal family would have a formative influence on Kew throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. (Linnean Society collections.)

The establishment of botanical gardens spread to the colonies. At enormous effort they were maintained to perfect plants for agriculture, to experiment with cheap raw materials for the home country and to grow edible tropical crops. The Dutch East India Company had established a garden at the Cape in 1652. France's first colonial botanic garden was established in 1735 on the Isle-de-France (Mauritius), the key to the Indian trade routes. Attached to the grand ‘Mon Plaisir’, home of the Governor, it changed its name often over two centuries, eventually being known by the same name as the district it lies within—Pamplemousses. Although the spices propagated there never fulfilled their intended purpose of bringing wealth to the colony, the several varieties of sugar canes, on which the fortune of the planters was founded, were bred in the garden.

Britain set up its first colonial botanic garden in 1764 on the island of St Vincent in the West Indies, for the purpose of introducing tropical crops, such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, camphor, vanilla, pepper, coffee, tea, spices, cotton and sugarcane to their possessions in the Caribbean. Others followed: Jamaica, in the same year; Calcutta, the main garden for acclimatising tea plants from China to grow in India, 1786; Penang, Malaysia, 1796; Ceylon, (Sri Lanka) 1821; and Singapore 1859. The acquisition of raw materials was a prime consideration in England.

Spain, too, started Botanic Gardens abroad. Baron von Humboldt (1769–1859), the German naturalist and explorer wrote:

No European government has laid out greater sums to advance the knowledge of plants than the Spanish government. Three botanical expeditions, those of Peru, New Granada, and New Spain...have cost the state about two million francs. Besides, botanic gardens have been established at Manila and in the Canary Island...more than four thousand new species of plants...

But, like Banks's Florilegium, the Flora of New Granada by José Celestine Mutis, had to wait until the 1980s to be published and the first of a multi-volume flora of Central America is only now appearing.

The Economics of Plant Collecting

By the mid-eighteenth century the world was being combed for botanical specimens that could be grown to make money in new colonial possessions—or which would grace the gardens of the gentry. Moving plants was a flourishing trade. English gardeners, with their eclectic tastes and passion for densely planted beds and borders, encouraged nurseries which vied with each other for new varieties of flowers. An eager clientele waited for strange and exotic plants arriving from afar, which were hurried from ships to London nurseries. In west London alone there were ten enterprises, together covering well over a hundred acres. The establishment which pioneered so many Australian plants was James Lee and Lewis Kennedy's ‘Vineyard’ nursery in Hammersmith.

Private London nurseries were the sorting houses of foreign trees and flowers. By the time the English had settled Australia, moving plants in sailing ships around the world had become a trade. Up until European colonisation Australia had been secluded from invasion by foreign seeds. It was as if a glass cage had enclosed the continent, keeping it in a time capsule, preserving the most extraordinary vegetation from destruction or contact. However, when the settlers came, instead of the flora being valued, much of it was replaced, without being studied, evaluated—or appreciated.

4. Chapter 4 Fire and Flora

The origins of Australia's plants

Even the earliest commentators on Australia's flora remarked on its strangeness and novelty, compared to what they knew in Europe. In the eighteenth century, botanists working on Australian flowers noted similarities with South African plants. Further similarities were found with South American plants and later with the fossil flora of Antarctica.

[4.1 Illustration: Grevillea refracta]: Grevilleas, such as this G. refracta, drawn by Ferdinand Bauer in 1802, along with haekeas, banksia and others, are Australian members of the family Proteaceae. This family is also found in South Africa, South America, India, Madagascar and New Guinea, providing botanical evidence for the existence of the southern supercontinent Gondwana. (Olde P. & Marriott N. The Grevillea Book. Kangaroo Press, 1994.)

The reasons for these similarities can be found in the earliest origins of Australia's plants, some 140 million years ago in the Cretaceous period. At this time Australia, Antarctica, India, South America and Africa were joined in one massive landmass called Gondwana. At the same time flowering plants evolved in the regions of this supercontinents which are now Africa and South America, and slowly spread across the rest of the landmass. The shared origins of these plants can be seen in families that are common to the southern continents, such as the Proteaceae which has members in both Australia and Africa. Then, around 90 million years ago, via a process known as plate tectonics, Gondwana began to split into the continents we know today; Africa, India and South America drifted northwards, while Australia and Antarctica remained locked together in the south. Finally, they too split apart and Australia began its long journey into isolation. It carried with it animals and plants that were to be separated from most of the rest of the world for the next 50 million years. The truly Australian elements of the continent's wildlife evolved during these millions of years of isolation.

On its slow drift northwards to its present position, Australia kept pace with a changing world climate. There has been a worldwide cooling trend over the last 40 million years which Australia largely avoided as it moved towards the equator, enjoying instead a long period of climatic stability. Such stability is a precondition for diversity, allowing time for flora and fauna to adapt and evolve. Australia also avoided other physical traumas that affected most of the rest of the world during this period such as glaciation and continental collision and it only experienced volcanism in the far east. But this stability had its downside, glaciation and volcanism are essential contributers, in the long-term, to the recycling of minerals and the renewal of the soil. Consequently, Australia has the poorest soils of all the continents, containing, on average, only half the levels of nutrients, such as nitrates and phosphates, as similar soils in other areas of the world.


As Tim Flannery has pointed out in his book, The Future Eaters, nutrient conservation is a major theme running through the evolution of Australia's flora, forcing ‘some unusual adaptations in its plants’. There is a high number of carnivorous plants in Australia, for instance, including pitcher plants and more than half the world's species of sundews. These obtain nutrients lacking in the soil from their insect prey. Another adaptation to nutrient deficiency—rather than to aridity as previously thought—is ‘scleromorphy’ where plants are generally small, slow growing, and have small, rigid or spiny leaves with waxy surfaces. Scleromorphy can be seen in many unrelated, but typically Australian plants, such as Banksias, eucalypts and Acacias.

Scleromorphy also fits these plants for the rigours of life in Australia's arid zone. Larger than any other desert region south of the equator and comprising one third of the continent, Australia's desert areas are augmented by extensive semi-arid regions. Unlike other parched regions of the world, Australian dry areas are dominated by these scleromorphic, woody plants rather than perennial succulent, water-retaining, cactus-like plants that often characterise the dry regions of America and Africa.

Fire and Man

Related to Australia's aridity is the incidence of fire which is a major formative agent of the Australian environment. Some native plants not only survive frequent burning, showing specific adaptations to counter its effects, but actually require fire to complete their life cycle. Banksia seed cones, for instance, do not open to release their seeds until they have been burnt. Recent research suggests that their subsequent successful germination is also a chemical response to compounds in smoke. It seems a strange adaptation to have, but the tightly closed pods protect the seeds when the plant is burnt, and then release them, when the fire has passed, into an environment enriched by ash, increasing the chances of successful germination and growth. Fire is one way, albeit an inefficient one, of recycling nutrients, especially in a nutrient-poor environment.

Some eucalypts also have fire adaptations, although a number are fire sensitive and do not survive burning, only regenerating from seed. Fire resistant species possess wood that is is tough and durable and resists the ravages of fire. After burning they put out sprouts from buds protected in their inner bark. The bark, leaves and branches of many eucalypt species are constantly shed, creating fuel for bushfires. The oil of eucalypts is also highly flammable so during a fire, the oil creates a gas which ignites and forms fireballs, but these blazes are quick as the easily available fuel is soon spent.

The adaptation of such a large group of plant species to nutrient deficiency, aridity and frequent burning is unparalleled in the rest of the world and there has been much debate as to how this unusual ecology developed. Fire-tolerant species evolved in Australia's dry, very nutrient-depleted heathlands where natural fires, such as those ignited by lightning, were frequent. Many heathland plants eventually adapted to burning, not only surviving it, but, in some cases, actually taking advantage of it.

Archaeologists have found evidence from some ancient pollen deposits that Australia's vegetation changed dramatically around 40,000 years ago in favour of these fire-tolerant plants. Before then, they suggest, there were many more areas of fire-sensitive plants, such as broad-leaved forests, than today. It has long been thought that the arrival of Aboriginal people at about this time, and their introduction of ‘firestick’ farming, burning the countryside, accounted for this spread of fire-tolerant species. Certainly, the increase in charcoal in the archaeological record suggests a widespread increase in the occurrence of fire, but the dating of these deposits is inconclusive, with some giving ages for the charcoal that predates the arrival of humans by 50,000 years. The story is certainly not a simple one with several factors probably having an effect, but most significant among these is climatic change. During this period, the earth was going through the last ice age. Although because of its high latitude Australia was spared the rigours of glaciation, its climate was effected by global change, becoming much dryer and colder than previously. This would undoubtedly have had an impact on the vegetation, which might have been further affected by human action after about 40,000 years ago, but not initiated by it.

One theory suggests that Aboriginal people did have a marked influence with their use of fire, particularly locally, but didn't embark on a systematic burning of the continent immediately on their arrival; that would come later, in response to another possible consequence of their actions.

When they first colonised Australia Aboriginal people found a land dominated by large animals: giant kangaroos, wombats, lizards and flightless birds ruled Australia. These provided easy prey for the new clever hunters, too easy perhaps, for before long they went extinct; although whether this was due to overhunting or to other factors is still being debated. Whatever the cause, it has been suggested that there was an unforeseen consequence of their disappearance. These large herbivores had played a vital role in the ecology of Australia by consuming vast quantities of vegetation and by recycling nutrients via their dung—especially in the fire-sensitive broad-leaved forests. Without these animals to clear the dead vegetation, the standing fuel-load increased and these areas became vulnerable to burning. Once consumed by fire they could not regenerate, leaving the way open for colonisation by fire-tolerant plants from the arid heathlands such as eucalypts, Hakeas, Banksias and Acacias.

The loss of large tracts of broad-leaved forest, whether through human action or climatic change or a combination of factors, left the way open for colonisation by hardy scleromorps. Such change also had further effects on the local climate. The broad-leaved vegetation absorbed rainfall, returning moisture to the atmosphere. The open structure of the eucalypt woodland that replaced it allowed much more rainfall to reach the ground and drain away. Consequently it returned much less water to the atmosphere, resulting in less rain. Dry Australia got dryer, already nutrient-poor soils became more impoverished and the eucalypts and mulgas took over. In the increasingly arid continent, fire began to take hold.

With the structure of the vegetation irreparably changed, and the risk of fire ever present, the development of firestick farming could have been one strategy used to lessen the likelihood of intensely destructive major bushfires. Controlled fires had to be brief, as excessive burning-off can be fatal to even fire-tolerant plants. In many cases burning also had to be infrequent, perhaps with intervals as long as twenty-five years between fires in areas that required a long period of recovery. Too-frequent burning could completely destroy vegetation and habitat but the right amount of burning produced ash providing nutrients, and cleared the combustible undergrowth creating the right environment for rapid plant regeneration. Aboriginal burning was therefore highly selective. Certain areas would be kept regularly burned to attract game or to facilitate easier travel, while others were infrequently burned and yet others that supported fire-sensitive food plants such as yams were not burnt at all. After white colonisation this controlled burning largely ceased, with dramatic consequences in some locales where larger bushfires replaced the smaller fires of old, and threatened the new settlements.

Dominant plant groups

[4.3 Illustration: Mimosa saphorae B+W]: Some 750 Acacia species are known in Australia and they often display scleromorphic adaptations such as narrow, waxy leaves. Many early workers placed them in the genus Mimosa. This example, collected and described by the French botanist Labillardiere, is now known as Acacia saphorae. (Linean Society collections.)

The Australian landscape is dominated by two genera Eucalyptus and Acacia. These scleromorphic groups radiated across the continent over millions of years and adapted to seasonal and sometimes perennial drought, low nutrients and fire, leading to extraordinary diversification. Acacia, one of the most widespread and numerous of all Australian genera, is also found in Asia and Africa, but the greatest number of species is found in Australia. Worldwide Acacia has about 1,100 species of which at least 750 are indigenous to Australia with more yet to be described and they thrive from the coastline to the arid centre.

It is the eucalypts, however, that are the plants most identified with Australia. they belong to the Myrtaceae, a family with tough resinous foliage and showy brush-like flowers which includes the bottle-brushes, Geraldton wax, honey myrtle and Melaleuca—paperbark. With some 550 Australian species eucalypts characterise forests across the continent. Their narrow pendulous leaves let light filter through to the ground beneath, thereby quickly drying the leaf and bark litter, providing fuel for fires and giving a walk through the Australian bush the distinctive sound of crushing leaves.

Eucalypts have become a major world source of hardwood as their growth and yield can be spectacular. The jarrah of Western Australia Eucalyptus marginata is so dense, heavy and strong that it was used last century to support paving beneath the streets of London and Melbourne. The erroneously named mountain ash, E. regnans, is one of the tallest known species matched only by the Californian redwood. But whereas E. regnans grows to 300 feet in as many years, the redwood takes 3,000 years to achieve the same height.

Financially, the most important trees in Australia are the quick growing hardwoods, E. grandis and E. globulus. In temperate areas the yield of wood from these two species can surpass that of pines, although from a plantation point of view, the exotic pines, although producing soft timbers, are still the most economically viable and widespread. E. globulus and E. grandis are now so widely planted everywhere from Morocco to Brazil, even in quite cool climates, that few people realise that they all originated in Australia. Eucalypts may lack the symmetry of the oaks and pines of the northern hemisphere, but it is their irregular, stately shape which dominates Australian forests. The giant gums of Tasmania and Victoria, the karri and the jarrah forests of Western Australia, the twisted, gnarled white gums of the interior sandstone, the ironbark and box of the open forests, the tallow-wood and spotted gum of the coast and the mallee scrubs of Victoria all give the Australian landscape its distinctive character.

[4.4 Illustration: Peppermint tree B+W]: Eucalypts typically produce pungent oils. John White, surgeon to the First Fleet, likened the smell of this species, Eucalyptus piperita, to peppermint and it was described by James Edward Smith and illustrated in White's published journal in 1790. The oils have the effect of making eucalypt forest very flammable, but some eucalypts have adapted to survive burning. (Illustration from collections in the London Library.)

Two other characteristic groups of Australian flora are the Banksias and the Casuarinas. Banksias, those most typical of Australian plants, named by the younger Linnaeus after Joseph Banks, belong to the Proteaceae, a family which has some of its most spectacular members in Australia such as waratahs, Grevilleas and Hakeas. In the early days of settlement the gnarled trunks of the Banksias with their thick, rough bark, were, favoured as fuel. Later, because of their attractive grained wood, some were used for ornamental furnishings. Banksias are one of the groups that confirm the link between Australian and Gondwanan flora. The family Proteaceae occurs most notably in South Africa where is represented by spectacular proteas. Another link with Gondwana is the desert rose of Western Queensland and Central Australia which is related to the South American cotton plant—a high consumer of water. The CSIRO has embarked on a programme to improve the strain of this American cotton, commercially grown in Australia, by cross breeding it with the desert rose to make a new variety less dependent on high water consumption in a dry and drought prone continent.

The Casuarinas are hardy trees found throughout the continent. With their characteristic long, drooping branches Casuarinas are all unique to the continent except for the widely distributed Casuarina equisetifolia and C. cunninghamiana which are also found in other Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. These have recently been reclassified and some are now known as Allocasuarina. Most Australians call them she-oaks the prefix ‘she’ was commonly used by timber-men to indicate inferiority of timber—as in she-beech or she-pine because the timbers of these trees, although like beech and pine, are not good as the real thing.

But Australia isn't all dry sclerophyll forest. Along the north and north-eastern coasts there is still to be found tropical rainforest and mangroves. The rainforests in the wet tropics have the highest concentration of primitive flowering plant families of any area in the world. Of the nineteen families classed as the most primitive in the world, thirteen are found in these rainforests, two, Austrobaileyaceae and Idiospermaceae, are endemic to Queensland.

Cultivation of Australian Plants

Despite the fact that Australia has a range of climates, the myth grew abroad that Australian plants only survived in tropical or hot climates. This is not true. Many gardening books give minimum temperatures for Australian plants which are higher than those of a freezing winter in Australia's capital city, Canberra. Australia is thought of as a continent of sunshine and surf although snow falls regularly along the mountains of the east coast from Tasmania to the Victoria–New South Wales border.

The cause of Australian plants not prospering abroad is usually because of factors such as inadequate soil drainage which can be overcome in raised beds; low levels of light and perhaps short days in the winter months of northern Europe. Soil acidity is another important factor—many native Australian plants are lime-haters and need a reasonably acidic compost or soil. As we have seen, many Australian plants are adapted to a low-nutrient environment, and over fertilising actually can prove fatal to plants such as Banksias. Some plants will thrive in foreign areas but may need to be acclimatised first. Tasmanian blue-gum,Eucalyptus globulus normally grows in the British Isles if the seed is gathered from a parent tree of high enough altitude. Spinning gum, Eucalyptus perriniana is common around London. Plants will often survive if there are windbreaks and a good dark mulch to keep soil temperature high. If plants are located near sunny walls they endure bad weather more easily.

Australian plants can be cultivated in England and other places of similar climates, although some, if in inappropriate situations, will never bloom. The Tasmanian waratah, Telopea truncata in the rock garden at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, although over forty years old, is still only two feet high due to its exposed, windy situation, where it is occasionally cut back by frosts. At Wakehurst Place, Sussex, there is a tree of the same species, over twenty feet high, flowering freely and regularly setting seed. Here it has all the requirements it needs: an acid soil, plenty of moisture and shelter from wind.

Australian gardeners can be frustrated by their attempts to cultivate native plants which can fail, despite the fact that these same plants have been growing in Australia for millions of years. An unjust reputation has spread that natives plants prosper only in the wild, in the bush. In suburban gardens, dug with much enthusiasm by new home-owners, grow spindly, disappointing native plants. This is because gardens were often cleared of all trees and topsoil when areas were developed for housing. Sometimes topsoil was replaced by excavated subsoil. To compensate, the ground was enhanced with fertiliser but while this gave nourishment to non-indigenous shrubs and trees, it killed many native plants unable to grow in either the atrocious subsoil or the rich artificial mixture. Also, many Australian native plants, unused to daily rainfall, are literally drowned by deluges from automatic watering systems.

[4.5 Illustration: Banksia cone B+W]: This engraving of a Banksia integrifolia, collected by Banks and Solander, shows the bud, flower and an old seed cone on the same branch, something that is also observed in the wild. The cone is extraordinarily hard and robust, and only opens, as shown here, after exposure to fire. (Linnean Society collections.)

Many modern gardeners fail to propagate fire-inured seeds of plants such as Banksias and Hakeas as the art of splitting the testa, or seed coat, and germinating the seed can be problematic. By observing how seeds are now propagated one can see the value of the brevity and briskness of the Aboriginal fires. Some gardeners mistakenly put seeds in such hot ovens that kill the embryo; some soak seeds in water, can also kill the germ of the embryo. There are various ways to duplicate the effects of frequent, but brisk, fires: scarifying the seeds by rubbing them on sand on a hard surface; pouring boiling water over them for some seconds—one expert insists on counting to ten—then plunging the seed in icy cold water until a sharp crack is heard; putting seeds in a wire basket and holding them briefly over a gas flame; setting fire to the banksias cone with a small wood fire; dousing the fruit with methylated spirits and igniting it with a match; a few sheets of crumpled newspaper set alight on a concrete floor with the banksias cones at the centre of the blaze is usually sufficient for the nuts to open.

It is perfectly possible to grow native plants in Australian gardens but cultivators need to be sensitive to the specific conditions required for them to thrive. If more native species were grown, the benefit to native fauna could be dramatic. Insects, small marsupials and birds could be encouraged into suburban gardens. However, it is not just habitat and food loss that is adversely affecting native fauna. They are also much at risk from predation by domestic cats and dogs. Encouraging the cultivation of Australia's unique flora is only half the story.

5. Chapter 5 The Scurvy Coast?

For the white man who did not know the secrets of its plants, Australia could be called the ‘Scurvy Coast’. The flora of Australia is exceedingly rich in beautiful species, but only a small number of plants provide sustenance for a stranger on foreign soil. By contrast, for the Australian Aboriginal people, the continent could be a land of plenty with all manner of plants contributing to their diet. But they had tens of thousands of years of experience behind them. The exact date of human colonisation is unknown but most authorities now agree that they probably arrived, from South East Asia, between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago.

Their settlement was in stark contrast to civilisations elsewhere which were founded on grain culture. In many countries the harvesting of huge crops of grains and cereals including wheat, oats and rice provided basic nutrients and required a settled population to tend them. It demanded planning ahead, ploughing and planting in a cleared areas and harvesting each autumn. Cultivation allowe nomadic life to cease as it was no longer necessary to hunt and gather. Tribes settled. Cereal production around the Mediterranean started before 7000 bc and in China around 5000 bc. Cultivation of crops and civilisation were simultaneous as when man no longer had to chase food he had time to devote energy to other pursuits — what might be called leisure or culture. Daily bread led to other aspects of civilisation: the development of writing, literature, science and sophisticated music and art.

In contrast, the survival of the Aboriginal people in Australia was reliant on daily foraging and hunting for a varied diet of animals, birds, insects, plants, fruits and fungi. Farm the land they did not, but set fire to it they did, with zeal and persistence. Before the merchandising of spontaneous combustion matches at the beginning of the nineteenth century, arguably, no other race on earth ignited and manipulated fire as skilfully as the Aboriginal Australians.

Fire has always been one of man's constant tools providing heat for warmth, cooking, the smelting of metals and use of fire was, and still is common practice among hunting people of the world, particularly in Africa. Early man used slash-and-burn crop-growing as a basic clearance technique. Even in modern farming burning became a common practice in arable areas, especially burning straw and stubble after harvests, to clear the fields of weeds and infestations. But the Aboriginal peoples used fire not to clear but to maintain the productivity of the land.

Fire prompted the regrowth of shoots and the germination of seeds; in some areas it suppressed the growth of woody shrubs in favour of grass. This burning regenerated the vegetation not just for the people themselves, it also had the happy consequence of providing sustenance and habitat for their main prey animals—the smaller marsupial herbivores.

[5.2 Illustration: Lesueur's wallabies Colour Badger 0pp. page 177 top]

Agriculture, with its settled life style and material possessions, was inappropriate to native Australians. There were no beasts of burden to till the land—all indigenous animals had paws such as kangaroos and wombats, or webbed feet such as the platypus, and most hopped on two feet — the concept of a kangaroo pulling a plough is ridiculous! In the tropical north the abundance of wild food meant that people had no need to adopt laborious gardening and farming practices. There was little point in producing food surpluses when high temperatures throughout much of the year, combined with high seasonal rainfall in the monsoon areas, presented real problems with long-term preservation of food, so only rarely was this undertaken. When food was preserved, it was invariably simple: bunya pine nuts buried in bags, sliced palm nuts dried in the sun and then wrapped in paperbark, or left in a grass-lined trench before being covered with dirt.

Within a few thousand years of their occupation of Australia, the Aboriginal people had established a way of life that was to remain virtually unchanged until 1788. They had neither written words nor grain sprouting out of furrows, but they had a civilisation: a spiritual sense of being. Stories about trees and plants were handed down through rock drawings, corroborees and story tellers, not written records. Knowledge, such as the uses of plants, was passed on verbally and by demonstration from parent to child and grandchild. Little disturbed the isolation of the continent from other influences. There may have been visits by Chinese voyagers and, from the end of the sixteenth century, European boats came and went, but never lingered. Unlike the brisk pace of American history, Australia has an interminable list of European discoverers before colonisation. A gap of 182 years stretches from the first recorded landing to white settlement.

This is in contrast to the attention the Americas received. Just a year and a day after Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic in 1492, he returned to the Caribbean with over a thousand immigrants. American history has a closely knit connection between its discovery and settlement and the appreciation of its flora, as is seen by the introduction of its magnificent flowers into the Renaissance gardens of Europe. After Columbus, the yucca, the nasturtium, lobelia, passion flower, swamp cypress and goldenrod were shipped to Spain and later grew there and in England. Imported plants became important crops; potatoes, tomatoes and pumpkins from the Americas rapidly became part of European cuisine. Fabulous trading in pineapples began after one was admired by Columbus in Guadeloupe in 1493. Tobacco was grown in plantations, and smoking became a popular European relaxation.

Australian discovery and settlement was a much more hit and miss affair. Its history is studded with discoveries, but it is uncertain when its shores were first sighted from a European ship. There was no world-shattering moment, as comparable to 1492, when ‘Columbus crossed the ocean blue’. There is some evidence that the Portuguese may have landed along the north coast but the first authenticated landfall was by the Dutchman Willem Jansz in 1606. From then on, Australian history tells of sailors coming, leaving and never coming back—even Captain Cook never returned to the mainland.

The first ships that arrived on the coasts of Australia showed no curiosity to venture beyond the mangroves, sand dunes and coastal plains and eucalypt forests. Although the shores were reached, the bush, with its characteristic scent—seafarers can often smell the resin from the eucalypts before catching sight of the land—remained unexplored. Early voyagers to Australia, complained that they could make few landfalls because of the difficulty in finding likely ports amongst the mangrove swamps, cliffs, or sandy beaches with rolling surf. When they did get ashore water was scarce and there were no recognisable fruits and vegetables, nothing obviously edible, nothing similar to what they were used to. They preferred the nearby Pacific islands with bananas, breadfruit, spices, coconuts and sweet potatoes. The trade in edible plants of the lush East Indies—nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon—led to Australia's European discovery by traders anxious to find new sources of spices. But once discovered, it was its lack of recognisably edible plants which left it unsettled by Europeans for nearly two centuries.

Australia was neglected for a variety of reasons: distance, a coastline inhospitable to sailing ships, insufficient fresh water and green vegetables or fruit to relieve the tedium of ship rations. Captains were eager to find sources of fresh food to keep sailors free from scurvy, the major cause of death at sea. Scurvy results from the absence of vitamin C found in vegetables and fruits. This vitamin was not identified until the twentieth century but seafarers gradually became aware that fresh provisions went some way to ameliorating or preventing scurvy. In the 1790s ‘lime juice’ (actually lemon juice) became part of normal navy rations.

The first sign of scurvy is a debilitating cold followed by dizziness, infirmity, aching legs and bleeding and ulcerated gums causing teeth to fall out. Death is usually imminent when relentless diarrhoea, internal bleeding and gangrene of the lungs occur. The disease is not confined to sailors—many people on land suffered, and continue to suffer from various levels of the affliction. It has now been postulated by medical historians that Henry VIII's ill health was caused by early scurvy brought on by a meat-rich diet eaten to the exclusion of vegetables and fruit.

Although Europeans who made landfalls on the Australian coast failed to find anti-scorbutic plants, scurvy was virtually unknown to Aboriginal people until they were deprived of their means of subsistence by white settlers. The land did provide sufficient sustenance for the population it already supported, the difference was, they knew where to look.

Aboriginal people subsisted in Australia because of a well-developed knowledge, gained from thousands of years of experience, of how to find, use, and cook what was growing wild. The belief that native Australians adapted to the vegetation without increasing food supplies is mistaken; they increased yields through their use of fire, achieving a half way house to agriculture. They also practised domiculture—the random cultivation of plants. For instance, when they ate yams, they ate only the lower portion and replanted the top. Also, they would spit out various seeds, especially fruit tree seeds and those of the pandanus nut, into the debris of fish remains and shells in refuse heaps at the edge of a camp. These midden soils with their compost of decaying organic matter and lime from shells provided an ideal environment for tree growth. So consistent was this practice that archaeologists can now identify prehistoric sites by the groves of native fruit trees. An equilibrium with food supply was also maintained by not increasing the population. In Queensland, for instance, unwanted pregnancies were terminated with a drink made from poisonous red gidee-gidee beans, crab's eye, Abrus precatorius.

[5.3 Illustration: Aboriginal man with Grevillea Colour]: An aboriginal man demonstrates how nectar can be obtained from grevillea flowers. Aboriginal burning of the land provided regrowth food plants for both people and smaller marsupials. (Photo: P. Olde & N. Marriott The Grevillea Book, Volume I. Kangaroo Press, 1994.)

Immediately before white colonisation, the continent was inhabited by between 300,000 and 700,000 Aboriginal people, divided amongst 500 - 600 tribes, subdivided into clans and families with intricate relationships. Tribes had distinct boundaries, languages and territories. Many were semi-nomadic, their movements dependent on the seasons, and the availability of ripe fruit, edible flowers and roots. Each tribe was restricted to clearly defined territories, delineated by natural features such as rivers and hills. Lands never changed hands; ownership was communal, fixed and immutable. The emphasis was on eating what was fresh and in season at that moment.

Every forest, every river, every bay, every beach was someone's territory. Just as now, the coastal fringe was more densely populated than the interior. Journals of foreign ships before settlement all describe seeing smoke and fires all along the coasts, even when there were no sightings of people.

The Aboriginal people's tenure of Australia is the longest of any group of humans of a significant land area anywhere in the world. After white settlement, their numbers were reduced dramatically by diseases such as smallpox and measles which came with the new settlers and swept across the continent as the people had no natural immunity. In a community with no written language, where knowledge was handed down verbally from one generation to another, such epidemics resulted in a huge loss of wisdom, not least regarding the uses of plants.

Botanical knowledge was essential for human survival in pre-European settlement Australia. This expertise resided mainly with the women, the chief food collectors. Food gathering was a daily practice: the men were the hunters, the women the foragers. Men provided for their parents, women for their husbands, but the distribution of food was complex. Sex roles were well defined and women spent long days with their children collecting a wide range of both vegetable and animal foods such as honey ants and wichetty grubs. When fresh food was scarce they ate unpalatable nuts, fibrous roots and leaves, briefly chewing them for any goodness, then spitting out the fibres.

The white arrivals, used to beef, beer, bread, butter, bacon, did not adapt to ‘bush tucker’, the term bestowed on Aboriginal food. In the eighteenth century some schools of philosophy, like that of Rousseau, admired the natural life of the savage state while others, such as James Burnet, Lord Monboddo, favoured progress. He believed that in the savage state man was scarcely distinguishable from a brute. There was an inbuilt feeling of superiority by the British, rulers of the most powerful Christian empire in the world, over nomadic tribes who had not progressed from the hunter-gatherer stage to the making of leavened bread. Bush tucker represented this primitive state and was generally rejected. There were times, however, when it was eaten out of necessity and a few of the Aboriginal food-plants did indeed creep into the diet of the settlers. In the outback, the quandong Santalum acuminatum, a small, bright red fruit, a third the size of an orange but with twice its vitamin C content, was popular. Confusingly, the bright blue fruit of the Elaeocarpus angustifolia are also called quandongs. They were used in pies, jams and jellies as the raw fruit tastes rather tart. Pigweed, Portulaca olearacea, was eaten by early settlers to ward off scurvy, but research has since shown that it has only small traces of vitamin C. With its thick, green watery leaves, it was either cooked and used as a vegetable, or eaten raw.

The novelist Anthony Trollope, who visited Australia in the nineteenth century expressed the colonists' attitude when he wrote that:

the country...produced almost nothing ready to the hand of the first comers...There were no animals giving meat, no trees giving fruit, no yams, no breadtrees, no cocoa-nuts, no bananas. It was necessary that all should be imported and acclimatised.

In addition, Europeans found that Australian native plants were generally unpalatable, many of them are, in fact, poisonous, not only to man, but to sheep and cattle. Unfortunately, the whites were ignorant of Aboriginal ways of rendering toxins in certain plants inactive by heating and cooking, by soaking for up to weeks at a time, or by pounding or grating.

Their ignorance led to European repugnance of native food. The distinguished nineteenth century botanist, Sir Joseph Hooker, later director of Kew, expressed British culinary reserve when he wrote that Australian edible plants were ‘eatable but not worth eating.’ Until recently, most food on sale in Australian supermarkets, apart from odd examples such as the macadamia nut (Macadamia integrifolia, M. tetraphylla), came from foreign seeds, although there are many species of other nuts used by the Aboriginal peoples, such as species of Athertonia which could have also become a cash food crop. There is now, an increased interest in native foods. Gourmets, chefs of restaurants, TV producers and journalists from glossy magazines have gone off in four wheel drives searching for bush tucker—bunya nuts, quandongs, Kakau plums, wattle seed, Illawarra plums and sharp tasting leaves. Australia's palatable alternatives to fruits and vegetables eaten in Europe are at last proving their commercial potential.

Trials in Africa by Australian Aid Agencies have shown that the seeds of Acacia holosericea—a common dryland plant in Queensland possessing distinctive bright-yellow flower spikes—can provide a nutritious and popular food, much higher in protein and fats than wheat and rice. The protein content is 17-25 per cent. The seeds can be roasted, boiled like lentils, or steamed. Although this was one of the foods collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander near Endeavour River, it has taken 200 years for the Aboriginal use to be copied.

Out of the hundreds of species of Eucalyptus the Aborigines used the ones with the most leaf oil as an inhalant cure for colds, sinus and rheumatism, just as it is used all over the world today in vapour rubs, antiseptics, inhalants, embrocations and other products. Only three species of eucalypts E. globulus, E. sideroxylon and E. citriodora, have oil in sufficient quantities to make extraction commercially viable in countries of high labour costs. Many other Australian plants, though, yield valuable oils. Melaleuca alternifolia—tea tree oil—is already a multi-million dollar industry rapidly getting bigger, as, to a much lesser degree, is the trade in Boronia oils.

As the importance of both the utilisation and preservation of our natural resources is becoming recognised world-wide, perhaps, at last, the Australian flora will be examined and appreciated for the contribution it can make to providing timber, foodstuffs, medicines and other chemicals in a sustainable global economy.

6. Chapter 6 The Dutch—Australia Seen but Forsaken

The oldest surviving botanical link between Australia and Europe is probably a faded dry plant fragment, now nearly 300 years old. This little trophy, an object of curiosity, is to be found in a collection in Switzerland, the Herbarium of the Conservatoire et Jardin Botanique, Geneva. Until recently it was lost to the world for almost a century, misidentified and ignored, its significance unknown.

Distinguished as the first of thousands of Australian plants to be examined and named in Europe, this specimen is from a small woody shrub with yellow flower spikes, Synaphea spinulosa, a member of the Proteaceae. It also appears to be the sole extant specimen from over a hundred years of Dutch exploration of the coasts of Australia.

Botanists this century have combed Dutch archives and have come up with only this plant and references to a specimen of Acacia truncata, which seems to have been collected at the same time. It too, apparently, went to the Geneva herbarium, but its whereabouts today is unknown. This lack of floral evidence from Australia comes as a considerable surprise for a nation famed and admired for its rich horticultural history. To add insult to injury, both specimens were misidentified for years as Javanese ferns.

[6.1 Illustration: Synaphaea spinulosa B+W] Synaphea spinulosa, misidentified in Nicolas Burmann's Flora Indica as Polypodium spinulosum, a fern from Fava. The original specimen from which this drawing was made is now in the herbarium of the Geneva Botanic Garden. (Linnean Society collections.)

Conjecture surrounds whether these neglected specimens, or the collection of the Englishman William Dampier (1652–1715), also made in Western Australia, should be regarded as the first Australian plants which were preserved. Although if collected by de Vlamingh in 1697 they pre-date Dampier's 1699 specimens by two years, his specimens were in flower and taken immediately to Europe, whereas the Geneva specimens languished for decades in Java. However, assuming the Synaphea was collected by de Vlamingh it certainly wins the race as the oldest extant specimen and it, and the missing Acacia, were the first to receive modern binomials—even if it was mistakenly as ferns.

The saga of these specimens shows the casual attitude of early Dutch expeditions to the continent. They may have discovered Australia, but they did little about the country itself. The magnitude of their disregard—their indifference, their lack of enthusiasm—is revealed when the number of their voyages covering a period of nearly a century and a quarter is examined. During that long stretch of time, many, many times a year, a Dutch trading ship passed close to the shores of Australia. But the continent was simply not commercially important to the Dutch East India Company, the all-powerful and immensely wealthy VOC, without whose support further exploration was simply not possible.

The story of the lost flowers almost certainly commenced when a Dutch captain, Willem de Vlamingh—commanding the Geelvinck on the last meaningful Dutch voyage to Australia—explored the Swan River estuary area of Western Australia in 1697. His expedition was sent in search of survivors of another Dutch ship believed to have been wrecked there the previous year. The identity of the sailor or officer, with an interest in natural history, who dried and pressed these specimens is unknown; perhaps it was de Vlamingh himself. No record has been found of their provenance, but all evidence points to them being collected during this voyage as it was the only ship that sailed to the Fremantle region, the only place where the Synaphea grows naturally. Nicholaas Witsen (1641–1717), the renowned Dutch botanist, burgomaster of Amsterdam and one of the VOC's directors, asked de Vlamingh to collect plants and other curiosities for Witsen's own private collection. A small box of fruits, seeds, shells and plants was sent back to him but he reportedly found the specimens of ‘little value’. But if the Synaphea and the Acacia were also intended for him why did they end up in Java? Whatever the reason, perhaps they only survived because of it as Witsen's ‘valueless’ plants are long lost. Another mystery is why these were picked and not the more sensational banksia, also a member of the Proteaceae, which is abundant in the area. It seems incredible that someone walked through this wonderland of beautiful flowers and came back to his ship bearing just these two unspectacular specimens. Everything points to them being part of a larger collection that has since been lost.

The Geelvinck returned to Batavia where the specimens were filed away. Nearly seventy years later, in 1768, they made their debut in an impressive book, Flora Indica by Nicholas Burmann, Dutch physician and botanist. The Synaphea is illustrated at Tab. 67 with an entry on page 233 saying that it is Polypodium spinulosum, a Javanese fern is followed two pages later by Acacia truncata, also identified as a fern, Adiantum truncatum, apparently sent from Kleinhof's botanical garden in Batavia, described ‘ex Java D. Kleinhof. Habitat in India’.

How Acacia truncata, one of Australia's endemic species of wattle, could be confused with a fern is a puzzle, especially as Acacias are found in Asia and Africa and should have been a familiar genus to Burmann. Wattles are so numerous and so spectacular when in flower that one species, A. pycnantha, has become Australia's national floral emblem. One reason for the mis-identification may have been because, unlike most Acacias in the world, Australian wattles do not have distinctive prickly spines or thorns. Or perhaps because it was not in flower, and the leaves of this Australian species were so unlike those from other parts of the world, it had the superficial aspect of a fern.

[6.2 Illustration: Acacia truncata B+W] Another misidentified New Holland plant from Burmann's Flora Indica. Adianthum truncatum was later correctly identified by Jonas Dryander as Acacia truncata. (Linnean Society collections.)

These two Australian plants, the wattle and the Synaphea, were finally correctly identified by two botanists in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Jonas Dryander, working in Joseph Banks's extensive herbarium, realised that the Acacia truncata was falsely identified after seeing another specimen of Acacia from Australia. A decade later Robert Brown, also working in Banks's herbarium, recognised in Burmann's illustration of the other Javanese fern yet another mistaken classification, when he was preparing his famous 1810 paper on his new family, the Proteaceae. He included it in this new family, called the new genus Synaphea, and described four species, having collected three others during his own three-year sojourn in Australia between 1802 and 1805. Despite this flurry of interest, Synaphea until recently remained one of the last Australian genera to be fully investigated. In his book on the Proteaceae, John Wrigley stated:

The genus Synaphea is probably the most poorly known of all Proteaceae genera. The Western Australian Herbarium recognises nine species, and at least six other undescribed species exist. The whole genus is confined to southwest WA.

The genus has now been revised and the new Flora of Australia recognises fifty species.

The disregard the Dutch seemed to have for the Australian flora is, perhaps, unexpected. The Dutch have been botanists and florists since time immemorial. Their passion for flowers, can be seen in the astonishingly lifelike, still-life oil paintings of bouquets in vases that they produced in the late sixteenth century. Previously, in European painting, flowers had appeared only as symbols, decoration, foreground filler in paintings, or as crude botanical illustrations, not as the actual subject.

The Dutch led the way with commercial flower growing and selling in Europe. Always most astute in seizing opportunities for new enterprises, they could claim to have invented the business of floriculture. It is an irony that in the seventeenth century, when Australia bore the name New Holland, they ignored the now celebrated foliage and blooms in the florally rich western coast of Australia, as in modern times they have led the way in Europe in growing Australian flowers such as kangaroo paws and Banksias in hothouses. Admittedly, the Dutch explorers were Company men and sailors, not botanists, and some visited New Holland in the summer when most species were not in flower. The coastal vegetation which they would have seen is floristically poor compared to farther inland. Yet even so, the uniqueness and interest of the plants was not lost on that other famous explorer of the Western Australian coast, William Dampier. Perhaps in times past, the subtlety of silvery and dark shades, the dull greens of many of the leaves and the different shapes and colours of the Australian blooms, were overshadowed by the Dutch passion for gaudy, brightly coloured tulips.

Tulips had found their way to Europe in the diplomatic bag of Ghiselin de-Busbecq, the Viennese ambassador to the Turkish Court of Suleiman the Magnificent. Mid-seventeenth century Holland was swept by tulipomania—gambling in tulip bulbs. Homes, estates and industries were mortgaged as bulbs were purchased and promptly resold for higher and higher prices: sales and resales were sometimes effected without the bulbs ever being dug from the ground. One Viceroy tulip bulb was exchanged for: ‘2 loads of wheat; 4 loads of rye; 4 fat oxen; 8 fat pigs; 12 fat sheep; 2 hogshead of wine; 4 barrels of 8-florin beer; 2 barrels of butter; 1,000 lbs. of cheese; a complete bed; a suit of clothes and a silver beaker.’ The boom crashed in 1637 with results as spectacular as the Wall Street Crash almost three hundred years later.

There was no such interest in Australia's plants. The Dutch, or more specifically the VOC, found nothing of value in Australia and had no interest in its natural history. Their contribution to knowledge about Australia was minimal compared to that of the lands it found commercially important such as South Africa and Java.

The absence of a firm date from which to chart ascension of white interest in Australia prior to colonisation, has resulted in giving importance to the Dutch arrivals. Apart from Abel Tasman's voyages, when he charted the coasts but never significantly explored the mainland, voyages were frequent but inconsequential. When trade with the Spice Islands drew the ships of every maritime nation in the world into southern waters an area as vast as Australia, it might be imagined, would be mapped and colonised.

The Dutch arrived on the East Indies scene in 1595, overwhelmed the Portuguese, and began trading first in Java then in Sumatra. The Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602 and established trading posts and settlements with its headquarters at Batavia (Djakarta), the centre of the Dutch colonial empire in the east. The nearest of these islands of the East Indies, Timor, is only 300 miles to the north-west of Australia so it would not be surprising if adverse winds, treacherous currents—and occasionally curiosity—took ships there.

In 1606, the first Dutch ship sailed into the waters between New Guinea and the north-west tip of Australia. Captain Willem Jansz sailed from Java on the sixty-ton pinnace Duyfken, ‘little dove’, destined for New Guinea. They reached the coast then ran a south-easterly course, eventually sighting land again, which they still thought to be New Guinea. In fact, it was the Cape York Peninsula. They continued southwards surveying the coast and reaching as far as Cape Keerweer, ‘turn about’. At each attempted landing they came across Aboriginal people who bravely defended their territory. Eventually Jansz anchored north of Duyfken Point, near the red cliffs of Weipa, on the Cape York Peninsula. Driven by lack of water and provisions, and having found no spices or precious metals he turned north at Cape Keerweer. His is the first record of Europeans retreating from Australia because they did not find nourishment—or anything of commercial value. Ironically Jansz had come to one of the world's greatest deposits of bauxite, the ore for aluminium.

At Port Musgrave, the mouth of the Wenlock River, Jansz anchored again, sending some sailors ashore in a rowing boat. About twelve miles upstream they clashed with a party of Aboriginal men who, with spears and boomerangs, killed nine Dutchmen. Jansz reported that the new land was ‘for the greater part uncultivated, and certain parts inhabited by savage, cruel black barbarians.’ He never returned.

After 1610, ships sailing from the Dutch port of Cape Town in South Africa to the East Indies, skimmed along on a highway of waves. Low in the southern hemisphere, between the South Pole and latitude 43 degrees, a steady draught of air from the west blows ceaselessly round the globe. West it always is, never sinking below a stiff breeze, rising often to a gale. Nearly a thousand miles broad, designated as a quick route from Africa to Asia ever since it was discovered, this impressive highway of sea constantly rolls round the earth from west to east, and has brought ships towards Australia, their canvas sails full before the wind.

Once in this fast-moving water ships sailed west for nearly 5,000 miles, then turned sharp north for the East Indies. A miscalculation of longitude meant they could sail 6,000 miles and hit the west coast of Australia. Although none of these ships brought back souvenirs of plants, a few ships' captains did give descriptions of them. Finding no gold, no water and no provisions, they left quickly, except for those that were wrecked—the Batavia in 1629, the Vergulden Draeck in 1656, the Zuytdorp in 1712, and the Zeewijk in 1727.

In 1623, Jan Carstensz, when sailing with the Pera and the Arnhem round Cape York peninsula landed several times and encountered hostile natives. On 8 May he went ashore to be met by 200 Aborigines. After the Dutch fired, killing one and scattering the rest, Carstensz offered his sailors a reward of ten pieces-of-eight for every man captured.

‘We did not see one fruit-bearing tree, or anything that man could make use of’, wrote Carstensz, adding that the country lacked water. The land, he noted, was ‘flat and fine countryside with few trees, good soil for planting and sowing, but as far as we could see and observe with no fresh water at all’. He reported despondently that this was ‘the most arid and barren country that could be found in the whole world.’ Also, ‘the pitch-black, thin of body and entirely naked’ inhabitants had no knowledge of precious metals or even nutmegs, cloves and pepper. The land contained ‘no metals, nor any precious woods such as sandalwood, aloe or columba’.

The incomplete outline of Australia was slowly filled in as voyage after voyage visited but had no impact, no real connection with Europe. The maps themselves, though, were invaluable for later explorers such as Dampier, Cook, Flinders, d'Entrecasteaux, Baudin and Dufresne, who often could not have navigated so successfully along various Australian coasts without this initial groundwork.

The Dutch traders, owners of the early ships, received reports that the shores of New Holland were monotonous and inhospitable, but these north-western and western coasts that were visited are the least watered coasts of the least watered continent on earth, where nothing flaunts itself. The more visually appealing east coast was not discovered until much later by James Cook.

If the Dutch saw the west coast's now famous wild flowers they overlooked them. The sandy scrub produces colourful blossoming shrubs, such as the superb orange-coloured Nuytsia floribunda—the Christmas tree; the little Calytrix flavescens covered with yellow flowers; the mauve flowers of the Swan River daisy Brachyscome iberidifolia. In the springtime visitors from all over the world now come to feast their eyes on the rainbow of colours carpeting the south-western corner of Australia.

These discouraging reports led to a lull in Dutch exploration—apart from the ships that arrived by mistake—until Anthony van Diemen became Governor General of the East Indies. He received many requests from the directors of the VOC to make further surveys. In 1636 he dispatched Commander Pool but the results were disappointing. Three years later he sent Abel Janszoon Tasman to search for riches beyond Japan—fabled islands of silver and gold. Not surprisingly, the islands were not found but the voyage increased Dutch knowledge of the Pacific and a satisfied van Dieman sent out Tasman again in 1642 to establish a southern route into the Pacific.

[6.3 Illustration: Tasman in Tonga B+W Badger p. 15 bottom] The account of Tasman's voyage was illustrated with crude engravings. Note the stylised representation of the vegetation in this drawing comparing Dutch ships with native canoes in Tonga. (Linnean Society collections.)

Taking a wide sweep of the known coasts, Tasman, in the vessels Heemskerck and Zeehaan, sailed around part of the coast of present-day Tasmania, which he named Van Diemen's Land in honour of his sponsor. Here the only landing on Australian soil was made, at Blackman's Bay on the south-eastern coast. Tasman was not in the landing parties but his men saw ‘in the interior, a large number of trees...which had been burnt deep inside, above the roots, while the earth had become as hard as flint because of the continual effect of the fire’.

Tasman also reported that the men found:

Two trees about two to two and a half fathoms in thickness, about sixty-five feet high under the boughs, with notches carved into the which trees gashed with flints and the bark was peeled off (thereby to climb up and gather the birdsnests) in the shape of steps Each being measured fully five feet from one another so that they presumed, here to be Very tall people or that these Same by some means must know how to climb up said trees.

As they were instructed to ‘find out what commodities (as of fresh water supplies, timber and otherwise) might be available there’, the sailors returned bringing:

...various samples of greens which they had seen growing aplenty some not unlike certain greenstuff which grows at Cape of Good Hope and suitable to use as pot-herbs, another being long and salty which has not a bad likeness to sea-parsley [Apium prostratum].

[6.4 Illustration: Sarcocornia quinqueflora (Alecto - if possible) Colour]

The ‘long and salty’ plant collected by Tasman's men was probably samphire, Sarcocornia quinqueflora, a small saltmarsh herb similar to European samphire. Some excrement, presumed to be from quadrupeds, was also brought back on board as well as a small quantity of fine gum that had dripped from the trees and resembled gum-lac.

The seas were rough and unwelcoming the next day so Tasman abandoned another attempt at taking a boat ashore, ordering the ship's carpenter to swim to the beach with a pole marked with the Company's name and a ‘prince flag’ to claim the land for Holland.

Tasman sailed on to discover New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji before returning to Batavia. His employers were far from pleased; he had not explored inland nor reported anything useful on the people or its products, he had only drawn maps. Yet he had done them well so they gave Tasman a second chance in 1644 with three ships, the Limmen, Zeemeeuw and Bracq. Sailing closer to the coast this time when he returned he reported that the country was barren, adding that the people were ‘very numerous and threw stones at the boats sent to the shore. They appear to live very poorly; go naked; eat yams and other roots.’

Globes and maps from Tasman's voyages were made within a few years of his return, but nothing else was published until 1671—nearly thirty years after the first visit—when the details featured in Arnoldus Montanus's De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weereld. The account also appeared incompletely in an appendix entitled The Unknown South-Land in John Ogilby's America published in 1671:

On the twenty fifth of November [1642], he [Tasman] discover'd a barren Shore, against which the Sea beat very furiously; and Steering along this Coast, he found a convenient Inlet but was forc'd by the hard Weather to stand to Sea again; yet not long after approaching the Shore, he saw great hollow Trees, and round about them abundance of Mussle-shells, and from the Wood heard a shrill noise of People Singing...

The Royal Society in London printed seven pages of Tasman's journal in 1682 which contained the first description of the vegetation. Another version appeared in 1694 and Sir Joseph Banks had a full translation made and published in third volume of James Burney's work on Pacific exploration in 1803.

The last significant Dutch voyage to Australia, and the one most likely to have produced the Synaphea and Acacia specimens now in Geneva, was undertaken by Willem Hesselsz de Vlamingh who sailed from the Netherlands in 1696 with three ships to search for a shipwreck near the mouth of the Swan River.

In December de Vlamingh arrived at an island off the west coast which he first named Fog Island and described as ‘delightful above all others that I have ever seen.’ He later renamed the island Rottnest (rat's nest) after the profusion of small rat-like marsupials, quokkas, that live there. De Vlamingh ‘found there the finest wood in the world, from which the whole land was filled with a fine pleasant smell.’ He cut a sample of the wood and pressed it for its oil. On the mainland his crew found some trees that they described as very ‘gummy’; thus the eucalypt made its debut. On de Vlamingh's return, Nicholaas Witsen wrote up some of his descriptions in Noord en Oost Tartarye, published in Amsterdam in 1705:

A pleasant smell as of roses was noticed in this island, which emanated from the trees, as can be observed from a few branches or pieces of wood brought to me from there. A fragrant oil can be extracted from this wood...On the mainland coast they found unknown red trees, mainly in the south, which produce a great deal of reddish-brown coloured gum which drips from the heart of the tree and falls down in drops like little balls, a sample of which having been brought here, being the bark of a tree to which this resin or gum is still attached, is in my keeping [probably from the Marri, Eucalyptus calophylla].

De Vlamingh then went to the mainland and rowed about twenty miles up the Swan River. If the Acacia and Synaphea specimens originated from this voyage it was probably on this excursion that de Vlamingh, or some member of the crew, did the collecting. Certainly de Vlamingh's crew picked up seeds of the beautiful cycad Macrozamia riedlei, prized by Aboriginal people as an important food source, but only after they have been vigorously washed, soaked and leached for several days. This elaborate preparation is necessary to remove the highly toxic compounds which cause poisoning in both humans and animals. Witsen described them in his book as looking like:

...our local scarlet beans, the colour being between yellow and white: these beans contain a nut which is not unlike the chestnut and is not unappetising, but causes a vertigo in the head which resembles madness, for the mariners who tasted of them crawled on the ground and made senseless gestures, which lasted for two days.

De Vlamingh himself also fell violently ill:

They brought me the nut of a certain fruit tree...having the taste of our large Dutch beans; and those which were younger were like a hazelnut. I ate five or six of them...but, after an interval of about three hours, I and five others who had eaten these fruits began to vomit so violently that we were as dead men.

De Vlamingh returned to Holland with:

1 phial of oil, extracted from wood brought from the South Land

1 small box with shells from the South Land

1 bundle of wood from the South Land, which is marked as fragrant and from which the aforesaid oil has been extracted

1 pewter plate found on a post in the South Land

1 old damaged piece of hide, stitched together in several torn places, also brought from the South Land...

But Witsen was unimpressed by the results of the voyage and disappointed in the commander. He wrote to Gilbert Cuper in 1698 that there had ‘not been very much done because the commander, too much addicted to drink...nowhere stayed longer than three days’. In another letter he added:

Nothing has been discovered which can be any way serviceable to the company. The soil of this country has been found very barren, and as a desert; no freshwater rivers have been found...There were found many fine smelling trees and out of their wood is to be drawne oyl smelling as a rose, but for the rest they are small and miserable trees.

In a final damnation he wrote to the Governor General of the Indies ‘it has proved to be nothing but a barren, dry waste land’.

Thus ended the first brief appearance of Australia's flora in Europe. The next collection, by the Englishman William Dampier, was to fare little better.

7. Chapter 7 William Dampier—the Botanical Buccaneer

William Dampier picked the vibrant Swainsona formosa—Sturt's Desert Pea—in the Western Australian bush, and took it back to England. This spectacular plant, with scarlet petals and a glossy black centre, flowers in the dry interior of the continent as well as the mountains, plains and sandhills and the semi-arid coast of Western Australia. When the deserts bloom after the rare rains, the dry earth bursts into carpets of these red and black flowers. They are now the floral emblem of South Australia.

[7.1 Illustration: Swainsona formosa and other illustrations Colour]

Dampier was an unlikely candidate for the first undisputed collector of Australia's flora. Born in East Coker, Somerset, England, in 1652 he lost both his parents before finishing grammar school at Crewkerne and went to sea while still a teenager. He worked his way up to commander of his own ship via a colourful career that included buccaneering, managing a Jamaican plantation and writing a best-selling book about his travels.

It was Dampier's vivid accounts of his two voyages to New Holland that made Australia a reality for the British. He was the first person to apply the term ‘gum-tree’ to describe what has become one of Australia's most recognisable symbols, the eucalypt. In the bush of Western Australia Dampier collected flowers and plants which he found beautiful, unusual or fragrant, and ‘for the most part unlike any I had seen elsewhere’. Around twenty of plants, miraculously brought back to England after a hazardous journey, launched the appearance of Australian flora in Britain. Although dried nearly 300 years ago, twenty three of these specimens survive and are remarkably well preserved, pressed in paper in a black leather folder tied with cotton ribbon, in the Herbarium of the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford. It is a stirring thought that this little collection is the beginning of the scientific collection of Australian flora.

Yet the historical importance of this collection has been underestimated. Dampier too, is often overlooked as the person who officially brought the British flag to Australia, seventy-one years before Cook. Dampier was the only Englishmen to visit Australia twice before settlement; the second time in command of his own ship.

The year Dampier first visited Australia, in a hijacked ship captained by Englishman John Read, saw a series of events connecting Dutch, British and Australian history. It was 1688, the year of the Glorious Revolution in Britain, marked by the accession to the British throne of the married first cousins, William of Orange and Mary, the daughter of James II. William forsook the position of Stadtholder of the United Provinces in Holland in order to become King of England, Scotland and Ireland. By coincidence, when he left Holland, the Dutch also lost their monopoly of Australian exploration.

The same year that William crossed the English Channel, the Cygnet, a British ship sailing figuratively, if perhaps not actually, under the Jolly Roger—the skull and crossbones—arrived on the coast of the arid massive blank of north-western Australia. The Cygnet had originally been on a trading mission commanded by one Captain Swan. All had gone well enough until Swan drove his crew to breaking point by dallying for six months on the island of Mindanao—now in the Philippines. The men, who included William Dampier, frustrated by waiting for their debauched and idle captain eventually took matters into their own hands, ‘we left Captain Swan and about 36 men ashore in the city, and six or eight that had run away; and about 16 we had buried there’, wrote Dampier as they took control. One of the mutineers, John Read, assumed command.

The brotherhood were soon back at their old trade, ‘our business was to pillage’. In February 1687, eight leagues outside Manila, they took a Spanish bark. Two days later they took another Spanish vessel laden with rice and cotton-cloth. Having put their prisoners ashore they sailed with their prize to islands off the coast of Cambodia to ‘wait for the Acapulco ship that comes about that time’. In the event, however, fearing bad weather and that they might encounter Dutch or British ships, they changed their plans and decided to head south ‘intending to touch at New Holland, a part of Terra Australis Incognita, to see what that Country would afford us’.

Read, at the helm of the Cygnet, crewed by pirates, sighted Australian land on January 4 1688 (old calendar). One hundred years later almost to the day, Captain Arthur Phillip, with the First Fleet of convicts, got his first glimpse of what would become Australia when he sighted Tasmania, just a few days' sailing from their ultimate goal, Botany Bay. Although the bicentenary of European settlement in Australia was celebrated in 1988, the fact it was also the tercentenary of British discovery by Read was largely overlooked. So was the coincidence that the earliest British ship of discovery and the first British settlement ships both carried felons—the former unconvicted, the latter convicted.

There was also an earlier British voyage to Australian waters which deserves mention here. In 1622 the Tryal, sailing eastwards across the Indian Ocean, overshot the point to turn north to the East Indies and hit the reefs near Barrow Island off the west coast of Australia. Survivors filled casks with rainwater during their seven day stay on one of the Monte Bello islands, before sailing to Batavia. Master John Brooke wrote a report, but as he did not mention the vegetation or go near the mainland it is discounted here as the earliest ship of discovery.

[7.2 Illustration: Dampier portrait B+W] This portrait of William Dampier, by Thomas Murray, was painted the year before Dampier's departure on his second voyage to Australia. It depicts him more as the sophisticated man of letters than the buccaneer explorer. (National Portrait Gallery, London.)

John Read and William Dampier have always been overshadowed by James Cook and the discovery of the east coast of Australia. As the British Empire developed, so did a new epoch of imperial image-making. Into this context, Cook as explorer-heroic-seaman-scientist readily fitted. Cook's journals and journeys became books of adventure for children, inspiration to boost the new spirit of the British Empire. Cook became a hero figure of British imperialism. A pirate such as Dampier did not fit into this image. Yet, if Dampier had been to the continent twice, how could Cook have discovered Australia? The only time the British government resurrected Dampier's journeys in the nineteenth century, was to counter French claims to the western half of the continent based on François Alesne de St Allouarn's brief exploration of the west Australian coast in March, 1772.

But Read and Dampier preceded St Allouarn by more than eighty years. In early January 1688 the Cygnet finally reached a ‘pretty deep Bay...good hard sand, and clean ground’, and was careened in what is now King Sound, near Broome. Dampier provides us with an excellent description:

The Land is of a dry, sandy Soil, destitute of Water, except you make Well; yet producing divers sorts of Trees; but the Woods are not thick, nor the Trees very big. Most of the Trees that we saw are Dragon-trees as we supposed; and these too are the largest Trees of any there. They are about the bigness of our large Apple-trees, and about the same height: and the Rind is blackish, and somewhat rough. The Leaves are of a dark colour; the Gum distils out of the knots or cracks that are in the Bodies of the Trees. We compared it [the resin] with some Gum Dragon, or Dragons Blood that was aboard; and it was the same colour and taste. The other sorts of Trees were not known by any of us. There was pretty long Grass growing under the Trees; but was very thin. We saw no Trees that bore Fruit or Berries...

This is the first undoubted description of a eucalypt, probably the Bloodwood kino, whose gum, a potent Aboriginal medicine, was used to stop blood flowing from spear wounds, and to treat abrasions, sores and burns.

Dampier made the first English description of Australia's native people. Like so many after him, his lack of understanding causes him to draw an unflattering picture:

The Inhabitants of this Country are the miserablest People in the World. The Hodmadods of Monomatapa [in the western half of South Africa], though a nasty People, yet for Wealth are Gentlemen to these; who have no Houses, and skin Garments, Sheep, Poultry, and Fruits of the Earth, Ostrich Eggs, &c as the Hodmadods have: and setting aside their human Shape, they differ but little from brutes. They are tall, straightbodied and thin, with small long Limbs...They have no Houses, but lie in the open Air without any covering; the Earth being their Bed, and the Heaven their Canopy...

Mistakenly Dampier added:

For the Earth affords them no Food at all. There is neither Herb, Root, Pulse nor any sort of Grain, for them to eat, that we saw: nor any sort of Bird or Beast that they can catch, having no Instruments wherewithal to do so.

He had, however, come to the barren north-west coast, in a lonely, unknown inlet, near present-day Broome and Cygnet Bay. ‘The land is dry, rocky and barren,’ he reported, ‘there is no water unless you make wells for it, and inland, as far as man can see, is just stony, empty desert.’ There has been disagreement over the exact location of Dampier's landing; it has been shown that it is likely to have been Karrakatta Bay near Cape Leveque.

After nine weeks, on 12 March 1688, the Cygnet departed from the west Australian coast for the island of Nicobar where Dampier abandoned the ‘mad crew’ and deserted ship. He returned to England after a circuitous journey around the world, which took yet another two years. All the time, the precious manuscript about his travels remained rolled up in a piece of bamboo, stopped at both ends with wax, to keep out any water or insects.

This manuscript was to form the basis of his famous book A New Voyage Round the World, when he finally made it back to England. Because Dampier wrote up this adventurous journey of the Cygnet it is often forgotten that it was actually John Read who commanded the voyage—the first by the British to mainland Australia—albeit as a pirate. As Dampier would later captain his own ship, the Roebuck, to New Holland he is sometimes erroneously credited with being commander of both voyages. Dampier dedicated his account of the Cygnet voyage to Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax, the hot-tempered and malicious politician, who had just helped found the Bank of England.

New Voyage Round the World was first published in London in 1697, it went through three editions in just over a year and was in its sixth edition just after Dampier died in 1715. It has been reprinted and reprinted ever since. Its success was not only because it contained the first description by an Englishman about Australia, but because it was a fabulous pirate story of survival on the Spanish Main and the Pacific islands. Vivid descriptions told of people, animals, sea-creatures, battles for gold, exotic potentates and trivia—even how mango chutney was made, and such human touches as the grief of the crew when the captain gave the ship's dog to the ruler of Guam.

[7.3 Illustration: Breadfruit Colour]

Also in Guam, Dampier made the first description of the breadfruit tree and how the fleshy pulp of its large fruits forms a staple in the diet of the natives of tropical regions. This handsome, quickly maturing tree, with a dense foliage of large, lobed leaves, grows in humid tropical lowlands with a high rainfall. So much was said in its favour that the myth of the breadfruit was born; people thought that in the Pacific, free loaves of bread grew on trees, just waiting to be picked off the branches and baked. Dampier wrote:

The breadfruit (as we call it) grows on a large Tree, as big and high as our largest Apple-Trees. It hath a spreading Head full of Branches, and dark Leaves. The Fruit grows on the Boughs like Apples: it is as big as a Penny-loaf, when Wheat is at five Shillings the Bushel. It is of a round shape, and hath a thick tough Rind. When the Fruit is ripe, it is yellow and soft; and the taste is sweet and pleasant. The Natives of this Island use it for Bread: they gather it when full grown, while it is green and hard; then they bake it in an Oven, which scorcheth the rind and makes it black: but they scrape off the outside black Crust, and there remains a tender thin Crust, and the inside is soft, tender and white, like the Crumb of a Penny Loaf. There is neither Seed nor Stone in the inside, but all is of a pure substance like Bread: it must be eaten new, for if it is kept above 24 Hours, it becomes dry, and eats harsh and choaky; but 'tis very pleasant before it is too stale. This Fruit lasts in season eight Months in the Year; during which time the Natives eat no other sort of Food of Bread-kind. I did never see of this Fruit any where but here. The Natives told us, that there is plenty of this Fruit growing on the rest of the Ladrone [Mariana] Islands...

Read's voyage would have been unrecorded if it had not been for Dampier's book. With its vivid descriptions of the breadfruit and the continent of Australia A New Voyage Round the World also provided the background for two of the most significant British voyages into the Pacific of the next century; Bligh's breadfruit voyages and the establishment of a convict colony in Australia.

Through Halifax, who was also briefly president of the Royal Society, Dampier was introduced to the First Lord of the Admiralty. Being an ex-buccaneer—albeit a famous one—was apparently no drawback to advancement, and Dampier was elevated to Royal Navy captain. The year 1699 saw him in command of his own ship, the Roebuck and a crew of fifty, ready to sail to the South Seas: he seldom used the Spanish misnomer ‘Pacific’; he thought it too flattering an image for the many hazards and currents of that tempestuous ocean.

But Dampier soon encountered problems, the ship was in poor condition and her crew were mutinous; neither was fit to battle the high and perilous waves of the Cape Horn route, so he sailed around the southern tip of Africa. At the end of July 1699, six months after leaving England, Dampier arrived on the west coast of New Holland. Here they went ashore on an island to look for water but found none. Undaunted, Dampier turned his attention to the flora:

There grow here two or three Sorts of Shrubs, one just like Rosemary; and therefore I called this Rosemary Island. It grew in great Plenty here, but had no Smell. Some of the other Shrubs had blue and yellow Flowers; and we found two Sorts of Grain like Beans: the one grew on Bushes, the other on a Sort of creeping Vine that runs along the Ground, having very thick broad Leaves, and the Blossom like a Bean Blossom, but much larger, and of a deep red Colour, looking very beautiful...The stones were all of a rusty colour, and ponderous.

Dampier's comments hinted at the economic potential of Australia's geology. Here the rocks were a type of weathered granite, themselves of no commercial importance, but if only a geologist had scrutinised Dampier's journals perhaps the great iron ore deposits of Western Australia might have been discovered earlier.

[7.4 Illustrations: Plants collected B+W Badger p. 40] Further examples of plants collected by Dampier in Western Australia and illustrated in his book. (G. Badger, Explorers of the Pacific, Kangaroo Press, 1996.)

Dampier collected plants on Rosemary Island (now one of the Lewis Islands) and on Dirk Hartog Island and the mainland around Shark Bay. Although not trained in botany, Dampier had an eye for the distinctive or curious, he saw ‘some very small flowers growing on the ground, that were sweet and beautiful and for the most part unlike any I had seen’. He also noted that, ‘the Blossoms of the different Sort of Trees were of several Colours, as red, white, yellow, &c. but mostly blue’,and collected spectacular plants such as the Sturt's desert pea, Swainsona formosa, now so universally admired for its splendour.

Among the other plants he collected are species of wattle, Acacia rostellifera and A. coriacea; the rounded shrub Myoporum acuminatum, which has clusters of small white flowers that fruit into berries; Trachymene elachocarpa and some cuttings from the tall, graceful tree Pittosporum phillyrioides.

After about a month and ‘having ranged about a considerable time upon this Coast, without finding any good fresh Water...and it being, moreover, the Heighth [sic] of the of the dry Season and my men growing Scorbutic for want of Refreshments’, Dampier left. It was the old story: his men could not find enough palatable greens or fruits growing wild. Setting course for Timor he jogged on from island to island taking on fresh food and water and restoring his men to health. Planning to investigate the eastern coast of New Holland, Dampier rounded the northern coast of New Guinea and ran eastward, reaching as far as the island he named New Britain. Leaks in the boat worsened; the boat's planking was deteriorating badly. It was time to head home, via the easier African route.

They made the Cape safely, but the voyage from there on was a nightmare. The Roebuck could hardly be kept afloat; even with all hands on the pumps with ‘some drams to comfort them’, the ship still took in water. In desperation, Dampier even had holes in the timbers plugged with salt beef, deeming these to be all but impenetrable! Eventually, in February 1701, fifteen months after they had left the west Australian coast, the crew abandoned ship close to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. They made a raft ‘to carry the men's chests and bedding ashore’, and managed also to land water and bags of rice, but Dampier lost many books, papers and all the strange sea shells he had collected.

Miraculously, he managed to salvage both journal and botanical specimens, safeguarding them throughout a perilous five weeks ashore where he and his men slept in caves, living on goats, birds and turtle and drinking water high on a mountainside. This site is still called Dampier's Drip. At last, some British ships saw Dampier's beacon fires and he and his crew were rescued.

Dampier returned to England with the clothes he wore, his journal and his collection of dried plants—and to a court-martial for extreme cruelty to one of his officers, Lieutenant Fisher. Dampier reported unfavourably on the west coast of New Holland saying that it was ‘unsuitable for colonisation’, but he did urge that the English send an expedition to the east coast, which should prove more fertile. Seventy years later Cook—armed with Dampier's books—was able to confirm this prediction.

Dampier's second book A Voyage to New Holland also delighted the public, although this naval voyage did not cause the same sensation as his first book as a pirate. The two voyages, eleven years apart, meant that Dampier spent a total of three months on the west Australian coast. He knew it well and his books, frequently reprinted, separately and in collections, were ‘in every gentleman's library’. They were much-quoted in subsequent works on the Pacific and its natural history.

The theme of these books, and of other contemporary voyages, is parodied in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which appeared in 1726. Gulliver himself is a traveller in the same mould as Dampier, an adventurer who responds to the Royal Society's requests to voyagers to collect and record data on the flora and fauna of far-off lands. Gulliver soberly sends up pedants, cranks and parvenus while relating the projects of the Academy for ‘extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers’, ‘softening marble for pillows and pin-cushions’, ‘reforming language by abolishing words’. Swift based some ventures on actual scientific proceedings at the Royal Society.

The parody of Dampier is carried through, even to the name of Gulliver's ship and dates. Gulliver sails on the Antelope in 1699; he is shipwrecked off Van Diemen's land; the map showing the position of Lilliput corresponds to the south-west coast of Australia and is copied from Dampier.

Ten years after Swift died in 1745, John Hawkesworth, a literary and religious friend of Dr Johnson, edited Swift's works and in his introduction wrote about both Dampier and Swift. By an irony worthy of the pages of Swift himself, Hawkesworth was soon to write about the land visited by Dampier—Swift's Land of Lilliput—again. When Cook returned to London in 1771 after the Endeavour voyage the Admiralty handed Hawkesworth Cook's journal—together with the journals of Joseph Banks—and a rumoured one thousand pounds. He was to write an account of the voyage from the combined journals. On four occasions in the South Pacific narrative Hawkesworth compares Cook's and Banks's observations of the flora with those of Dampier—so the strands of the flower chain voyages were linked, although gossamer thin.

But what of Dampier's precious collection of plants? In his preface to his second book, A Voyage to New Holland he states that the ‘Plants themselves are in the hands of the Ingenious Dr Woodward’. Woodward showed nine of these strange specimens of spectacular flowers, including wattles and grasses to his friend, the botanist John Ray, who was then finishing his famous three-volume Historia Plantarum. Ray included these Australian plants in an appendix. Woodward showed a further eight specimens to Leonardi Plukenet who described and illustrated them in his Amaltheum Botanicum, so they have been on record for every scholar of botany in the world to study ever since. In 1710 Woodward passed Dampier's collection, along with the rest of his own herbarium, to William Sherard, founder of the Sherardian Chair of Botany at the University of Oxford. Here they remain today in the Department of Plant Sciences. In all twenty three specimens that were collected by Dampier in New Holland survive today.

[7.5 Illustration: Plukenet frontispiece Colour] Leonardi Plukenet described some of Dampier's New Holland plants in his Amaltheum Botanicum of 1705. Eleven of Dampier's Australian plants also appeared in an appendix in John Ray's Historia Plantarum. (Linnean Society collections.)

Strangely, when George Bentham came to compile his massive Flora Australiensis, he did not include Dampier's plants. Whether this was a reflection of the general downgrading of Dampier's importance in the known history of Australia, or whether the collection was not made available to Bentham, is debatable.

Dampier died in 1715. His resting place seems not to have been recorded but, perhaps, he lies in some London churchyard; all we know is that he died when he was sixty-five. His name, however, is commemorated in a string of place names in Western Australia, including the port of Dampier from where the iron ore mined in the nearby Hamersly Range is transported around the world. Dampier's stones of ‘a rusty colour, and ponderous’, had predicted such riches and huge ore carriers from Japan now fill the port.

Also there is Dampier Land, Dampier Island and the genus of flowers, Dampiera, which has sixty-six species. The flowers of these herbaceous plants are usually blue but can also be purple, pink, white or, in the case of one single species, yellow. Dampiera belongs to the Goodeniaceae family which is almost exclusively Australian; a fitting tribute, perhaps, to the man who first brought Australia's unique flora to the attention of the outside world.

8. Chapter 8 Joseph Banks and the Endeavour

Sixty years after Dampier collected plants on in the West Australian coast, a man who was to have a pivotal role in the history of Australia and its flora, Joseph Banks, went up to Oxford to study botany. A few years later, he was to accompany James Cook on his first voyage round the world—Cook's only voyage to mainland Australia—on board the Endeavour.

[8.1 Illustration: Banks - West portrait Colour]

In 1760, in Oxford, that was all still eight years ahead. Banks would remain in Oxford, on and off, for the next three years. An unanswered question is whether, while at Oxford, he examined Dampier's Australian plants in the Botany School Herbarium. And if he did, might they have aroused his curiosity about New Holland? Although he referred to Dampier's observations in his Endeavour journal he certainly made no mention of them. It is hard to believe that Banks did not know about these plants because there were records of them in places of great importance to any botanist. Eleven were in the Appendix of John Ray's Historia Plantarum, essential reading for any botanist; and six more were described and illustrated in Plukenet's Amaltheum Botanicum. Banks's Professor of Botany was Humphrey Sibthorp whose son, the brilliant and famous John (1758–1796), later annotated Dampier's herbarium sheets.

Banks was the only son and heir of a wealthy Lincolnshire landowner. The family fortune had started with his great-grandfather, the first Joseph Banks, an attorney in Lincolnshire and member of Parliament who had wisely bought 3,000 acres of marsh in the fens. The family got richer as these were drained turning them into extremely profitable agricultural land. Advantageous marriages brought more money into the family and by the time Joseph Banks IV was born, in London in February 1743, the Banks's were joining society.

But they were only on the edge of the gentry until Banks's maternal aunt, Eleanora Margaret, a famous beauty, married the Honourable Henry Grenville, one of the ‘cousinhood’ of the political trio of Grenvilles, Temples and Pitts, joined in opposition against Sir Robert Walpole. The only child of this union, Louisa Grenville, Banks's first cousin, married the 3rd Earl Stanhope. Banks's great-aunt on his mother's side, Hannah-Sophia Chambers, married the 8th Earl of Exeter, a member of the famous Cecil family.

Although no aristocrat himself, Banks and his only sister, Sarah Sophia, had a place in society through two splendid aunts and enough money from his father to get away with being slightly eccentric and self-indulgent. He had the confidence to follow his own interests. And this he did, with a vengeance.

[8.2 Illustration: Revesby Abbey B+W] Banks' childhood home and country seat in Lincolnshire. Unfortunately this house was demolished in the mid-nineteenth century. (Linnean Society collections.)

Banks, the first of his family to gain entry to Harrow, Eton, or Oxford—and as if to make up he went to all three after being educated privately at home, Revesby Abbey in Lincolnshire. But the young Banks was no scholar. As the favoured only son he had the run of the estate and his love of natural history probably had its roots in his country upbringing, where he was allowed to play unsupervised in the countryside with boys from the village. Then at the age of nine he was sent to Harrow where, according to his friend Henry Brougham, ‘Joe cared mighty little for his book’. Harrow ill suited the unscholarly boy and in September 1756 he was removed to Eton.

The change of scene did little to improve his studies in Latin and Greek—his tutor bemoaned that Joe was a boy with ‘an immediate love of play’. It was with some pleasure, therefore that he found Banks one day, at the age of fourteen, reading rather than sporting in his hours of leisure. He was not, we may judge, reading in the classics. Banks gave his own account of this incident to his friend the surgeon, Sir Everard Home. He had apparently been river-bathing with his friends one summer evening, but had lingered too long and they had gone back without him. As he dawdled back to school by himself along a flowery lane Home reports that:

He stopped and looking round, involuntarily exclaimed, ‘How beautiful!’ After some reflection, he said to himself, it is surely more natural that I should be taught to know all these productions of Nature, in preference to Greek or Latin; but the latter is my father's command and it is my duty to obey him; I will however make myself acquainted with all these different plants for my own pleasure and gratification. He began immediately to teach himself Botany.

Young Shanks Banks, as he was known on account of his height, enlisted the assistance of the local women who gathered herbs for apothecaries and paid sixpence for every valuable piece of botanical information from them. Once when home for the holidays, he found in his mother's dressing-room an old and battered copy of Gerard's Herbal, with its woodcuts of the very plants he knew; he carried it back to school in triumph, ‘and it was probably this very book that he was poring over when detected by his tutor, for the first time, in the act of reading,’ concluded Home.

[8.3 Illustration. Gerard's Herbal B+W] Banks found his mother's copy of Gerard's Herball an invaluable source of information on the plants about which he was so keen to learn. (Linnean Society collections.)

In 1760, aged seventeen, he was entered at Christ Church, Oxford, as a gentleman-commoner where his record as a poor scholar in Greek and the classics continued. But his love of natural history in general, and botany in particular, persisted. He found that Humphrey Sibthorp, the Sherardian Professor of Botany did not do any actual teaching. So, with Sibthorp's permission, he hired the services of Israel Lyons, a botanist from Cambridge, to give a series of lectures. Banks finally left Oxford without taking his degree, a common enough occurrence at the time. In addition, his responsibilities suddenly changed in his second year with the unexpected death of his father. Although this meant that at twenty-one he would inherit the family fortune, he now had to spend a lot of his remaining time at Oxford under the supervision of his uncle, Banks-Hodgkinson, learning how to manage his estates.

Much has been made of Banks's lack of academic qualifications and supposed lack botanical knowledge. However, at a time when qualifications could be bought or acquired with little effort it is difficult to judge what his real abilities were. Certainly contemporaries were rarely critical of his botanical skills and James Britten, of the British Museum (Natural History) writing at the turn of the twentieth century, commented that Banks ‘had much more botanical knowledge than was at one time supposed. This seems to have been recognised by his contemporaries.’ We can assume, therefore, that he was certainly competent and throughout his life must have broadened his knowledge.

While her son was at Oxford, Banks's mother bought a London house in Paradise Row (now Royal Hospital Road), just near the Chelsea Physic Garden. A neighbour, Lord Sandwich, although twenty five years his senior, became Banks's firm friend. Then First Lord of the Admiralty, Sandwich was frequently attacked for corruption, and in private life criticised as a profligate gambler and rake, but his friendship with Banks was to prove very advantageous to the ambitious young botanist.

[8.4 Illustration: Chelsea Physic Garden, river view B+W] On his father's death, Banks' mother moved to a small house in Paradise Row overlooking Chelsea Physic Garden. These gardens, and their superintendent Phillip MIller, were to provide further sources of knowledge for Banks, the young student of botany. (Linnean Society collections.)

It was around this time, the early 1760s, that Banks met Daniel Carl Solander (1733–82), who for eighteen years, until he died of a stroke at forty-nine, was his closest friend. Always called the favourite pupil of the illustrious Linnaeus, Solander had come to London in 1760, at the request of such luminaries of botany as Peter Collinson, to teach English botanists the Linnaean system of plant classification. He catalogued the plants in the garden and herbarium of Peter Collinson and helped John Ellis with work on zoophytes—tiny aquatic animals that live in plant-like colonies. Solander was so popular in London that he never returned to his native Sweden, taking a post as assistant librarian at the newly established British Museum. Liked and esteemed everywhere he went, four years after he arrived in London, was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

Banks became Solander's patron, employer and friend. Their closeness is demonstrated by sentiments in a letter he wrote after Solander's death in 1782:

Through his death I have suffered a loss which will be impossible for me to fill even if I should find another person as learned and as is not possible for my heart to replace the impression which twenty years ago it took as easily as wax and which now will not be effaced until the heart itself dies.

Although from a modest, middle class background in Piteå, Sweden, Solander's charm, and the fact that he was Linnaeus's pupil, gave him entry to both grand and aristocratic circles. The work of Linnaeus, and in particular the principle of his system of nomenclature—that all plants should bear just a two-word Latin name—allowed a greater understanding of botany. Not only scientists but private individuals also could think of no higher honour than to send an unknown plant to be named and classified by him in Sweden. Enthusiasts ventured forth to locate and list all the living things rooted to the earth, and to find places where they could be transplanted and multiplied to bring revenue to the Empire.

[8.5 Illustration: Solander portrait Colour]

Between the mid-eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries science became intensely fashionable. In 1746 Peter Collinson said that works on natural history ‘sell the best of any books in England’. George III's mother, Princess Augusta, had created her Botanic Garden at Kew aided by Lord Bute; the Duchess of Portland was accumulating a vast collection of shells; and Capability Brown was transforming the gardens of the landed gentry to reflect the forms of nature. But it was botany that was the vogue among the aristocracy, becoming a tasteful pursuit of the leisured and cultured.

Banks followed this trend, to the point of eschewing the usual grand tour of Europe, undertaken by young men of his class, preferring instead to go on a collecting tour to Newfoundland on HMS Niger, on a fishery protection patrol which he organised through an old friend from Eton, Constantine John Phipps, the future Lord Mulgrave, and it was on this expedition that Banks learnt how to cope with the rigours of life at sea and the problems of transporting plant specimens by sea.

When Banks returned from Canada, he bought a house in New Burlington Street—soon to be exchanged for the grander 32 Soho Square—and began to set up a library and herbarium. In his absence on the Niger he had been elected to fellowship of the Royal Society. Unlike today, fellowship did not require excellence in a given scientific discipline. Fellows were elected as much for their social standing as their scientific knowledge. Banks offered the attractive combination of youth, wealth and an obvious enthusiasm for the natural sciences. He would never shake the world with his scientific studies nor even produce a large corpus of scientific publications, but, in the words of his contemporary, Humphry Davy:

he was a good-humoured and liberal man, free and various in conversational power, a tolerable botanist, and generally acquainted with natural history. He had not much reading, and no profound information. He was always ready to promote the objects of men of science.

But Banks had his bad points too. Davy went on to accuse him in later life of requiring ‘to be regarded as a patron’ and that he ‘readily swallowed gross flattery...and made his house a circle too like a court’.

On his return from Newfoundland Banks began to establish himself in the London scientific world and his home certainly did become a centre for the meeting of scientists and the exchange of ideas. His convivial breakfast and dinner gatherings became famed as a meeting places for such eminent naturalists of the day as Thomas Pennant, John Ellis, John Lightfoot and the nurseryman James Lee who had translated Linnaeus's book on classification from Latin into English and published the influential Introduction to Botany. Later, with his co-proprietor, Lewis Kennedy, he was to play a major role in the growing and selling Australian plants at their vast nursery, ‘The Vineyard’ in west London.

Banks seemed set to enjoy the leisurely life of a rich man, dabbling in science and preparing himself a little for the fringes of politics. But a voyage being planned by the Admiralty and the Royal Society was to change all that. European scientists were preparing for a rare astronomical event—the transit of Venus—in June 1769. Scientific observers were being sent by the Empress of Russia to Siberia and by Louis XV of France and Charles III of Spain to North and South America. In all, 151 observers stationed in seventy-one outposts were to watch Venus, the brightest of the planets, pass between the Earth and the sun. Mysteries of time and longitude were to be unravelled by taking accurate measurements of the transit across the sun's disc. These detailed observations were intended to further improve means of calculating longitude. It was still almost impossible for navigators to determine this with accuracy. Captain Wallis, recently returned from a voyage to the Pacific, recommended the newly discovered Society Islands—Tahiti—as an excellent site for Britain to base herself to make these observations. The Royal Society petitioned the King to send a ship, and George III, determined that Britain would not be overshadowed, gave his enthusiastic support to the scheme.

The Admiralty appointed forty-year-old Lieutenant James Cook to captain the expedition vessel. Cook was not unknown to the Royal Society; a talented mathematician, he had earlier made observations about an eclipse of the sun which had been read before the Society, causing amazement that a mere warrant officer could report with such scientific accuracy. Cook was the ideal choice. By chance, he had also been in Newfoundland at the same time as Banks, but there is no evidence that they ever met there.

As well as sending Charles Green, the astronomer, the Royal Society recommended that Joseph Banks, who would travel with a suite of eight equipped and paid for by himself, should also sail with the expedition to make studies of the natural history. Banks's connections with Lord Sandwich, still First Lord of the Admiralty, undoubtedly tipped the balance in his being allowed to accompany the voyage, albeit at his own expense. Banks later wrote:

When we were dining at Lady Monson's table and talking about how I had an unmatched opportunity to enrich science and to become famous, Solander all at once excitedly rose from his chair and asked me with intent eyes: Would you like a fellow traveller? I answered: Someone like you would give me untold pleasures and rewards. Then that is it, he said, I'll travel with you.

Banks's suite included Solander, two artists and an amanuensis, two Negro servants, two servants from his Lincolnshire estate listed as footmen, and two dogs. Little did they realise only four of them would return—Banks and Solander and the two men from Revesby, James Roberts and Peter Briscoe. The two Negro servants, Dorlton and Richmond would freeze to death on Tierra del Fuego in January 1769; Alexander Buchan, figure and landscape artist would die in Tahiti in April 1769 and both Hermann Diedrich Spöring, amanuensis, and Sydney Parkinson, natural history artist, would die after contracting dysentery in Batavia near the end of the voyage in January 1771.

But in August 1768, it was all excitement. Mr Banks was to bring back things from the earth and sea, Mr Green was to examine the heavens; ‘no people ever went to sea better fitted out for the purpose of natural history, nor more elegantly’. Indeed, the Endeavour was a floating observatory and laboratory—with maps of the heavens, telescopes, magnifying glasses, nets, barrels, an extensive library, and even machines for catching and preserving insects. In a letter to Linnaeus, John Ellis confided that ‘Solander assured me this expedition would cost Mr Banks ten thousand pounds.’

9. Chapter 9 Botanists in Botany Bay

On 25 August 1768, Cook hoisted a Jack at the fore topmast to signal Mr Banks and party to come aboard. The Endeavour, with her complement of scientists and their expensive paraphernalia, set off on her momentous journey from Plymouth at three o'clock in the afternoon. The Endeavour was well equipped in other ways too; her one-handed cook had superior provisions to most ships as the Victualling Board and the Sick and Hurt Board were attempting to find cures for that curse of seafarers, scurvy. The ship's stores included: portable soup (dried soup cubes), rob (extract) of oranges and lemons, raisins, mustard seeds, 7,860 pounds of sauerkraut and 40 bushels of malt, to try as antiscorbutics, as well as the usual unappetising supplies of salted meat (known as ‘salt horse’), and weevil infested flour. To wash it all down there was 1,200 gallons of beer and I,700 gallons of spirits.

[9.1 Illustration: Endeavour] The Endeavour reconstruction, completed in the 1990's, faithfully reproduces the onboard conditions for the crew of Cook's first voyage. 1. The reconstructed Endeavour moored at Greenwich, England, in 1997 during her circumnavigation. 2. This eating area below decks doubled as sleeping quarters. The crew would sling their hammocks above the tables at night. (Photos: Julia Bruce.)

Each sailor had only a tiny space in which to sling his hammock. They slept above the rough wooden benches and tables where they also ate, sang and drank. This converted collier, a hundred feet in length and thirty feet wide, had on board ninety-four people and eighteen months' provisions. It even had a small flock of sheep, some pigs and, to provide milk for the ‘gentlemen's coffee.’ the same nanny goat which had travelled with Captain Wallis on the Dolphin when he discovered Tahiti in the South Pacific in 1767. As well as the goat three officers, including John Gore, plus a sailor, exchanged the Dolphin for the Endeavour and for another circumnavigation of the world, and yet another visit to Tahiti.

Cook had a good crew and a sturdy serviceable ship but he had to face unusual challenges on this voyage. Firstly, he had two very different sponsors to satisfy: the Royal Society and the British Admiralty. The Admiralty had several aims apart from the astronomical observations which it was hoped would help navigation. Firstly, it decided to use the Endeavour voyage to respond to a revival of interest among scientific and commercial circles about the existence, or otherwise, of Terra Australis Incognita. There was no question that the well known landmass in the South Pacific, the somewhat uninteresting place discovered by the Dutch and visited twice by Dampier was Terra Australis Incognita — it was thought that there was another continent in the vast, as yet uncharted, tracts of the Southern Ocean.

Secondly, the Admiralty was aware that France wanted to expand into the Pacific, to compensate for the huge colonial losses imposed upon her by the treaties that ended the Seven Years' War. They also knew that a French expedition, led by Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811), was already in the Pacific before Cook set out. Bougainville visited Tahiti with his two ships, the Boudeuse and the Etoile, soon after Wallis. Bougainville, an intellectual, and a competent mathematician had written a paper on integral calculus, and was a friend of Diderot and had met Rousseau. In Tahiti Bougainville thought that he had actually found the ‘noble savage’. Bougainville returned with descriptions of an earthly paradise; flowers from the Pacific Eden, and a living noble savage, Ahu-Toru, a dignified Polynesian. Stories of free love plus the presence Ahu-Toru, took Paris by storm. The myth of an island paradise started with Bougainville's book describing the voyage which went into raptures about the islands' innocent sex and beautiful women.

[9.2 Illustration: Bougainville portrait B+W Badger p. 48]

After Tahiti, Bougainville had sailed west towards Australia searching for Terra Australis Incognita and arrived in the Coral Sea, in waters not previously navigated by any European ship. He sighted a piece of land he thought was the continent somewhere east of Cooktown but didn't investigate further. He was on the fringes of the Great Barrier Reef and alerted to its dangers by the endless wall of surf. Instead of trying to land he turned north to New Guinea. In the 1770s no kudos could be gained from visiting Australia, a place known by Europeans for nearly two centuries. If Bougainville had decided differently and landed there, he would have preceded Cook by nearly fourteen months as the first recorded European to reach Australia's east coast.

Bougainville's voyage is not just notable for his observations of Tahiti, it also set a precedent for ships of exploration to carry an official naturalist on board. It was not new for ships to carry collectors, naturalists and botanists, such as the eager pupils of Linnaeus, but up until now they had been mere passengers. Bougainville took a naturalist Philibert Commerson, as part of the expedition. It is fitting, therefore, that Commerson named one of the most beautiful flowering vines in the southern hemisphere, Bougainvillaea, after this far-sighted captain. Bougainville's voyage was the first that systematically collected, described and classified plants and animals, with shipboard artists drawing the specimens and the profiles of new coasts. Unfortunately, the published scientific results were few and Commerson never returned to France to write up his results, dying in Mauritius, the Isle-de France, in 1783.

As Bougainville headed home, Cook rounded Cape Horn and entered the Pacific—and the annals of the famous. Already, in the five years since the end of the Seven Years War, there had been the voyages of John Byron, (grandfather of the poet and known as Foulweather Jack), Samuel Wallis and Philip Carteret (who discovered Pitcairn Island and, much to the advantage of its later inhabitants, misplaced it on his map). But Cook's voyage would be far more significant than these precursors.

During the seven months to Tahiti—stopping at Madeira, Terra del Fuego and Rio de Janeiro—Banks and Solander collected avidly. Whenever the ship was becalmed, Banks lowered a small dinghy over the side and went to shoot sea-birds and dip nets to snare marine life. The botanists and artists would then work at the table in the Great Cabin littered with their trophies: seaweed, barnacles, decomposing fish and fresh and dried flowers. Banks recorded later that:

Seldom was a storm strong enough to disrupt our usual study time, which lasted approximately from eight a.m. until two p.m. daily. After the cabin lost the odour of food, from 4 or 5 p.m. until dark, we sat at the great table with the draftsman directly across from us. We showed him how the drawing should be depicted and hurriedly made descriptions of all the natural history objects while still fresh...we finished each description and added the synonyms to the books we had. These completed accounts were immediately entered by a secretary in the books in the form of flora of each of the lands visited.

The Great Cabin on the Endeavour was 14 feet by 23 feet at its widest, and was also the dining room for Cook and a dozen of the officers and supernumeraries, including Banks and Solander. Traditionally the Great Cabin—the captain's table—was the preserve of the ship's commander, but Cook seemed unfazed by having to share it with the natural historians. There is no record of any resentment on his part at having Banks and his suite foisted on him. Tactful as Banks was, we shall never know how onerous it was for Cook, humble and hardworking, born the son of a labourer in a two-room cottage, to live day-by-day with this flamboyant, engaging but spoilt young man with his staff of eight. Cook was forty; Banks was twenty-five.

The South Pacific had barely been touched; there was much to collect, much to observe, much to collate and to map. There was the possibility that the great triangle—formed by Cape Horn, Tahiti and New Zealand—which had never been explored might contain Terra Australis Incognita. While searching, Banks and his team accumulated, drew, described and carefully preserved a treasure trove of natural history specimens.

Nearly eight months after leaving England, on April 13 1769, the Endeavour arrived in Tahiti. Before any of the men went ashore Cook ordered them to line up before Surgeon Moorhouse for examination. All were reported free from VD. The ship's company was enchanted by the magnificent beaches, soaring mountains and dancing young women wearing leis of tropical flowers.

John Gore reaped the benefit of the garden he had planted on his earlier visit with Wallis, finding vegetables, limes, lemons, oranges, peaches, plums and cherries. Travellers leaving goats and gardens in their wake is an old gesture—a gift for the unknown traveller who later treads one's footsteps. Examples abound of grateful recipients. On his last visit to Tahiti Cook ate cabbages planted by a Spanish ship—untouched by the Tahitians who considered them disgusting, possibly poisonous. Alexander Selkirk, the model for Robinson Crusoe, survived on Juan Fernandez because of wild goats left by sailors. In the early days of Australia pumpkin seeds were planted by stockmen outside their makeshift huts, usually near waterholes, for the next travellers coming through.

The sailors ‘married their women’ and allowed themselves to be tattooed. Banks had a bright design of colourful scrolls and lines tattooed on his arm. On another occasion he was painted black, from head to foot, for a funeral ceremony, much to the hilarity of the natives. A few years later at a London dinner party Banks related to Benjamin Franklin how the Tahitians neither rated chastity as a virtue, nor theft as a vice, and how they did not know about kissing with the lips, ‘tho' they lik'd it when they were taught’. Banks's descriptions of Polynesian customs in his journal are graphic and colourful, and include accounts of his ‘romance’ with Queen Oberea, of music, marriage customs and the scenery. A new friend, the Tahitian Tupaia, and his servant, Tayeto, joined Banks's suite and sailed with them when they left, determined to see England. Perhaps Tupaia filled the berth made vacant by Alexander Buchan, the first of Banks's artists to die on the voyage. Sadly the two Tahitians were also to die, of malaria or dysentery, before they reached England.

[9.5 Illustration: Sydney Parkinson B+W] Artist on the Endeavour. Parkinson was quiet, diligent and prolific. He produced thousands of sketches and finished paintings on the three-year voyage, but sadly died on the homeward leg. (G. Badger, Explorers of the Pacific, Kangaroo Press, 1996.)

Banks's other artist, Sydney Parkinson, employed at £80 per annum, worked diligently at recording the plants and animals the naturalists collected. The younger son of a well-connected Edinburgh brewer, Parkinson, a Quaker, had started his career apprenticed to a woollen draper. His talent as a botanical artist was recognised and he easily found commissions in London. He taught drawing to the thirteen-year-old daughter of James Lee at the Lee & Kennedy nursery, and Lee went on to introduce this quiet Scotsman to Banks on the latter's return from Newfoundland. Banks was immediately impressed by him and employed him to draw his Canadian specimens. Parkinson had hardly finished them, when he was whisked off to be the natural history artist on the Endeavour.

Apart from his technical skill and ability Parkinson's output was prodigious—1,300 drawings and sketches. To save time when inundated by work, and to capture colours before they faded, Parkinson developed a routine of painting just a single leaf, flower or seedhead, as soon as possible after it was collected. He then wrote detailed notes on the reverse side of the paper with colour guides so the whole plant specimen could be finished later when there was more time, either at sea on the return voyage, or back home.

Much to Banks's annoyance, and without his permission, Parkinson's brother, Stanfield, posthumously published the journal Sydney had kept of the voyage. The journal shows Parkinson to have been a dedicated young man with a keen mind and an eye for detail. In Tahiti he related that the flies crawled over what he was painting, even eating colour off paper as fast as he brushed it on. Stanfield claimed that while the Endeavour crew were ashore indulging in sensual gratification in Tahiti, the serious-minded, twenty-four-year-old Sydney gratified ‘No other passion than that of a laudable curiosity...protected by his own innocence.’

After four months in Tahiti, his task in viewing the Transit of Venus completed, Cook weighed anchor. Unlike Parkinson, many of his crew were loath to leave the island that was soon to have the reputation of the most sensual and seductive place in the world. Cook plotted a southward course heading boldly for uncharted waters, and perhaps, Terra Australis Incognita. His sealed orders from the Admiralty, not opened until he got underway, had instructed him to sail south to a stated latitude—40 degrees—and then, if he had not encountered the Great South Continent, to turn south-west for the unknown eastern shore of New Zealand. If he did find land he was to chart it and if it was uninhabited, take possession of it ‘in the name of King of Great Britain.’ Cook and crew spent day after day, week after week, standing on windswept decks, climbing the masthead, staring at the horizon, straining for a glimpse of the land that, alas, existed only in myth. For over six weeks the Endeavour zigzagged through the Pacific surrounded by just sea and more sea. Finding nothing, Cook turned towards New Zealand, discovered nearly a century-and-a-half earlier by Tasman. It was postulated that this might just be an extremity of the Great Southern Continent, which Banks called ‘our Land of Promise.’

Cook spent six months charting New Zealand's coastline while thousands of natural history specimens were collected by Banks and Solander. Twenty months had passed since the Endeavour had left England. The land of myth remained a myth. It was time for Cook to go home, time to ‘return to England by such route as he should think proper’.

Australia, New Holland as it was then known, did not find a place, even as an afterthought, or a postscript in Cook's instructions, there was no suggestion that he should go there. However, it became a destination on the homeward route because the Endeavour was not strong enough to sail in high latitudes via Cape Horn. They would sail home by Cape of Good Hope route, but ‘fall in with the East Coast of New Holland & then to follow the may take untill we arrive at its Northern extremity,’ recorded Cook.

Three sides of Australia were now firmly established if imperfectly known; just the east coast was a complete blank. Cook headed westwards and on April 19 the east coast of Australia was sighted. For ten days Cook followed it northwards, unable to find a landfall among the cliffs, sandy beaches and the ‘great surf which beat everywhere upon the shore’.

The sailors saw Aboriginal fires dotting the coast and occasionally the people themselves were glimpsed. Cook wondered if the blackness of the natives was skin colour or clothes. Banks concluded that the people ashore were totally naked, and the women did not ‘copy our mother Eve even to the fig leaf’. At daybreak on April 28, nine days after first sighting the continent, the Endeavour was opposite the entrance of what was to become the famous Botany Bay.

Captain Cook was in no rush to land. A man who liked rules and routine, he took lunch, already delayed from midday till two o'clock, before the boats were manned. At last, at three o'clock, about half the ship's company climbed into rowing boats and to head for the land. But as oars splashed the water two black warriors took up a position brandishing three-metre spears. They shouted harshly at Captain Cook to go away. Ignoring the hostile gestures, the English tried to parley for a quarter of an hour, but the Aborigines bravely kept waving at them to be gone. The English politely tried to explain through actins that they only needed water, that they meant no harm, no harm at all. The warriors remained resolute. Captain Cook then fired his musket between them. The younger Aborigine dropped his bundle of spears onto the rocks at the report, but quickly picked them up again in order to renew his challenge to this invasion, although he and his elderly companion were opposed by over thirty men. The rest of the tribe lurked behind them in the bushes. One of the warriors cast a stone at the English. Cook again loaded his musket with small shot. This time, however, he aimed to wound, firing straight at the older man and hitting him in the leg. The native pretended to be unhurt, so Cook fired a third round. The warrior hardly flinched but raced away as quickly as his long - though now bruised and cut - legs would take him to a nearby hut into which he crawled. Cook and his men landed, imagining that the contest was over. A mistake; for the warrior immediately reappeared bearing an oval-shaped shield. Fearlessly, he hurled a spear into the midst of the intruders. Although it hurt nobody, the ever-prudent Banks warned that the barbed point might be poisoned, so two more random rounds of musketry were fired. The Aborigines threw one further spear, then fled into the bushes.

Victor of the skirmish, Captain Cook, still guardedly clutching his musket, walked with Joseph Banks to other bark huts nearby, under tall gum trees.

The next day, with vigour and much enthusiasm, wells were sunk to collect fresh water; wood was chopped for the galley fire; grass was gathered for the ship's goat and sheep; fish, including many stingrays, were caught in their net; the British flag was unfurled; Banks's pet greyhound, Lady, tried to catch an unidentified quadruped but lamed herself and abandoned the chase; ‘Loryquets and Cocatoos’ were shot for food. A few Aborigines made gestures of defiance until driven away by small shot: they avoided any close contact and were indifferent to presents offered by Cook and his men.

In the nine days Endeavour stayed at Botany Bay no contact with the Aboriginal people was made. They opposed the intruders a few times with spears, but vanished into the bush when efforts at close contact were attempted. Even beads and baubles left for them were ignored. Cook wrote: ‘All they seem'd to want, was for us to be gone’.

Banks and his staff started collecting plants for classification, and edible greens for the galley. Cook, vigilant in compelling his men to eat fresh greens to ward off scurvy, subjected them to many bitter-tasting meals. One that was palatable, though, was sea celery Apium prostratum which grows on many Australian coasts, just as Tasman had served it to his men 150 years earlier in Tasmania.

Banks added to his journal:

1st May. The captain, Dr Solander myself, and some of the people making in all 10 musquets, resolvd to make an excursion into the countrey...We...walkd till we compleatly tird ourselves, which was in the evening...The Soil, wherever we saw it, consisted of either swamps or light sandy soil on which grew very few species of trees, one, which was large, yeilding a gum much like Sanguis draconis, but every place was covered with vast quantities of grass.

Surprisingly, Banks didn't comment on the extraordinary predominance of two types of trees in the landscape, the wattle and the eucalypt. These trees are so typical of the Australian bush that is surprising that the first botanical description of the genus Eucalyptus, came not from this voyage, but from a later one to Tasmania. Banks just refers to trees generally not being very large and standing ‘separate from each other without the least underwood’ and comments on the quantity of plants:

2nd May. The morn was rainy and we who had got already so many plants were well contented to find an excuse for staying on board to examine them a little at least. In the afternoon however it cleard up and we returnd to our old occupation of collecting, in which we had our usual good success...

3rd May. Our collection of Plants was now grown so immensly large that it was necessary that some extrordinary care should be taken of them least they should spoil in the books. I therefore devoted this day to that business and carried all the drying paper, near 200 Quires of which the larger part was full, ashore and spreading them upon a sail in the sun kept them in this manner exposd 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.

But there is no further description of what the plants were. If Cook had not named the place Botany Bay—changing it from his original Stingray's Harbour—there would have been no indication of its botanical delight. Banks does, however, make some reference to plants collected for food:

They found also several trees which bore fruit of the Jambosa kind...much in colour and shape resembling cherries; of these they eat plentifully and brought home also abundance, which we eat with much pleasure tho they had little to recommend them but a light acid.

These were, it seems, lilly-pillies, (Acmena smithii). The fruit makes good jam or can be eaten when ripe. Although it was one of the few plants individually mentioned in the journal—despite the huge haul from Botany Bay—it was not described and named until 27 years later.

Nothing in Banks's journal suggests that this bay would be suitable for colonisation. After a few days he reported that they had exhausted the botanical possibilities of the place. Cook had no interest in staying in Botany Bay either. He ordered the word ‘Endeavour’ and the date to be carved onto a tree—a gesture of farewell—and weighed anchor. With haste he north, sailing past what he called Port Jackson, noting that it ‘might prove a nchorage’. It turned out to be the dazzling Sydney Harbour. Banks wrote the following gastronomic farewell to Botany Bay:

Went to sea this morn with a fair breeze of wind. The land we saild past...again woody and very pleasant. We dind to day upon the sting-ray and his tripe: the fish itself was not quite so good as a scate...We had with it a dish of the leaves of Tetragonia cornuta boild, which eat as well as spinage or very near it.

Although known as New Zealand spinach, Tetragonia cornuta is not a true spinach. Looking like a weed, it grows on sheltered sea coasts. Banks and Cook first it growing on the shores of New Zealand. Endemic to Australia it is now known as Tetragonia tetragonioides and is having a revival as Warrigal greens.

[9.7 Illustration Tetragonia tetragonioides Colour Banks Florilegium ] Also known as New Zealand spinach, locally collected Tetragonia tetragonioides was eaten by Cook's crew. Although vitamin C was unknown at this time, Cook was insistent that his men should eat fresh greens whenever possible and was keen to try any remedy for scurvy.

Day and night the Endeavour travelled northwards, inshore or some distance offshore, depending on weather and visibility; many coastal features were overlooked. Cook's haste suggests that he thought of the east coast as an inhospitable coastline, something merely to survey, something to record while homeward bound but not to visit. Australia never found a place in Cook's heart—or schedules. Incurious about it before he saw it, once he was there he left it as quickly as his ship and the weather would allow. He never returned. Nor did he suggest that any other ship should return, or that the country should be settled. Nor did Joseph Banks ever come back. Nine years would elapse before he would suggest it as a suitable place for settlement—and then just for convicts. And then it took nine years for arrangements to be finalised for them to come, so there was a total of eighteen years between the Endeavour voyage and settlement.

10. Chapter 10 Disaster and Home

On 16 May 1770 Cook was off Point Danger—the present southern boundary of Queensland—and commenced his 100 days on the Queensland coast. It was, in fact, here in the tropical north of the continent that Banks would collect most of his specimens, but as their provenance is given as ‘New South Wales’ (which the whole coast was known as until 1859), it is often assumed they came from Botany Bay.

Strong currents slowed progress as Cook surveyed the coast. When he made his first landfall a fortnight after leaving Botany Bay he stayed less than a day. Banks wrote:

Here [Bustard Bay] we found a great variety of plants, several, however, the same as those we ourselves had seen in the islands between the tropics and others known to be natives of the East Indies...In these [swamps]...grew many mangrove trees...Upon the sides of the hills were many of the trees yielding a gum like Sanguis draconis.

The presence of mangroves and Pandanus palms, the first they had seen, affirmed that they were back in tropical latitudes. Banks assumed, incorrectly, that most of the botanical specimens seen from now on would be already known in Europe.

The Endeavour continued northwards through remarkably calm seas, with innumerable small islands on her starboard side as far as the eye could see. Once they had crossed the Tropic of Capricorn they were sailing parallel with the Great Barrier Reef, the longest wall of coral in the world. For hundreds of miles Cook groped his way through a sea strewn with islets, rocks, shoals and reefs; Keppel Bay, Cape Manifold, Cape Townsend, Pier Head, Thirsty Sound (because no water could be found), Broad Sound, Cape Palmerston, Cleveland Bay, Magnetical Isle (the compass would not traverse when near it) and the Palm Isles where a brief stop was made and more plants were gathered.

Then came Cape Tribulation, so named because, wrote Cook, ‘here begun all our troubles’. It was now a month since they had left the quiet waters of Botany Bay, and the ship, progressing by the light of a full moon, struck coral. The crew saw the sheathing boards separate from the hull and float around them, water rushed in. The pumps to be manned by every man on board, the captain, Banks and officers, not excepted. To lighten the damaged ship Cook jettisoned about fifty tons of supplies and ballast, including six cannon (now in Cooktown, Canberra, Sydney, Greenwich, Philadelphia and Wellington). The calamity occurred because Cook had dared to do something most captains never do: sail through coral reefs at night even, as in this case, with the light of a full moon.

With tremendous strength, luck and a piece of coral plugging the largest hole, Endeavour floated free on a high tide after twenty-three hours caught on the rocks. Cook fothered the hole, sealing it with a sailcloth covered with oakum, wool and sheep dung. Endeavour then limped twenty odd miles north-east to a small harbour at the mouth of a river which Cook named after his stricken ship. Banks commented wryly that there was ‘nothing but a lock of Wool between us and destruction’.

[10.1 Illustration: Endeavour careened B+W] The stricken Endeavour careened on the river that now bears her name. The incident gave Banks and Solander an unexpected opportunity to search this area of Queensland for new plant species. (Illustration from collections in the London Library.)

Here, under what was called Grassy Hill, the ship was careened. The ship's complement of eighty-seven spent forty-seven days ashore, their second longest time on land after Tahiti. Storage tents, a blacksmith's forge, carpenters' workshop and benches, a butcher's shop, and pens for pigs and the few remaining sheep were rapidly set up and the crew set about making Endeavour seaworthy once more.

When the ship was turned on its side plant specimens stored in a metal bread compartment in the after end of the ship became wet. Sea-water was still in the bilge despite the pumping. Although this meant that there was much extra drying out to be done, even on the first day Banks wrote ‘Dr. Solander and myself began Our plant gathering’. In all they collected some 400 specimens here. Banks seemed to have got everyone involved in his activities, a few days later he recorded:

Some of the Gentlemen who had been out in the woods Yesterday brought home the leaves of a plant which I took to be Arum esculentum, the same I beleive as is called Cocoos in the West Indies.

Banks was referring to Colocasia esculenta, also known as taro, or to the Tahitians cocoyam. He also found wild yams; dense mangrove swamps and evergreen bark trees or cottonwood Hibiscus tiliaceus which grow all over the islands of the Pacific.

The activities around the boat roused the curiosity of the local Guugu Yimidhirr people who watched from a distance for three weeks before venturing towards the white people. Tupaia's benign influence meant that Anglo–Aboriginal relations were, although restrained, cordial apart from one instance. The contrast in values and expectations between the Aboriginal people and the Europeans came to the forefront in a dispute over twelve large turtles—some up to three hundred pounds each. These had been caught to provide fresh meat for when the voyage resumed but when the Aboriginal representatives saw this catch on deck they objected, regarding it as hoarding. First they tried to take the turtles but were stopped by Cook's men so they jumped ashore, grabbed some fire from under a pitch kettle and set the grass around the makeshift shore camp alight. As Banks and a few others pulled the tent out of the path of the fire, the Aborigines tried to set the washing and fishing nets ablaze. Cook rushed back on board, loaded a musket with smallshot, and hit an offender in the leg. During the fracas a fence was burnt and a piglet scorched to death. That night, when all returned to peace, Banks was enthralled by the miles of Aboriginal fires ablaze in the bush making ‘the most beautiful appearance imaginable’.

During the commotion a few pigs had escaped to freedom into the wilderness. The descendants of these feral swine, known now as ‘Captain Cookers’, are the ferocious wild boars and sows, the curse of north Queensland. Until they escaped, the topsoil of Australia, with its delicate plants and grasses, had never suffered the heavy weight of a hard hoof as animals indigenous to Australia have soft paws and claws.

The few pigs at Endeavour River in 1770 which did not escape had a hard time. Banks remarked that they were hungry and two died after eating cycad seeds. Some pigs and sailors ate the seeds of Cycas media, a similar cycad to that which had made de Vlamingh's men ill on the west coast and ‘were violently affected by them both upwards and downwards’.

Much more palatable are coconuts and Parkinson in his journal listed the Aboriginal word for the ‘cocoa-nut shell’ as ‘Keremande’. Coconuts are a matter of controversy in modern Queensland. Some locals insist they are not indigenous to Australia, that they were introduced and, therefore, should not be grown as extensively as they are—especially, as like most popular palms, they provide no food for native wildlife. Parkinson's journal suggests, that coconuts certainly were in Queensland before white settlement. Parkinson also gives the word ‘Nampar’ for bamboo. This is again curious: although it grows widely now in the Endeavour River area, bamboo has long been thought to have been introduced with the first white settlers in the area during the gold rushes in the 1870s. It may be that the term was used rather generally for a whole range of large grasses rather than specifically for bamboo.

The sailors were also interested in the wild animals of the area. Crocodiles were seen and John Gore, who had planted the garden at Tahiti, shot a kangaroo which was then eaten. The skin of this animal was taken back to England, stuffed and became the subject of a famous painting by George Stubbs.

[10.2 Illustration: Kangaroo engraving B+W] This engraving, described as a kangaroo, is taken from an oil painting by George Stubbs of a mounted skin. In fact, the animal brought back by Banks and Cook was probably a wallaby rather than a kangaroo. (Illustration from collections in the London Library.)

For the whole length of the coast which we saild along there was a sameness to be observd in the face of the countrey very uncommon; Barren it may justly be calld and in a very high degree, that at least that we saw. The Soil in general is sandy and very light: on it grows grass tall enough but thin sett, and trees of a tolerable size...upon the Whole the fertile soil Bears no kind of Proportion to that which seems by nature doomd to everlasting Barrenness...Soil so barren and at the same time intirely void of the helps derivd from cultivation could not be supposd to yeild much towards the support of man. We had been so long at sea with but a scanty supply of fresh provisions that we had long usd to eat every thing we could lay our hands upon, fish, flesh, or vegetable which only was not poisonous; yet we could but not and then procure a dish of bad greens for our own table and never but in the place where the ship was careend met with a sufficient quantity to supply the ship...Palm cabbage and what is calld in the West Indies Indian Kale were in tolerable plenty, as was also a sort of Purslane. The other plants we eat were a kind of Beans, very bad, a kind of Parsley and a plant something resembling spinage, which two last grew only to the Southward. I shall give their botanical names as I beleive some of them never eat by Europeans before: first Indian kale (Arum esculentum) [Colocasia esculenta], Red flowerd purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum), Beans (Glycine speciosa), [Canavalia maritima], Parsley (Apium ) [Apium prostratum], Spinage (Tetragonia cornuta) [Tetragonia tetragonioides]. Fruits we had still fewer; to the South was one something resembling a heart cherry only the stone was soft (Eugenia ) [Eugenia banksii] which had nothing but a light acid to recommend it; to the Northward again a kind of Figs growing from the stalk of a tree, very indifferent (Ficus caudiciflora) [Ficus glomerata], a fruit we calld Plumbs like them in Colour but flat like a little cheese [Burdekin plum Pleiogynium cerasiferum], and another much like a damson both in appearance and taste; both these last however were so full of a large stone that eating them was but an unprofitable business. Wild Plantanes we had also but so full of seeds that they had little or no pulp...Other usefull plants we saw none, except perhaps two might be found so which yeild resin in abundance...

[10.3 Illustration: Sesuvium portulacastrum or Eugenia banksii Colour.]

Banks Florilegium ]

Although Banks was unimpressed by the usefulness of the plants he found he did admit that, ‘of Plants in general the countrey afforded a far larger variety than its barren appearance seemd to promise’, and also that the Aboriginal people they came across ‘...had a knowledge of plants as we plainly could percieve by their having names for them’.

By early August the Endeavour was at sea again, in-between the Reef and the mainland. With the pinnace out ahead sounding, and Cook himself at the masthead, the little ship made its way through a maze of hazards. It was about ten days later that it was noticed that the mainland—which Cook named Cape York after the King's second son, the late Duke—had become so narrow that water could be seen beyond it. At last, a little further ahead, land which Cook had thought to be part of the mainland was shown to be an island—one of the dozens in Torres Strait between New Guinea and Australia. After dining in the Great Cabin on 22 August 1770, Cook landed on this bleak, windswept little outcrop of rock dotted with stunted scrubby bushes. The only sounds are the screeching of birds and the waves lapping on white sandy beaches and oyster encrusted rocks. A tall flagpole was rowed ashore.

When the Endeavour had left England in August 1768, among Cook's secret orders were instructions that if the Great Unknown Southland was found ‘You are also with the consent of the natives to take possession of convenient the name of the King of Great Britain’. Although Cook knew that New Holland was not Terra Australis Incognita, surely similar rules for taking possession applied? But the sole contact of the Endeavour crew ashore had been with the Guugu Yimidhirr tribe, and they certainly did not consent to being taken over by anyone, let alone the unknown George III. In the unlikely event that they had, the agreement would only have covered their tribal land as the continent was divided between 500 and 600 tribes. As there were no long rivers that spanned the continent—none comparable to the Danube, the Nile or the Mississippi—let alone indigenous animals which could be used for transport, the continent had never been organised hierarchically as a whole, either by the blacks or the whites, until steamships, horses, trains, the telegraph, radio and the telephone, brought the outposts closer.

At six o'clock, four months after landing at Botany Bay, Cook held a hasty flag-raising ceremony on the windy little island, attended by Banks, Solander and selected members of the crew. With the usual royal salute the east coast of Australia was claimed for Britain. The whiff of that gunpowder was to stay in Banks's nostrils. Over a decade later — with a little help from his fellow Endeavour crew member, James Mario Matra — Banks was to recommend that the coast should be settled by the British, that it was convenient to do so because it was terra nullius.

Ironically the fancy Possession Ceremony with its musket shots and salutes was just 150 miles from the Murray Islands. These neighbouring islanders in Torres Strait, with stirring advances by Eddie Mabo, won the High Court battle rejecting the principle of terra nullius on 3 June 1992—222 years after the erection of the flagpole. This battle, that convinced the courts that the bedrock of Australia's land title system was fiction, started almost within earshot of that cannon. The debate over Aboriginal land title still rumbles on into the twenty-first century.

On that late afternoon on 22 August 1770, the anxiety to get away was so great that neither Cook, nor Banks—nobody—saw that they were actually standing on a gold mine. A quartz reef near where they all so solemnly saluted the absent king, contained visible gold. Like the ending to a good fairy story over a century later a shaft was sunk exactly where the flagstaff had been planted. No European returned to the eastern coast of the mainland for eighteen years. When they did, it was on the breath of Banks, by then a respected scientific figure in Britain and Europe. A ‘gentleman amateur’ botanist he was to become a powerful figure on the strength of his voyage to Australia and was to use this influence to mould its future.

Endeavour's trials on the Great Barrier Reef, and her makeshift repairs on the Endeavour River, had left her vulnerable so Cook anxious to get her more seaworthy before he attempted the Cape of Good Hope headed for the Dutch colony of Batavia where he could make better repairs, arriving on October 10. It was to was to prove a fatal decision for Endeavour's crew. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes were rife, and deathly diseases, particularly dysentery, lurked in the colony's open drains. Among those who fell victim were the ever-faithful Tupaia and his servant, Tayeto. Others died after the ship sailed and were buried at sea, including Green, Spöring and the talented and amiable Parkinson. In all, thirty-eight men perished during the voyage, nearly all of them succumbing to disease in the unsavoury climate of Batavia. Banks and Solander were taken seriously ill but recovered and still managed to make collections of Javanese plants.

[10.4 Illustration: Leea rubra Colour Banks Florilegium ]

Cook left Java as soon as he could. Sailing via the Cape of Good Hope, St Helena and Ascension Island, he arrived in England on July 12 1771. In exactly a year Cook would set sail yet again for the Pacific, but this time without Banks. The cabins which Banks had assigned for himself and his party would be occupied by another self-styled botanist—a German, Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg—who, like Banks, would also employ an ex-student of Linnaeus to describe the plants discovered on the voyage.

11. Chapter 11 Cook returns to the South Sea

The Endeavour, and particularly its surviving scientists, arrived home to rapturous acclaim. Within three weeks Banks was presented to the King—marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship. The Admiralty immediately began planning a follow up voyage and newspapers were soon announcing that in the spring of the following year, 1772, under royal patronage, Banks and Solander would set out on a second voyage and Mr Banks would found a colony in the South Seas. Meanwhile Cook's achievement was recognised with a promotion to commander and, in the middle of August, he too was presented to the King by Lord Sandwich.

[11.1 Illustration: Cook portrait B+W]

The purpose of the second Pacific voyage was explicitly, this time, to find Terra Australis Incognita and to, ‘perfect the Discoveries that had been begun on the last voyage’. After the close call on the Great Barrier Reef, Cook insisted on two ships—the Resolution and the Adventure—to sail in convoy. Banks was yet again invited by Lord Sandwich to accompany Cook. Banks's entourage originally came to ‘thirteen persons besides myself’, plus the dogs. Most eminent among the party was the German born painter, John Zoffany (1733–1810), a founder member of the Royal Academy, who was engaged for a fee of a thousand pounds. Banks also had ‘five others to accompany me, who were to delineate such Objects as I might think worthy to be presented to my friends at home...[and] Six domestick servants also to collect and preserve’. These included two French horn players! Nothing was said about the fourteenth member of Banks's staff, a mysterious ‘Mr Burnett’, who had gone ahead and was to join the ship in Madeira.

Banks ensured the voyage would be exceptionally well equipped. He had musical instruments, scientific apparatus, screwdrivers, axes, harpoons, artists' paints, drawing-tables, rat traps, wire catchers for insects and birds, magnifying glasses, microscopes, table delicacies, tents for shelter, arms for protection, beads, combs, mirrors, feathers and fish-hooks for trade with the natives.

This bulky paraphernalia, the increased number in his suite, and the fact that larger ships were not chosen for the expedition, made Banks demand that the Great Cabin be handed completely over to him. An additional upper deck was therefore built, with a raised poop or ‘round house’ for the captain. However, the ship with this dreadful new superstructure had not sailed more than a few miles on its test voyage, before the pilot refused to venture any further. One of the officers on board, his friend Charles Clerke, wrote to Banks: ‘By God, I'll go to sea in a grog-tub, if required, or in the Resolution as soon as you please; but I must say I think her by far the most unsafe ship I ever saw or heard of’. Cook ordered the top-heavy ship to make for Sheerness where the additions were removed. Banks ordered all his stores off the ship and withdrew.

‘Mr Banks seems throughout to consider the Ships as fitted out wholly for his use', wrote a Navy Board official scathingly about the debacle. He went on that Banks thought, ‘the whole undertaking to depend on him and his People; and himself as the Director and Conductor of the whole; for which he is not qualified, and if granted to him, would have been the greatest disgrace that could be put on His Majesty's Naval officers’.

Banks hoped that his threat to withdraw would force the Admiralty to provide what he had originally wanted, larger ships, but the Naval authorities stood firm. ‘The Dispute between Mr Banks & the Captain’ reached the newspapers but the misunderstanding does not appear to have adversely affected their good relationship in the long term. In the end Banks and his staff, instead of sailing to warm tropical islands and down beyond the Antarctic circle, went north in a hired ship to see the volcanoes and the relatively unexplored terrain of Iceland. Mr Zoffany went to Italy. Twenty-eight year old landscape painter, William Hodges went in his stead on the Resolution.

[11.2 Illustration: JR Forster portrait B+W]

Johann Reinhold Forster, a Prussian of Yorkshire ancestry, who had just completed a translation of Bougainville's voyage into English, was hurriedly appointed as naturalist in Banks's place. A former Lutheran minister and a failed schoolmaster, he had many contacts in London scientific circles. He received a Royal Society testimonial recommending him as a ‘proper person for going on the expedition’, and managed to get his son, Georg, accepted as his assistant and natural history artist.

Another botanist on board also owed his presence to Banks, but in his case Banks had organised for him to go on the expedition as a passenger. Francis Masson (1741–1805), a Scot, trained at Kew under its head gardener William Aiton, was to disembark at the Cape of Good Hope where he was to base his plant-collecting activities for the next three years. Masson was the first of the many botanical collectors to be sent out from Kew under the aegis of Banks.

After Banks's edifices were removed from the Resolution, the expedition was late in sailing. There were brief stops at Madeira and the island of St Jago, in the Cape Verde islands, to take on wine and fresh vegetables and water. From Madeira Cook, in a private letter, wrote about the person called Burnett, who had planned to join Banks on the Resolution. He had caught a ship back to England after realising Banks was no longer on the expedition. Cook wrote: ‘Every part of Mr Burnetts behaviour and every action tended to prove that he was a Woman’. Banks, it seems, was imitating the French naturalist Philibert Commerson, whose valet on the Bougainville voyage, turned out to be his mistress dressed as a man.

At the Cape of Good Hope, Forster engaged the able botanist Anders Sparrmann (1748–1820), a former pupil of Linnaeus, at £50 a year to join the scientific party. A passionate collector Sparrmann was also an adventurer. After he left Sweden he had sailed to China as a ship's surgeon and then spent nearly a year collecting in the florally rich Cape. Cook noted in his journal:

Mr Forster...met with a Swedish gentleman, one Mr Sparman [sic], who understood something of these Sciences [natural history and botany] having studied under [Linnaeus] and being willing to embarque with us, Mr Forster strongly importuned me to take him on board, thinking that he would be of great assistance to him in the course of the Voyage, I at last consented, and he embarked with us accordingly as an assistant to Mr Forster; who bore his expenses on board, and allowed him a Yearly stipend besides.

Sparrmann remained with the expedition until the Resolution returned to the Cape on 21 March 1775, when he left the ship to resume his scientific work in Africa.

[11.3 Illustration: Sparrmannia sp. Colour]

Cook did not visit mainland Australia on this second voyage. Indeed, the voyage would not form part of the history of Australia, let alone part of the story of the discovery of the flora, if it were not for three points. Firstly, although Cook avoided Australia, Tobias Furneaux, the captain of the accompanying ship, the Adventure, stopped briefly in Tasmania, en route from the Cape to New Zealand. Among the plants collected there was Australia's best known tree, the eucalypt. Secondly, the Forsters and Sparrmann collected the flax plant in Norfolk Island which was the reason, later, for settlement there. Finally, in the books written by Forster after the voyage some Australian plant genera were published for the first time. Among these was the Leptospermum, a genus found in Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

In February 1773 the Resolution and the Adventure inadvertently lost sight of each other in fog and squally weather. Cook went directly to Dusky Bay, New Zealand. Furneaux took the Adventure to Tasmania and named the bay they anchored in after his ship. Although this was the first British landing on the island it was well known from the Dutch voyage the previous century. Furneaux did not know that Marion Dufresne—who had earlier rescued Bonnie Prince Charlie from Scotland in 1746—had claimed the island for France a year earlier. This famous French seaman, after exploring Tasmania, then sailed onto New Zealand—only to be slaughtered by Maoris.

Furneaux's journal is disappointing. He found no safe anchorage at what he called Adventure Bay, no inhabitants, just traces of their existence, such as heaps of shells and ashes from their fires. During five days ashore to collect wood and water, some plant specimens and seeds were gathered. It was high summer. The country would have been dry but with many flowers in bloom or in seed. Alas, the naturalists, the Forsters and Sparrmann, were on Cook's ship, so there are no journal descriptions of the flora collected. It is certain, however, that seeds of Eucalyptus obliqua were gathered by Furneaux. These seeds survived the voyage back to England to be grown at Kew, in the Earl of Coventry's garden and other English gardens.

It is seemly that Eucalyptus obliqua, the first-named of Australia's most significant genus, was also the first of all Australian plants sold to English gardeners around 1774. Some herbarium specimens at the Natural History Museum, London, came from a tree sold by William Malcolm, a nurseryman of Kensington, to the Earl of Coventry in Worcestershire. Another introduction from Furneaux grown at Kew, and in Banks's own garden, was the white flowered Leptospermum lanigerum.

On this second voyage, over three years long, Captain Cook visited New Zealand three times and Tahiti twice. He never returned to Australia. Why did he avoid a place where dotted lines and unsolved riddles beckoned? Was it because he was short of rations and Australia offered few palatable fruits and greens? Was it again the story of the fear of scurvy that stopped so many Dutch captains from ever returning?

The closest Cook and the naturalists got to mainland Australia was Norfolk Island, en route from New Caledonia to New Zealand, in October 1774. The Forsters, father and son, found much to collect—succulent cabbage tree palms, the pine trees that might be masts of ships and the flax plant of which there were high hopes of an economic application.

Johann Forster published Characteres Generum Plantarum in 1776 with descriptions of ninety-four plant species collected on the voyage, including some Australian examples. Both Forsters went on to publish a fuller account the scientific results of the second voyage in 1784, under the title Florulae Insularum Australium with a long and flattering dedication to the most excellent and celebrated Sparrmann. The unscrupulous elder Forster used some of Solander's unpublished descriptions and names—seen when Banks had generously allowed Forster access to his herbarium—in the full knowledge that Banks and Solander intended to publish these themselves in a major work on the botany of Cook's first voyage.

If there was any bad feeling between Cook and Banks over the second voyage, it had dissipated by the time of Cook's return. One of the first sentiments Cook expressed were his regrets that Banks had not been on the voyage. He also sought Banks's approval of the botanical sections of his official account of the voyage.

Almost as soon as Cook had finished writing up his second voyage he was preparing to depart on his third, final and fatal expedition to the Pacific. A few months before his departure, an Act of Parliament was amended so that a reward of £20,000 awaited any man who found a sea passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans across the top of Canada—the fabled North-west Passage. Cook was dispatched to try and find out if such a route existed in the frozen wastes of the Canadian Arctic. This objective, however, was to be kept a secret from other maritime powers so the official reason for the voyage was to return the Tahitian O'mai, brought back by Furneaux on the second voyage, to his homeland. King George III and his government took care to furnish O'mai with every item that could be of use in Tahiti and to convey, by material means, to the inhabitants of the South Seas, an idea of British power and greatness. As well as a menagerie of sheep, goats, geese, ducks, a cow, a horse and a peacock, O'mai had handkerchiefs with the words ‘Great Britain’ printed on them, firearms, port wine and a trousseau any bride would covet. It was O'mai's livestock that caused another collection of plants to be made in Australia. Tasmania was visited en route to Tahiti so that grass and other greenstuff for the animals could be gathered.

Cook had not got on well with the Forsters exclaiming at one point, ‘curse the scientists and all science into the bargain!’ so on his third and last Pacific voyage, no official naturalists were carried on either the Resolution or the Discovery. This time the work of natural history observation and collection was entrusted to the ship's surgeon, William Anderson. A veteran of the second voyage, Anderson had proved himself a skilled naturalist and ethnologist, encouraged by the Forsters and Sparrmann.

Banks wanted to make sure enough collections were made for Kew and not finding anyone suitable there, asked James Lee if he could recommend someone. Ten weeks before the Resolution was due to sail, Lee sent a young gardener, David Nelson, with a letter to Soho Square.

Honoured sir, I have sent you the bearer, David Nelson, as a proper person for the purpose you told me of; he knows the general runn of our collections and plants about London, understands something of botany, but does not pretend to have much knowledge in it. I have inquired personally into his character and find him exactly suited for the purpose of a collector. I have injoined him to secrecy whither you make a bargain with him or not. One thing he desires me to mention, which is he will want a little advance money to rigg him out. I am dear Sir with the greatest regard your obedient, humble servant, James Lee

Nelson was put on the Kew pay-roll where he spent the weeks before departure studying in the gardens there. He was mustered supernumerary crew on board Discovery, sister ship to Cook's Resolution, under Captain Clerke. The sailing master on the Resolution was twenty-nine-year-old William Bligh.

Nelson, like Sydney Parkinson, another botanical voyager introduced to Banks by James Lee, was eventually destined to be infected with tropical fever in Batavia and die. However, that was thirteen years away.

Nelson was apparently a likeable, retiring young man. When the two ships of what was to be Cook's last Pacific voyage arrived in Cape Town in November 1776, Francis Masson—who had been there since being dropped off by Cook on his second voyage four years earlier—took Nelson and Anderson upcountry on a plant collecting expedition. Clerke wrote to Banks that Nelson ‘is one of the quietest fellows in Nature; he seems very attentive and I hope will answer your purpose very well’.

En route from the Cape of Good Hope to New Zealand, Cook finally visited Tasmania landing there with the Resolution still ‘so stocked with animals that she resembled Noak's Ark’, on 26 January 1777. Cook's journal reflects little curiosity about the place, just a need to collect water and fodder livestock.

After one day getting ‘a little Wood and some grass for our Cattle, both of which we were in great want of’, everyone, including Nelson, repaired on board so that ‘we might be ready to sail whenever the wind served’. Insufficient breezes forced Cook to wait for three days.

[11.5 Illustration: Oxylobium sp. Colour Banks Florilegium]

Nelson spent his time ashore busily collecting. Among the plants he found were Oxylobum ellipticum, a shrub with leaves in clusters along the stem and bright yellow pea-flowers in dense racemes, as well as specimens of eucalyptus and wattle—Acacia. One of these, Acacia verticillata—Nelson's mimosa—became a conservatory and greenhouse favourite, with its dark prickly foliage and fluffy balls of lemon flowers. Twenty three lots of seeds were received by Banks and Solander from the voyage, but unfortunately, most of these were unidentified.

Nelson is also credited with collecting the type specimen for Eucalyptus obliqua. L'Héritier, a French botanist briefly working in London, used Nelson's specimen and probably a living tree grown from seed, gathered four years earlier at Adventure Bay by Tobias Furneaux, to make his description which established the genus Eucalyptus. With its abundant clumps of small creamy white flowers and leaves that are glossy dark green on both sides Eucalyptus obliqua is a magnificent and impressive representative of the genus.

The French botanist Charles-Louis L'Héritier de Brutelle, who named the genus, enjoyed the hospitality of Banks during his fifteen-month sojourn in England between 1786 and 1787. He made a point of classifying plants from actual living trees which he found growing in England, but also consulted dried specimens, particularly in Banks's herbarium. The classification was published in Sertum Anglicum (1788). The illustrations were by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Known as the ‘Raphael of flowers’ Redouté is now considered to be one of the greatest botanical illustrators who has ever lived. He drew the Eucalyptus specimen brought back by David Nelson at Banks's home in Soho Square. Even as Sertum Anglicum was being prepared for publication and to introduce the Eucalyptus to the world, the First Fleet bearing Australia's first white colonists arrived in Botany Bay.

It had taken almost twelve years from the time it was first collected for Australia's most characteristic tree to be named and described.

[11.6 Illustration: Eucalyptus obliqua B+W]

Cook had more pressing things on his mind while Nelson was out collecting eucalypt leaves in Tasmania. Although wood and water were plentiful he was concerned that the ‘grass, which we most wanted, was scarce and not good; necessity however obliged us to take such as we could get’. At this time Cook was only ten days' sailing time away from Botany Bay, but the possibility of another visit never entered his head. As he had already sailed thousands of miles on that Pacific voyage, what would another 500 miles have meant? Though in a position to determine once and for all the question of Tasmania's insularity, Cook didn't grasp the opportunity. Nor did he consider taking some animals to Australia.

Cook was always keen to leave animals where they would multiply and be useful either to visiting British ships or future settlers. At Tonga he left a young English bull and cow, a Cape ram and two ewes, a horse and a mare. In New Zealand, for years, Maoris called wild pig kuki in honour of the man who donated their progenitors. Why did he not take the opportunity to leave animals in Australia? Why did he shun Australia on his second and third voyages? He was certainly dubious about the value of leaving animals in Tasmania. He had thought to leave sheep, goats and cows there, but in his own words, ‘soon altered my intention, from a pursuasion that the natives, incapable of entering into my views of improving their country, would destroy them’. If his view of Tasmanian people extended to mainland Aboriginal people too, he would see no point in making the diversion to Australia. Perhaps he also avoided it, like the Dutch navigators who went before him, simply because the country did not appeal to European eyes—and stomachs—preferring the more fertile and luxuriant small islands in the Pacific.

Cook would never get another chance to return to Australia. A final visit to Hawaii in the latter part of the voyage was to end in his murder by the native people of the island. However, his name would be evermore associated with Australia, for discovering and charting the east coast; the coast that would eventually be colonised.

12. Chapter 12 A Forgotten Florilegium

Dr Johnson remarked to Boswell when pointing to large volumes of John Hawkesworth's account of the Endeavour and other voyages, ‘These Voyages...who will read them through?...There can be little entertainment in such books; one set of Savages is like another’.

In the seventy years since the publication of Dampier's A Voyage to New Holland there had been an overabundance of books on the South Seas. However, Hawkesworth's account of Cook's voyage, was sold out in three days at four-and-a-half guineas. It was, indeed a success: purchasers offered ten guineas to get a copy and second and third editions followed quickly.

This amalgam of the journals of Banks and Cook, with a good deal of embellishment by Hawkesworth, was all anyone would ever officially see in print about Banks's efforts in Australia during his lifetime. His own journal remained just a handwritten manuscript. It was not until the mid-twentieth century, that it was pulled out of the archives and published. Most of the plant names and descriptions bestowed by Banks and Solander, though, are still just archival material.

From the moment Banks returned to England from the Endeavour voyage there was a triumphant air to his activities, a confidence which came with fame. Most of the publicity was about the haul of unusual plants from Botany Bay or about Tahiti, where romance was the main preoccupation. The emphasis was on the exploits of Mr Banks and Dr Solander. These ‘ingenious gentlemen’, who had sailed round the world had touched at ‘near forty other undiscovered Islands, not known to other Europeans’. They had gathered ‘above a thousand different Species of Plants, none of which were ever known in Europe before’, enthused the popular press.

In August 1771, newspapers announced that Mr Banks had been introduced to King George III at St James's and ‘received very graciously’. Soon afterwards, accompanied by Solander, Banks again met the King, this time at Richmond. ‘Mr Banks's and Dr Solander's curiosities’, ran another article, had been seen by most of the nobility, and ‘the most extraordinary Phenomena’ were soon to be inspected at the Queen's Palace. The newspapers became positively reverential about Mr Banks and Dr Solander—or sometimes Dr Solander and Mr Banks. It was Mr Banks's, not Cook's, voyage. The nobility were calling at Mr Banks's house to see his curiosities and there was excitement over Tahitian seeds germinating in Mr Lee's nursery in Hammersmith.

Banks and Solander reaped both social glory and scientific acclaim; they received honorary doctorates from Oxford and invitations to the greatest houses in the land. The leaves of the dried plants, the seeds, the blooms from Australia, however, that had provided them with their fame, all waited to be published, to be known. Banks had grand plans for their publication and once he returned from Iceland turned his attention to the major task of getting Parkinson's exquisite drawings, comprising twenty-one volumes, containing 280 finished drawings and 679 pencil sketches, of which 330 were sketches of the Australian plants engraved. Solander was to prepare the botanical descriptions to accompany the plates.

Banks also had his huge collections to organise. Although the Endeavour voyage had been an official Royal Naval expedition, Banks was the sponsor of the natural history side and the specimens were effectively his. At that time, neither Kew, nor the infant British Museum, were the great repositories of such material that they are today, and there was no precedent for the collections to go anywhere other than into Banks's private collection. They were to stay in Banks's houses, first in New Burlington Street, and then in Soho Square, for nearly ninety years. On his death Banks left them to the British Museum via his librarian Robert Brown. Today, they form one of the core collections of the Natural History Museum's Department of Botany.

[12.1 Illustration: Grevillea pteridifolia specimen B+W The Grevillea Book p.13]

Botanical specimens from many voyages were to follow the same route from ship to Banks's personal herbarium, even when a collector had been paid by the Admiralty—as in the cases of Archibald Menzies and Robert Brown. This has been to the advantage of posterity, as they were expertly curated under Banks's care and made available to all comers. They also entered the public domain as an entire collection. If they had gone to the Admiralty, they may well have been lost, neglected or dispersed.

Once Banks returned from his voyaging he became effectively a patron of science. His money paid for innumerable scientific projects, publications and salaries. But the results of the endeavours he paid for often became his property and as a consequence he has been accused of appropriating the skilled work and glory of the achievements of the men he hired. This sometimes caused frustration to the people he employed. One of the artists he took to Iceland, John Frederick Miller, entered a bitter dispute with Banks over an exhibition Miller had held of his work without Banks's permission. In May 1776, Miller wrote: ‘You, Sir, was also pleased to say...that if I did dare publish, draw, or sell any of them, you would prosecute me to the utmost of the law'. Miller went on to explain that he had exhibited in the Royal Academy 'because I did see you withheld the name of those who made the drawings for you’.

When Banks had Parkinson's work engraved, the copper plates were made up for printing without his name—they would always be distinguished by the name of their owner, Joseph Banks, not the artist. Banks also entered into an unpleasant dispute with Parkinson's brother, Stanfield, when the latter published Sydney's journal both before the official version came out, using some of Parkinson's drawings without Banks's permission.

This all resulted in unpleasant publicity for Banks. His fame did not come without a price. One consequence of being in the public gaze, even in the eighteenth century, was to become the subject of public ridicule. On the return of the Endeavour rumours and salacious satires surrounded Banks particularly his dallying with the tattooed ladies of ‘Otaheite’ [Tahiti]. He became the central figure in an outpouring of outrageous lampoons and cartoons where he was variously portrayed as a fop, a social climber and a dallying and unfaithful lover. Banks also discarded Harriet Blosset who had regarded herself as his fiancée before his departure. In the end, Banks quietly paid her off.

[12.2 Illustration: Cartoons of Banks and Solander B+W]

While cartoonists drew caricatures of the youthful savant, the scientific community of Europe waited, fascinated to know what would happen to the Endeavour plants. An excited Linnaeus referred to it as a ‘matchless and truly astonishing collection such as has never been seen before, nor may ever be seen again’. Linnaeus was proud that Solander, his favourite pupil, had followed in the steps of his other ‘apostles’ by travelling the earth to bring back new plants. It must have been a bitter disappointment to Linnaeus, the recognised authority, that unlike his other protégés and other botanists of note, Solander did not send him any new plants for classification. Although Solander was well-known as an appalling correspondent, it cannot be disregarded that Solander was in the employ of Banks, and Banks was planning to publish, in fourteen volumes, a sumptuous and erudite illustrated flora of the areas visited on the Endeavour. There were many letters from Linnaeus to both Banks and to Solander, pleading for specimens, but none initially, were sent, although eventually duplicates were dispatched, some of which, the younger Linnaeus described and named, most notably the genus Banksia.

Instead Linnaeus, and the rest of the scientific world, waited for Banks and Solander's magnum opus. Banks's enthusiasm for the project cannot be doubted. His dream, to produce the ultimate botanical publication of his discoveries, with illustrations of the highest quality, meant that he went to extraordinary lengths and expense to find the best engravers. He himself concentrated on supervision of the string of artists that finished Parkinson's drawings and the engravers, who turned them into copper plates for printing, while Solander worked on the manuscript descriptions.

As time went on Banks obviously began to realise that the task was far greater than he had anticipated. Several years into the project he wrote to the younger Linnaeus, ‘I have not yet advanced above half my intended progress’. His engravers, Gerhard Sibelius, Daniel MacKenzie, Gabriel Smith and others worked incessantly, eventually producing 742 finished, detailed copper plates at a great financial cost to Banks. Estimates vary, but it seems Banks paid in the region of £10,000 for their preparation, the same as it cost him to go on the voyage in the first place. He had originally wanted to produce 2,000 plates, but eventually realised that this would be impossible, both practically and financially.

The project was progressed slowly, and, as time went on Banks became increasingly involved in other matters. But he still anticipated its completion when, in 1782, he received a dreadful blow. Solander, his great friend, companion and collaborator died, suddenly, of a cerebral haemorrhage. Banks was devastated and wrote to Johan Alstroëmer, a Swedish correspondent:

The botanical work with which I am presently involved is nearing its completion. Because everything was produced by our common effort, Solander's name will appear on the title page next to mine...Since all the descriptions were made when the plants were fresh, nothing remains to be done, except to fully work out the drawings still not finished and to record the synonyms from books which we did not have with us or which have come out since. All that is left is so little that it can be completed in two months; if only the engravers can put the finishing touches on it.

But Banks was either mistaken or over-optimistic; in fact Solander had died before completing the Australian descriptions and classifications. There was far more to still be done than add some finishing touches to the elaborate plates.

Ten years later, the work still had not appeared. Banks wrote to Martijn von Marum that the work had been ‘retarded’ by his increasing involvement in public affairs. By now it was becoming obvious that it never would be published, at least not in Banks's lifetime. If it had, it would have been the most impressive—and expensive—botanical publication of the eighteenth century. In the end, all that appeared were some sets of magnificent proof prints in black and white, sent to selected botanical luminaries in Europe.

Speculation about the non-publication of these volumes has been going on for nearly two centuries. Among the possible reasons put forward are that Banks lost interest, that he was not a professional scientist and could not prepare the work left by Solander, and that the final cost of the books would have been too much, even for the wealthy Banks. He became too famous in the end to bother.

It is more likely to be a combination of some of these factors. Certainly, as Banks became more eminent, as President of the Royal Society, unofficial director of Kew and de facto scientific adviser to the Government, he became increasingly involved in other, more pressing matters. The preparation of the Flora, in the back rooms of his house in Soho Square, necessarily slipped down his list of priorities. The death of Solander was certainly a blow, given that the Australian collections still had to be systematically arranged and prepared for publication. Financial constraints were very real, and to actually have published would have cost Banks thousands more, on top of the thousands he had already spent, and at a time when his income was significantly reduced.

In the twenty years following Banks and Solander's return with their botanical haul many others had visited Australia, and the colony at Port Jackson had been established. A stream of Australian botanical material was finding its way back to Europe and was being described and named. Even within his own collection, Banks happily allowed other workers access, and his herbarium became a popular drawcard for international botanists who were invited to examine any specimens at their leisure. As time went on, many of the plants in Banks's herbarium were gradually renamed by others. Thus Banks and Solander's Metrosideros became Eucalyptus and, courtesy of the younger Linnaeus, the Leucadendron from Botany Bay commemorated its discover by becoming Banksia. With others superseding him in describing plants from his own collection, or specimens of their own that duplicated his, the urgency to publish lessened. As time went on, the need for publication of the entire collection was called into question.

There is another reason, that has never really been explored, which may also have contributed to Banks's final reluctance to publish. When they were describing plants during the course of voyage, Banks and Solander relied heavily on Linnaeus's published classifications of plants from the region he called ‘Indica’, that is India, China and Malaya. Consequently they were to put many of the new plants into Linnaeus's existing groups, when, in fact, they required completely new genera and, in some instances, even new families.

In the 1753 edition of Species Plantarum, Linnaeus gave his estimate of the total number of plants in the world as ‘hardly 10,000’ (it is now thought there are over 400,000). This implication, that there were few new genera awaiting discovery, perhaps accounts for why Solander and Banks put many of their Australian plants into these already existing genera. When Solander could not fit a plant into any genus then known, it became a matter of urgency to create a new one, and he made a provisional designation with a token word, obviously intending to rename it properly when he had more time. He created these new genus names by adding the suffix -oides (Greek for likeness) to the name of a known genus which the plant resembled.

In the case of the Australian collection, the redesignation of these -oides genera was never done, either by Solander or Banks. Out of the 486 Australian plants listed in the catalogue of natural history drawings commissioned by Banks, 181 end with -oides. To have published these without doing the additional work Solander had intended, would have earned a shower of criticism instead of the adulation Banks so enjoyed. Banks was too busy to attempt the work himself and, apart from occasional visitors to his herbarium, it wasn't until he employed Robert Brown that someone began to study the descriptions again. By this time it was simply too late for the whole work to go to press, even if it had been completed.

Not all of Solander's unpublished classifications would be superseded. The plants he put into Linnaean genera such as Tribulus, Cynometra, Drosera still stand. Examples include the little evergreen Tribulus cistoides with yellow flowers like a buttercup which was used by Aboriginal people to cure toothache, collected on Palm Island by Banks and Solander, and called Tribulus australis. The evergreen tree with yellow flowers collected by Solander at Endeavour River fitted into the genera Cynometra; the carnivorous sundew, from the same region, Solander immediately placed with its relations in the rest of the world as Drosera indica; and the unattractive Endeavour River bladderwort correctly classed with its cousins in Europe in the genus Utricularia; Solander also recognised the little shrub with whitish flowers found in the Bay of Inlets in Queensland as the same Vitex ericifolia as described by Linnaeus. At the same time, some of other plants which also belonged to genera defined by Linnaeus, Solander and Banks, failed to recognise. These include Diplocyclos, Centrella, Ammania, Bruguiera, Crotalaria and Hybanthus.

Solander's nomenclature may sometimes have been faulty and incomplete, and the Australian descriptions had not been systematically arranged by the time of his death, but these descriptions were still of the highest order. Finally, in the early years of the twentieth century, the British Museum (Natural History) published a black and white edition of the Australian plant engravings along with Solander's original descriptions. It is sad that the work of one of the eighteenth century's finest botanists had to wait 130 years to be published.

As Professor W. T. Stearn commented:

...if Banks's ambition for the grandeur of the work had been less and Solander had had more ambition to see his manuscripts printed, then Cook's first voyage of discovery would have shone as botanically the most successful then made.

The tragedy was not just a personal one. The fact that Banks failed to publish the results of his findings in Australia held back Australian botany for years. The First Fleet sailed to Botany Bay with no published account of the plant life they could expect to find there, apart from information gleaned from Hawkesworth's florid account. The opportunity to describe and name the first large collection of Australian plants was missed and there wouldn't be a systematic Flora attempted until the next century; and then it would be by a Frenchman.

The story of Banks's Florilegium does eventually have a happy ending. During the 1960s a limited edition of a selection of thirty black and white images was proposed and finally published in 1974, amid great publicity, as Captain Cook's Florilegium. But this still fell far short of Banks's original vision and in the 1980s an even more ambitious undertaking was successfully completed by Editions Alecto, in co-operation with the Natural History Museum. Using the à la poupée technique, where colour is applied to the engraved copper plates by hand, Alecto printed all the 738 surviving plates, in full colour, as Banks' Florilegium, grouping the plants under their modern classifications. The reproductions are stunning, and a fitting tribute, 200 years on, to all the people, from Sydney Parkinson onwards, who worked on the project but never saw the fruits of their labour in print.

Banks and Solander did not just bring dried herbarium specimens back to England, they also collected seeds. But as they were obviously restricted in their collecting by what was in seed at the time, this collection was nowhere near as large as the dried plant specimens. It is not clear how many seeds arrived back in Europe or how many they tried to germinate and grow. However, we do know that some were given by Banks to the German botanist, Joseph Gaertner when he visited England in 1787. Several are figured in his epic monograph De Fructibus et Seminibus Plantarum classified as Melaleuca and Metrosideros. They include Eucalyptus crebra which Gaertner named as Metrosideros salicifolia before L'Héritier's designation of Eucalyptus, being worked on at the same time, was publicised.

[12.6 Illustration: De Fructibus B+W]

Banks's seed collection included two Casuarinas, a blue flax lily and the splendid Eucalyptus gummifera, one of the eucalypts with such a resinous output that they were given the vernacular name ‘gum-trees’.

The obvious place to attempt growing Australian seeds was the King's garden's at Kew and Banks became increasingly involved in the management of these gardens on his return from the Endeavour. At the request of the King, he became the Gardens' unofficial director and supervised its development into a premier scientific institution. William Aiton, Kew's head gardener, published a catalogue, Hortus Kewensis, of all the plants grown at Kew in 1789. Out of the 5,600 plants listed, only eight are Australian, and only two, Casuarina torulosa and Ponteria sericea came from the Endeavour voyage. Whether there were more that simply didn't germinate, or whether that was the sum total of the seeds given to Kew, is unrecorded.

Banks would be indirectly responsible for a much greater number of introductions of foreign, including Australian, plants into Kew in the years after his return as he sent out plant collectors on voyages whenever possible. He built up Kew's reputation for the cultivation of introduced plants and guarded it jealously; a trait not always appreciated by his horticultural contemporaries. The Reverend William Herbert, son of the first Earl of Caernarvon, and later Dean of Manchester launched a fierce attack on Banks in his book Amaryllidaceae commenting on the multitude of rare plants which flourished at Kew ‘and perished there unobserved’. He went on:

The illiberal system established at Kew Gardens by Sir Joseph Banks, whereby the rare plants collected there were hoarded with the most niggard jealousy, and kept as much as possible out of the sight of any inquirer, led, in the first instance, to a feeling of satisfaction whenever it was known that the garden had been plundered, and some of its hidden treasures brought into circulation...It was the narrow-minded doctrine of Sir J. Banks that he could only render the King's collection superior to others by monopolising its contents and by doing so he rendered it hateful and contemptible: whereas, if he had freely given and freely received, and made its contents easily accessible to those who were interested in them, it would have been a pleasure and a pride to the nation.

It is difficult to sum up Banks's contribution to the study and understanding of Australian flora. If he had completed what he had set out to do, it would certainly have been immeasurable. However, his failure to publish had a detrimental effect not only on the academic study of Australia's plant life, but also on the development of the tiny convict colony at Port Jackson.

The First Fleet arrived in Australia in 1788 magnificently equipped, but without a trained botanist or a gardener, let alone a farmer or reliable information on the soils and flora of this new and alien land that they had to farm. There was no published account of the plant life they could expect to find there, apart from information gleaned from Hawkesworth's florid account. The opportunity to describe and name the first large collection of Australian plants had been missed and there would not be a systematic Flora attempted until the next century - and then it would be by a Frenchman.

And yet, Banks made collections of Australian flora that would remain unsurpassed for decades. These collections were made freely available and the drawings and engravings remain a unique legacy. But he maintained an active interest in Australia's flora, later sending out collectors such as George Caley to send plants back to England. These collections, built up over fifty years, would slip into obscurity on the death of Brown—incredibly George Bentham did not consult them fully when preparing his massive Flora Australiensis. Today, they have regained their important status, and form an invaluable part of the collections at the Natural History Museum in London, where they continue to be consulted by experts from all over the world.

13. Chapter 13 Sir Joseph and the Settlement of Australia

After the departure of the Endeavour in May 1770, the flora of Botany Bay remained undisturbed for eighteen years. From the moment it had been christened, Botany Bay was both a contradiction to its name and a place of little appeal. Cook chose never to return. No British ship came for almost two decades after his brief visit on the Endeavour.

Meanwhile, in 1778, seven years after his return from the Pacific, Banks, the enthusiastic amateur, was unanimously elected President of the Royal Society. Some Fellows grumbled that a scholar of mathematics or the physical sciences, should be President of Britain's most learned society, not a man whose prestige and authority came from wealth, friendship with the King, and contacts with other scientists. Banks was lampooned for his lack of publications, his overbearing nature and his chairmanship of meetings—he would sometimes keep fellows awake with loud strokes of his official hammer. His rural upbringing was also the subject of ridicule—he swore, and was described as all in all, ‘too common, too ignorant and too vain for the chair of Newton.’ But Banks's election gave him a position of authority and influence; that authority would be called upon when the Government was seeking advice about the siting of a new penal colony.

[13.1 Illustration: Portrait of Banks B+W]

In 1779, the year after his election as President; the year Cook was killed in Hawai'i; the year Banks was married to a rich heiress; Banks suggested Botany Bay's suitability as such a site to the House of Commons' Bunbury Committee on Transportation. As the sole eminent survivor of the Endeavour voyage Banks's descriptions of Australia were vital and became the perceptions—and hopes—of all concerned. Apart from Hawkesworth's unsatisfactory published account of the Endeavour circumnavigation there was no other source the authorities could turn to in order to find out about New South Wales. There was not even a sketch, a drawing, of Botany Bay. The only depiction of the continent was Parkinson's drawing of the Endeavour careened in a river over a thousand miles to the north of Botany Bay. It was on Banks's account, therefore, that the Government was forced to rely. He reported:

...that the place which appeared to him best adapted for such a Purpose, was Botany Bay...that he apprehended there would be little Probability of any opposition from the Natives, as during his stay there...he saw very few, and did not think there were above Fifty in all the Neighbourhood, and had Reason to believe the Country was very thinly peopled; those he saw were naked, treacherous...but extremely cowardly.

From Banks's accounts, both at this time and later, the authorities inferred that Australia was terra nullius, belonging to no person, no community. This was the basis on which all the land of Australia could be designated Crown land, the basis for the commencement of a ‘settler’ system of tenure. Banks's statement effectively dismissed the Aboriginal people as being without rights, without civilisation; it also dismissed their utilisation of the land. But Banks was a man of his time, it is debatable whether many in his position would have interpreted what he saw any differently.

Despite Banks's favourable report, it took seven years and much discussion before the Government decided to colonise Botany Bay. For three years the project hung in abeyance. Then, in 1783, James Mario Matra, a Corsican borne American, who had been a midshipman on the Endeavour, addressed the British Government with a thirty-eight-page pamphlet entitled, A Proposal for Establishing a Settlement in New South Wales. The pamphlet followed close on the heels of his correspondence on the subject with Banks. Matra's scheme had nothing to do with convicts, his aim was to, ‘atone for the loss of our American colonies’. Male American loyalists, like himself, dispossessed of their land in America, would be settlers, along with two companies of marines, with ‘artificers, potters and gardeners’ and ‘women from Tahiti or New Caledonia, as pioneers' wives’. The colony would be a centre for trade with eastern Asia and, in war, a base for ships attacking Dutch colonies. Matra was the only other person with first-hand knowledge of Australia to report on the matter, but even he deferred to Banks, adding weight to his account by indicating that Banks favoured his proposal. It seems likely that Matra would never have put forward his plan without Banks's assistance support.

The idea of a new colony for American loyalists never caught the authorities' imagination, even after a change of government in 1784, but there were more pressing consequences of the loss of America. The War of Independence had ended America's use as a depot for English criminals, the numbers of which were swelling every week. Prisons overflowed into decommissioned boats anchored on the Thames, supposed only to be staging posts for convicts awaiting transportation. But with the cessation of transportation to America, these overcrowded hulks had become stop-gap prisons. As these vermin infested, stinking labyrinths deteriorated, they became a sore on the social conscience of Britain. An alternative had to be found.

In April 1785 two Orders-in-Council provided for transportation of convicts to Africa. So great though, was the outraged opposition to this suggestion that another Commons Committee was set up to investigate other options. Lord Beauchamp examined how to effect the Transportation Act of 1784—which had replaced the Penitentiary Act of 1779—and which revived the old system of transportation, without specifying a site.

It was as if Banks remembered the whiff of gunpowder from the flag-raising ceremony at Possession Island when he again gave evidence, and again advocated Botany Bay. ‘The Eastern coast of New South Wales between the latitudes of 30-40 is sufficiently fertile to support a considerable number of Europeans who would cultivate it in the ordinary modes used in England,’ he said, stressing that there were very few inhabitants. Asked if they were peaceful or hostile, he replied, ‘though they seemed inclined to Hostilities they did not appear at all to be feared. We never saw more than 30 or 40 together’. The gigantic mounds of midden shells, the empty huts, the fires noted in his journal all along the coast during the two thousand mile journey north, were forgotten. When asked whether the natives were armed, and in what manner, Banks said dismissively that, ‘they were armed with spears headed with fish bones but none of them we saw in Botany Bay appeared at all formidable’.

[13.2 Illustration: Aborigines Parkinson B+W]

The question on which legality of any future occupation hinged was asked. ‘Do you apprehend, in Case it was resolved to send Convicts there, any District of the Country might be obtained by Cession or purchase?’ Banks replied that ‘there was no probability while we were there of obtaining anything either by Cession or purchase as there was nothing we could offer that they would take except provisions and those we wanted ourselves.’ He also commented that ‘from the experience I have had of the Natives of another part of the coast [Endeavour River] I am inclined to believe that they would speedily abandon the country to the newcomers’. The die was cast. The Committee accepted the wisdom of the very grand President of the Royal Society, now Sir Joseph, having had a baronetcy conferred upon him in 1781. New South Wales was effectively terra nullius, and would wait for the whites.

Banks also assumed that the interior of the continent was uninhabited, although he had no direct evidence for this. In his journal he had noted that:

...the wild produce of the Land alone seems scarce able to support them at all seasons, at least I do not remember to have read of any inland nation who did not cultivate the ground more or less, even the North Americans who were so well versd in hunting sowd their Maize. But should a people live inland who supported themselves by cultivation these inhabitants of the sea coast must certainly have learn'd to imitate them in some degree at least, otherwise their reason must be suppos'd to hold a rank little superior to that of monkies.

Despite the stepping stones thrown towards it—a place portrayed as empty and fertile—the Commons Committee's report was not immediately acted upon. Meanwhile, the Committee opposed the Government's River Gambia site in Africa, denounced the hulks as a public nuisance and praised the advantages of transportation, which it said was cheap, dispersed criminals, routed gangs and reformed wrongdoers through advantageous work. Further consideration was given to Botany Bay, but it was again put aside on the grounds of distance and unsuitability for trade. Other sites pondered over included India, Madagascar, Tristan da Cunha and Algiers.

Early in 1786 there was another strong petition against the hulks. In June the Government was considering the West Indies, Canada and Africa. Das Voltas Bay, at the mouth of the Orange River, on the west coast of Africa was the favoured site—until a ship sent to reconnoitre gave a damning report. The African scheme was rejected on August 18 1786 and the next day the Cabinet finally approved an outline plan to colonise the east coast of New South Wales—convicts were to be sent, after all, to Sir Joseph's Botany Bay. The decision may have been helped by Lord Hawkesbury, at the same time, licensing the firm of whalers, Enderby & Sons, to expand British whaling in the southern hemisphere by whittling down the monopoly of the East India Company. Whalers and the sealers were soon to join the convicts on the route to Botany Bay.

Within months of the decision, Captain Arthur Phillip was commissioned as the founding Governor, the Hernando Cortes, the Francisco Pizarro, of New South Wales. He was to lead the First Fleet, composed solely of sailors, officials and convicts, to this unknown land. His territory was defined as extending from Cape York in the north to South Cape in the south, and westwards as far as the 135th degree of longitude. It included all the islands in the Pacific from latitude 10° 37' S to 43° 39' S, New South Wales was to be a gaol of some 1.5 million square miles.

The philosopher, Denis Diderot (1713–1784), like Jonathan Swift, wrote disdainfully about the arrogance of taking possession of countries by unilateral declaration. Could one discoverer lay claim to a land already occupied, however primitive the inhabitants? Was possession of an unoccupied country always to be recognised? How could Cook take possession of part of a continent already claimed, named and mapped by the Dutch? Or did their claim not cover any part which they had not sighted, forgetting that, when he claimed possession, Cook was on the western side of Cape York, one of the first places reached by the Dutch? Anyway, if the ‘sighting’ principle was applied then what right had the British, later on, to claim the rest of the continent? As it turned out no other European power bothered to dispute the British claim to New South Wales. No-one else then really wanted the place.

Was this general uninterest, and the implication of terra nullius, also the reason why much of the flora of Australia was also overlooked and supplanted? Certainly there was no suggestion that the white colonists should survive on the natural productions of the new land and there was no time, no resources and no inclination to find out more about it. Banks had likened the climate of Botany Bay to that of Toulouse in the south of France, and deduced it should therefore support a similar range of food crops. Thus, the First Fleet, under Banks's supervision, was stocked with a wide range of plants and seeds cultivated in Europe to be grown for food. Space on board was made for sacks of seeds, for cereal crops and for cows to provide butter and beef. Despite the fact that, ‘the Proportion of rich soile was small in proportion to the barren’, it would, judged Banks, ‘support a very large Number of People’. He anticipated that the colony would be self-sufficient within two years. Although the people of the First Fleet were going to the southern hemisphere, their diet of beef, beer, bread and butter would be the same as in Britain. It was their grain culture which would supplant the indigenous flora.

It seemed Botany Bay would be an extension of Europe in every way. Even the Seal of the colony—designed in England before departure—depicted Industry sitting on a bale of goods with distaff, beehive, pick-axe and spade, with oxen ploughing, habitations rising, and a church and a fort standing in the background. Although Banks had risen to fame because of his botanical collection from Botany Bay—which was still unpublished—there was no indigenous plant, bird or mammal, and certainly no native Australian person, on the Seal. The Seal had nothing to do with Australia itself, but it was a prediction of what it would become.

As well as the Seal for the new country, provisions, equipment and convicts, the ships carried men with false assumptions authorised by Banks. They sailed to that huge continent believing that there were only a few tribes on the coast, who would run without a fight, surrender or die out. The land was there, waiting to grow cereal crops, waiting to be fenced, waiting to be divided and parcelled out by the Governor as a prize to good convicts, waiting to be sold. The Home Secretary was anxious that criminals transported to Botany Bay should never return to Britain after completing their sentences. They were therefore to be given land. Here they could be landowners. It was on Banks's evidence alone that according to British law, millions of acres, millions of square miles, were now designated Crown land. Title deeds and surveying instruments were on the ships. The Aboriginal people were now British subjects, their resistance would be dealt with not as a warriors defending their country, but as criminals who had transgressed the authority of the Crown. Looking back on the settlement of New South Wales Jeremy Bentham wrote, ‘the savages of New South Wales, whose way of living is so well known to us [had] no habit of obedience, and thence no government, and thence no laws—no laws, and thence no such things as rights, no security, no property’. What chance did they have?

The First Fleet set sail for the other side of the world in May 1787 under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. By the time the Government had made a decision for the site of the new colony it was too late to send an advance reconnaissance ship; the pressure to do something about the prison hulks was too great. The men and women of the First Fleet knew virtually nothing about the land they were going to. Their perceptions of Botany Bay were gleaned from Joseph Banks's recollection of his six-day stay there seventeen years previously, and from the sole book available, Hawkesworth's glorified and inaccurate amalgam of the journals of Cook and Banks, published in 1773. James Mario Matra, perhaps the only man available who had actually been to Botany Bay, and had shown a desire to be involved in its colonisation, was not chosen to go with the First Fleet. Not one person who had ever been to Australia travelled with those first ships to the promised land. No-one really knew where they were going. They went equipped with all manner of alien seeds and plants. Additional plants from the Cape of Good Hope and Rio de Janeiro supplemented their supplies with such exotics as citrus fruits, coffee and maize. With eighteenth-century European values and skills as well as foodstuffs—their arrival was to change Australia for ever.

14. Chapter 14 Mutiny

While Banks was becoming increasingly involved in the organisation of the First Fleet, another scheme began to form in his mind. When in Tahiti he had been fascinated by the beautiful breadfruit trees that grew there in abundance. These trees produced several crops a year of large starchy fruits that provided sustenance for the natives of islands all across the Pacific.

[14.1 Illustration: Parkinson engraving of breadfruit B+W]

The breadfruit tree, Artocarpus altilis, is related to figs and mulberries in the family Moraceae. When it first came to Banks's attention, its many varieties were widespread in hot moist areas in the eastern tropics, and had been grown in the Malay archipelago since remote antiquity. A highly valued and important element of the diet of all Pacific Islanders, breadfruit became a curiosity in Europe after William Dampier wrote about it in A New Voyage Round the World. Dampier seems to have coined the sometimes misinterpreted name ‘breadfruit’. By it he meant that the fruit provided the staple for the islanders (of Guam—where he encountered it) and, when cooked, tasted somewhat like bread, not, as some people first thought, that the tree produced unbaked loaves! Breadfruit can be eaten raw, but the islanders usually baked or steamed it. To provide for times of want, they also perfected a method of preserving the fruit by pulping and fermenting the flesh in large pits where it could be stored for several months.

Banks observed the many advantages of breadfruit over other tropical crops. It cropped copiously virtually throughout the year, the trees were sturdy and able to withstand high winds, they also grew quickly and needed little or no attention. He wrote of its cultivation and use in Tahiti:

In the article of food these happy people may almost be said to be exempt from the curse of our forefather; scarcely can it be said that they earn their bread with the sweat of their brow when their cheifest sustenance Bread fruit is procurd with no more trouble than that of climbing a tree and pulling it down. Not that the trees grow here spontaneously but if a man should in the course of his life time plant 10 such trees, which if well done might take the labour of an hour or thereabouts, he would as compleatly fulfill his duty to his own as well as future generations.

Cook also commented on the fruit, saying that its flavour was ‘insipid with a slight sweetness resembling that of the crumb of wheaten bread’. After his and Banks's return interest grew in the prospect of transporting breadfruit trees across the oceans to the West Indies, where they could provide food for the growing slave population. Slaves were then reliant on plantains and bananas which were susceptible to storm damage and which required the slaves to be given time off work to tend them.

In 1772 Valentine Morris, Governor of St Vincent, an old school friend from Eton, wrote to Banks requesting information about the possibility of breadfruit's introduction into the Caribbean. The idea surfaced and resurfaced over the following fifteen years but no practical measures to facilitate the scheme were taken. However, news that the French were also planning to translocate breadfruit in the mid 1780s, coupled with food supply problems in the Caribbean, finally stimulated a revival of the idea in 1786. Local hurricanes had devastated plantain and banana crops and shipping of food had been severely disrupted due to the American War of Independence.

It was these circumstances that inspired in Banks a colossal scheme. Why shouldn't one or two of the ships of the First Fleet, being at that moment purchased and fitted out for their momentous journey, sail to Tahiti to collect breadfruit saplings after dropping off convicts at Botany Bay? The ships could then take their leafy cargo on to the Caribbean. A gardener would be employed to supervise the operation and to care for the plants on their long journey. In a few short years breadfruit would hang off the fast-growing, hurricane-resistant trees' branches—cheap food for Negro slaves.

Initially the plan for taking convicts to New South Wales and collecting the breadfruit in Tahiti were part of the same expedition. Two of the ships of the First Fleet, having dropped their convict cargo, were to continue on from Botany Bay north to Tahiti to gather breadfruit tree seedlings and take them to the West Indies to be grown as food for slaves. But nine weeks before departure from England Sir Joseph Banks, who had been the driving force and key figure in the preparations to move both convicts and breadfruit, altered his plans: there would be a separate and independent expedition to Tahiti led by William Bligh. The gardener David Nelson, and his assistant, William Brown, were diverted from the First Fleet to the 230 ton Bethia - later renamed the Bounty. Brown would end up a willing mutineer and establish survival horticulture for the settlement on Pitcairn Island, and Nelson, staying loyal to Bligh, was destined to die of fever in Timor.

If the scheme had succeeded these same gardeners might have had chance to assess the situation at Botany Bay before they sailed on to Tahiti, and the First Fleet would not have been so badly off for botanical knowledge after all. In a letter to his old friend Lord Sandwich at the Admiralty, Banks wrote:

The plan of sending out a vessel from England for the sole purpose of bringing the bread fruit to the West Indies is much more likely to be successful than that of despatching transports from Botany Bay and I am inclined to believe it will be at least as economical.

David Nelson, the chief gardener, had already ‘sailed with Captain Cook on his third voyage round the world in my service for the purpose of collecting plants and seeds and was eminently successful in the object of his mission,’ wrote Banks. Nelson had originally been recommended to Banks by James Lee of the Hammersmith ‘Vineyard’ nursery. On his voyage with Cook Nelson had ‘made acquaintance with the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands and their language which will in all probability facilitate his obtaining the number of plants’, concluded Sir Joseph. Indeed, Nelson's experience would prove invaluable, but in a quite different context from that envisaged by Banks at the outset of the expedition.

Refitting the Bethia — purchased for £1,950 — began in Deptford shipyards in June 1787, the month after the departure of the First Fleet from Portsmouth. In August, thirty-three-year-old William Bligh, the sailing master on Cook's last voyage, who already knew the botanist Nelson, was chosen as commander. He was not, however, promoted from Lieutenant to Captain, and could therefore not have a complement of marines on board. The lack of an armed cadre of men loyal to Bligh was to have major repercussions. Among the forty-four strong crew was twenty-three-year-old Fletcher Christian.

David Nelson arrived at Deptford early in September. The ship had been transformed: the Great Cabin, traditionally sacrosanct to the captain, had become the foundation of a plant nursery. A false floor with hundreds of holes to take pots had been laid across it. There was even an irrigation system. The ship would be a floating garden. It took months before the ship and crew were ready but finally the Bounty departed, two days before Christmas 1787, seven months after the departure of the First Fleet.

[14.2 Illustration Bounty plan Badger p.143]

After a long stay at the Cape of Good Hope Bligh headed eastwards across the Indian Ocean and finally anchored at Adventure Bay, Tasmania, on 21 August 1788. Both Bligh and Nelson knew the area from their visit with Cook eleven years earlier. It was here that Nelson had collected the specimen of Eucalyptus obliqua that was to be described by L'Héritier as the ‘type’ of the entire genus. During the Bounty's short stay in Adventure Bay Nelson, in the tradition of travellers, planted a garden of fruits and vegetables.

The Bounty enjoyed an uneventful voyage on to Tahiti and anchored at Matavai Bay at the end of October. A camp was established ashore, and another British garden was dug. Bligh wrote in his journal, ‘...and as I had collected a large assortment of Seeds at the Cape of Good Hope, a quantity of each kind was sown’. He told the chief that ‘All these good things [were] sent by King George to his friends at Matavai’, and suggested that in return they might send the King some breadfruit as a present.

Nelson and Brown began the task of digging up the shoots that sprouted from the roots of breadfruit trees, planting them in pots with soil, then waiting to see which failed or survived. Those that did not establish were replaced until the requisite number was acquired. Nelson reported that two fine shaddock trees that he had planted there in 1777, were ‘full of fruit’. During the five months of this gardening activity, most of the men seemed to live an indulgent lifestyle ashore with island women; but the idyll had to end.

Literally stacked to the gunwales with plants, the Bounty sailed at sunset on 4 April 1789. On board there were 1,015 healthy breadfruit plants. Seven hundred other plants for Kew had also been collected and potted by Nelson and Brown, most of them representing the lush tropical vegetative cover of the island. Bligh reported that ‘all these I was particularly recommended to collect by my worthy friend Sir Joseph Banks’.

Twenty-three days into the voyage there was a dispute over coconuts. Bligh said that someone had stolen coconuts from his personal pile stacked between the guns on the quarter deck. He ordered every coconut on board to be brought on deck, and subjected each man to a mortifying cross-examination. Bligh called Fletcher Christian a thief and other abusive names, humiliating him publicly. He then confiscated the officers' coconuts to replace those stolen, announcing they were to have their grog quotas stopped and their yam rations reduced. To protect their private yam stores, the seamen hid as many as possible. The atmosphere on board the ship was terrible. Fletcher Christian feared he was next to be flogged.

The incident sparked tensions that had been building ever since they left Tahiti. The next night, the mutiny on the Bounty, the most famous mutiny in history, took place. Although the rebellion was bloodless, Bligh and eighteen men, including David Nelson, were cast adrift in the ocean in an open launch not twenty-five feet long; death would come later.

Fletcher Christian was now in command and among the twenty-four men left on board was gardener William Brown. It is often claimed that the mutineers threw all the breadfruit trees overboard, but this was not so. They may have disposed of some of the plants crowding the ship, but not all. The Bounty was remembered by islanders as a floating garden. The mutineers knew that in order to avoid the hangman's noose they had a life ahead as fugitives, and that these trees might well be their future source of food.

The six-foot-nine-inch-wide launch crowded with the nineteen souls of Bligh and his loyal men was dangerously low in the water as they rowed away from the Bounty. It sat a little higher, however, after their visit to Tofua to forage for food, as one of their number, John Norton was stoned to death by the islanders. Bligh decided that his best course of action was to make for the Dutch colony of Timor—about 3,600 nautical miles away.

It was naturally thought that Bligh would head for Botany Bay—half the distance of the voyage to Timor. But Bligh did not know if the colony had endured so didn't risk the detour. He had a compass, a quadrant, a sextant, four cutlasses, a few pounds of salt pork and bread, 28 gallons of water, 6 quarts of rum, 6 bottles of wine, some coconuts and a couple of squashed breadfruit. High winds, high seas, lashing rain and hunger pursued them across the Pacific. Bligh weighed out each man's daily ration on makeshift scales of two coconut shells, using musket balls as weights: three quarters of an ounce of bread, a quarter of a pint of water, sometimes half an ounce of pork—although it was quickly deteriorating. Now and then there was a teaspoon of rum, occasionally a boobie bird caught by hand. Entrails, blood and flesh were distributed and eaten raw. ‘Our situation was miserable’, wrote Bligh of their forty-one day voyage, ‘always wet, and suffering extreme cold in the night.’

After thirty-two days, the perilous breakers of the Great Barrier Reef were seen and eventually a passage was found through them. On 29 May the exhausted, bedraggled men, pulled the open boat ashore, about 200 miles north of where Cook had repaired the Endeavour. Bligh called the rocky outcrop Restoration Island, for as well as refreshing the men it was the anniversary of Charles II's restoration to the English throne. They scavenged along the Queensland coast, trying to find supplies to take with them. We'll never know how important David Nelson was in finding palatable greens for them here, but Bligh recalled how the sailors constantly teased Nelson about identifying the plants. Bligh wrote in his journal:

Cut down Palm Tree Tops [possibly Livistona australis] & found the part next the Tree good eating & did well to mix with our dinner & Stew. Tryed Fern Roots but found them indifferent [Blechnum orientale or Acrostichum aureum].

On 30 May they left the island just as a large group of Aboriginal men armed with spears and throwing-sticks arrived. Nervous of attack, Bligh found another refuge on a nearby island but refused to stay for more than a night. The tensions of the Bounty exploded again. The search for food was interrupted by the carpenter angrily challenging Bligh's command. Nelson remained loyal to his commander but, alas, was already weakening. The next day he was seen returning to the boat ‘in so weak a condition that he was obliged to be supported by two men.’

Suffering from sunstroke and battered by wild weather, the exhausted band made the final leg journey north of Australia and miraculously arrived at the Dutch settlement of Koupang on Sunday 14 June. The men, wrote Bligh were so weak and ill, that some were ‘scarce able to walk’.

Despite surviving to Koupang, Nelson died on 20 July 1789 of a fever caused by the privation and hardship he had suffered. Bligh repaid his debt to his loyal supporter by providing a grand funeral. His journal relates:

The corpse was carried by 12 soldiers dressed in black, preceded by the minister; next followed by myself and the second governor; then ten gentlemen of the town and the officers of the ships in the harbour; and after them my own officers and people. After reading our burial service the body was interred behind the chapel, in the burying-ground appropriated to the Europeans of the town. I was sorry I could get no tombstone to place over his remains.

Nelson received a different sort of memorial when the genus Nelsonia was named to honour this man who had died while collecting plants for the edification of the botanists and gardeners of the world. Of the remaining seventeen men, three others died at Batavia, one disappeared on his passage home, and one died on the voyage back to England. In the end, eleven of the eighteen men set adrift with Bligh survived—more than half.

[14.3 Illustration Nelsonia sp. Colour]

The fatalities among the mutineers themselves were much higher. Within five years of casting Bligh adrift, at least half of them were dead. Although they had reportedly shouted ‘Huzzah for Otaheite!’ as they set Bligh adrift, Christian knew that British search parties would soon be sent for them, and if they returned to Tahiti they would be found and arrested there. The Society Islands were never even a possible destination for Christian. The Bounty sailed back and forth between the islands of Toobouai and Tahiti, collecting provisions—including orange trees which must have been from John Gore's original garden—312 hogs and nearly a hundred hens. Eighteen mutineers elected to stay in Tahiti. The nine who remained on the Bounty were augmented by six Tahitian men, and twelve women who agreed to go, or were tricked into going with them. One of the women had a small child. Fletcher Christian and his fellow fugitives set sail in search of an island where they could live for the rest of their lives without being discovered. They criss-crossed the Pacific three times, visiting the Society, Austral, Tonga, Fiji and Cook groups.

Christian's visit to Rarotonga, which became the seat of government for the Cook islands, is well remembered. The Bounty was the first European ship to visit the islands, so the mutineers were its European discoverers. William Brown planted some of the orange trees ashore, unwittingly starting an industry. After the missionaries came, orange juice joined the pearl shells and copra as important exports from the island. It is odd to think that the prosperity of the Cook Islands started with the trees from the Bounty.

Eventually, in early 1790, Christian located uninhabited Pitcairn Island, whose location had been marked incorrectly by the navigator Carteret on the charts. Landing was difficult as there is no sheltered bay, no corner of calm water. The sea perpetually pounds all around it. Even the livestock had to swim ashore through the surf and be hauled up the steep cliffs.

The fear of the mutineers of being found is shown by their ruthless killing of their dogs and by the burning of the boat—their only means of ever leaving their island of exile. Discovery by a passing ship investigating the sound of barking dogs or seeing the silhouette of the stolen ship would have meant arrest, imprisonment or even the noose for the mutineers. Their fears were very real. On hearing Bligh's version of events the Admiralty wasted no time in dispatching the armed frigate Pandora, under the command of Captain Edward Edwards, to Tahiti to pick up the mutineers. Two of Bligh's loyal men also went on the voyage. The Pandora found fourteen of the mutineers who had stayed on Tahiti (two had since died) and imprisoned them aboard. While searching for Christian and his companions the Pandora was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Edwards didn't release the imprisoned men and four of them consequently drowned. The others made a miraculous escape, and with eighty-nine crew members and the ship's cat, followed in Bligh's footsteps by making the hazardous journey to Koupang. Back in England, the ten surviving mutineers were court martialled. Three were hanged, four were acquitted and three pardoned.

Meanwhile, Christian and his companions were busily establishing their tiny community on Pitcairn. The work of William Brown, the gardener, is described in John Williams's Narrative of Missionary Enterprise in the South Sea Islands. It shows how Brown laid the foundations of Pitcairn Island's self-sufficiency. The ship was remembered as ‘a floating island’ upon which grew ‘two large plantations’ and which contained ‘two rivers of water’—the pumps watering the trees. Full advantage had been taken by the mutineers of the structural refinements made to the Bounty to transplant trees. Although the original object of the voyage—bringing breadfruit to the West Indies was not achieved, other plants were scattered by the mutineers across the Pacific. On Pitcairn, the tiny community soon became self-sufficient, in stark contrast to the struggle the colonists were having across the ocean in New South Wales.

Four years after the landing of the small band on Pitcairn only eight of the original complement of nine white and six Polynesian men were still alive. This was soon reduced to four. Most of the deaths were murders committed in a flurry of violence as smouldering racial tension and a protracted dispute over the women finally erupted. Among the first victims were both Christian and William Brown, murdered by the Tahitians. On the tenth anniversary of the mutiny, just two of the men, both mutineers, survived: John Adams (alias Alexander Smith) and Edward Young, along with eleven women and twenty children—descendants of the deceased mutineers.

Young eventually died from asthma and John Adams, with the help of the Bible, was left to organise the inhabitants into the pious community finally discovered, by chance, by an American ship fifteen years after settlement. Captain Mayhew Folger, having just delivered a cargo of rum to Tasmania, anchored the sealer Topaz at Pitcairn and found, to his complete surprise, the descendants of the mutineers living in neat houses surrounded by gardens.

Although Folger sent a copy of his log about this discovery to the Admiralty in London 1809, it was ignored; the Bounty was old news and no ship was sent to arrest the last mutineer. Eventually two British frigates the Briton and the Targus went to Pitcairn in 1814 and the islanders became celebrities. Even Queen Victoria later sent the grand-daughters of the mutineers a piano.

One wonders if the little community of mutineers and Polynesians on Pitcairn Island, would have survived if one of its trailblazers in 1789 had not been the gardener, William Brown. He had the practical skill of how to plant and tend the crops, trees and vegetables. On windswept, rocky Pitcairn he established the crops and gardens that enabled them to become rapidly self-sufficient. Once peace had been established, the expanding community survived without boats bringing supplies for over fifty years.

[14.4 Illustration, Portrait of Bligh Badger p.147]

Bligh was unable to give evidence at the Court Martial of the recovered mutineers because, with true British fortitude, he was leading another breadfruit expedition at the time. With another ship, the Providence, another crew, and another two gardeners he returned to Tahiti, again via Adventure Bay in Tasmania, to collect more trees. Also on board was the young Matthew Flinders who would have his own role to play in the Flower Chain in the opening years of the nineteenth century. The Providence voyage would give Flinders an unparalleled introduction to the problems of plant transportation. Bligh put the health of the breadfruit plants before the health of his crew. Men with parched tongues licked droplets of water from the leaves of plants when the ship ran short of drinking water. But Bligh's determination paid off; five years after the original plan was proposed, breadfruit trees from Tahiti were growing in Jamaica. It was a triumph in British eyes.

Bligh went on to have a long career, and to endure two more mutinies against him, on the Nore and during his governorship of New South Wales. Throughout it all, he never lost the friendship and support of the strongest link in the Flower Chain, Joseph Banks. Did either of them ever pause to speculate that if Banks had not changed his plans and separated the breadfruit voyage from the First Fleet, a member of the botanical team would have helped lay the foundations of Botany Bay, instead of Pitcairn Island—and what was to become regarded as the most notorious mutiny in maritime history might never have taken place?

15. Chapter 15 The British and the French in Botany Bay

On 2 January 1788, three European expeditions were on the high seas bound for Pacific destinations: Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet were fast approaching Botany Bay; Lieutenant Bligh on the Bounty, having finally left England two days before Christmas 1787, was heading for Tahiti with two gardeners to collect breadfruit for the Caribbean; and finally Jean-François de Galaup comte de La Pérouse, commanding two ships and with two botanists on board, was heading for Botany Bay on Louis XVI's instructions to witness the British arrival. By coincidence, it was exactly a hundred years since Captain Read, at the helm of the pirate-crewed Cygnet, had first sighted Australian land.

1783 saw the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, peace in Europe looked set to last. In France, the scientific community was anxious to catch up with British geographical and scientific discoveries gained from their voyages of discovery, particularly in the Pacific. They urged the King, Louis XVI, to add his support to a proposed French expedition around the world. This Louis did with enthusiasm, and the leading scientific societies in France devised detailed programmes for astronomical, geographical, zoological and, of course, botanical observations.

Although there were strategic and political reasons for a French presence in the Pacific, the scientific aims of this voyage were paramount. The instructions to the chosen leader of the expedition, La Pérouse, came directly from the King, and two ships, the Boussole and the Astrolabe were made ready. La Pérouse chose his crew and the scientific complement himself, including the botanists, Joseph de Lamartinière and Jean-Nicolas Collignon. The services of three artists, Duché de Vancy and the Prevosts, uncle and nephew, were secured. La Pérouse sought the interest and support of scientists worldwide—Joseph Banks sent a flattering letter praising La Pérouse's abilities and organised for the Royal Society to present the expedition with two dipping needles that had been used by Cook.

[15.1 Illustration: Portrait of La Pérouse]

The elaborately equipped Astrolabe and Astrolabe departed from Brest on 1 August 1785, with messages of farewell from Louis and Marie-Antoinette. In the three years following they visited Madeira, Tenerife, Brazil, Chile, Easter Island, Hawai'i, North America, Kamchatka, the Philippines, Samoa, and Tonga, as well as numerous other Pacific islands, gathering a wealth of scientific information. It was while charting the Kamchatka Peninsula, the farthest outpost of the Russian Empire, that the itinerary was changed. At the end of the bleak Siberian summer La Pérouse received new instructions, rushed from the King by courier from Paris; he was to divert to Botany Bay.

Although at this time France and Britain were not at war, they still had potentially conflicting interests in the Pacific, and Louis XVI wanted to know what the British were doing on the other side of the world. Arriving six days after the First Fleet in January 1788, La Pérouse saw them depart almost immediately for Port Jackson, fifteen miles to the north. Despite the ever-present Anglo–French rivalry, in the weeks that the French ships spent in the area, contact between them and the British at Port Jackson was cordial. When La Pérouse left, bound for the Friendly Islands, his final act, his last contact with the European world, before he navigated to the Solomon Islands and shipwreck, was the delivery into the care of the British, of a box containing journals and dispatches for France—drawings, paintings and maps about his voyage around the Pacific. Fifteen months later the box arrived in Paris, a few weeks before Bastille Day on 14 July 1789. The expedition would never be heard of again.

The excitement of the French encounter over, the British set about the uphill struggle of establishing a settlement. When the starving, scorbutic officers and convicts sat down to dinner in the new colony, they gnawed into a piece of putrid salt beef and bread made from weevily flour, washed down with beer—rations drawn from England, from the Cape, Batavia and later China. By contrast, the Aboriginal people, squatted around a fire to enjoy a varied, but to the colonists, alien diet, drawn from local leaves, grasses, fruits, roots and berries to supplement freshly caught meat and fish.

Ignorance prevented the colonists from enjoying the same food. The settlers foraged for what they could in the bush, but lack of knowledge meant that they found little to tempt their appetites. When the First Fleet set off from England for its strange destination 10,000 miles away, it did not have a botanist, horticulturist, competent farmer or gardener—either convict or free—to evaluate the land or find edible, nutritious plants. The omission to dispatch a botanist was curious as it was relatively commonplace by this time for ships to carry such experts.

For early settlers in this new land so far from England, there were vital reasons for examining and assessing the soil and vegetation. No advance party had analysed the soil, found what was edible or whether European crops would prosper. Food had to be grown, and native plants might prove a useful resource. Timber was needed to build houses and some unique species, perhaps a medicinal plant or wood, might provide valuable exports, if only they were known about. It seems incredible that Banks, always so keen to send gardeners, botanists and plant collectors to far-flung places across the globe, did not acknowledge this. Given his important involvement in the fitting out of the First Fleet it seems completely out of character that he didn't use his influence to get a botanist of some description on board, even if only to collect plants for his own herbarium and the King's gardens at Kew. Did he perhaps feel that with David Nelson and William Brown about to be dispatched on the Bounty, there were no other suitable men available?

The Sirius, the first ship of the First Fleet, had arrived on 18 January 1788, at the height of summer. Within days, a thousand convicts and their keepers in eleven ships from England congregated in the bay of Banks's botanical triumph. At a single glance Phillip and his officers saw that Banks's choice had been wrong, that Botany Bay was highly unsuitable for settlement. The land was perversely either swampy or arid and the supply of fresh water was poor, even when deep holes were sunk in the ground. The mosquitoes were an additional source of discomfort.

Despite orders that he was not to waste time searching for anywhere better than Botany Bay, Phillip sent one ship up the coast where it immediately found Port Jackson—Sydney Harbour— ‘the finest harbour in the world’. Less than a week after the Sirius had dropped anchor, Phillip gave orders for the transfer of the settlement to Sydney. Although Port Jackson—Sydney—proved a splendid and sheltered anchorage, it did not have soil rich enough to grow sufficient vegetables or crops without manure, which was scarce as farm animals were few. Even so, Australia Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the day of arrival in Sydney Harbour, January 26th, not January 18th, the date men from the First Fleet first set foot on Australian soil at Joseph Banks's Botany Bay.

[15.2 Illustration: Botany Bay Map]

No advance ship had been sent ahead of the First Fleet to evaluate Botany Bay, or the vegetation. Arriving in the scorching heat of January, the convicts were hindered by the weather and uncompromising soils. They had little agricultural expertise among them and were bewildered as to how to grow vegetables, let alone in this so-different earth. The tough hardwood trees they needed to fell for timber blunted saws and axes. For over a decade the colony suffered from threats of short rations, famine and starvation—all in an area which had supported Aboriginal people well.

Ironically, the only botanical assessment made in these first days was by La Pérouse's two botanists, who made some quick excursions around the area. They reported to Phillip that they had been unable to find the flax plant that Cook described in Cook's published journal for which the British authorities had hoped might prove commercial. But La Pérouse and his botanists were soon gone, leaving the colonists to struggle alone to establish their crops in what seemed an unpromising land.

When La Pérouse left, bound for the Friendly Islands, his final act, his last contact with the European world before he navigated to the Solomon Islands and shipwreck, was to deliver into the care of the British, a box containing journals and dispatches for France - drawings, paintings and maps about his voyage around the Pacific. Fifteen months later the box arrived in Paris, a few weeks before Bastille Day on 14 July 1789. The expedition would never be heard of again.

Before long famine hung like a black shadow over the infant settlement. Hunger even drove the miserable guards to banditry: the first execution in the history of the colony was that of a sixteen-year-old boy who was hanged for the theft of food. Then six marines were executed in one dreadful batch and others were flogged—because, by force or stealth, they took food. In 1790 the food supply threatened to disappear completely. As everyone was fed from the public stores—which came from half way around the world—steadily, week by week, the rations were cut down till they were near vanishing point. At one point the daily allowance was so insufficient that work was almost halted.

When describing the long hunger, a Captain Hill wrote that he was ‘little better than a leper, obliged to live on a scanty pittance of salt provisions, without a vegetable except when a good neighbour robs his own stomach in compassion for me’. If the plate of the second captain in the regiment was so bare, the convicts were even worse off.

Their haggard faces sallow and drawn, their eyes lustreless and encircled by dark rings, ‘sullen Convicts [dragging] the clanking chain’, became victims of scurvy. Yet, the British Government was spending £35 per year on every convict, far more than the cost of keeping them in the hulks. According to an estimate published in England in 1791, the 2,029 convicts shipped up to that date had cost Great Britain £300 per man. With such a huge amount invested in the colony why was the simple measure omitted of sending a botanist to discover local resources, or a horticulturist to help grow vegetables, or a few genuine farmers to till the soil and instruct others in what should be done to make the most of local conditions?

Governor Phillip excused the convicts from work on Saturday afternoons so that they could tend their own vegetable gardens and, whenever possible, they were sent out fishing or into the bush to hunt kangaroos. John White, the Surgeon-General to the First Fleet, described the danger to the men in foraging parties of being attacked by Aborigines in his book A Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales. He wrote about their debility, due to scurvy, preventing convicts from undergoing the entirety of their five hundred lashes and about men becoming ‘so hardened in weakness and depravity...that they seem insensible to the fear of corporal punishment, or even death itself’.

Captain Watkin Tench, commander of a detachment of marines, also gives a graphic account of the colony's first days. At one point he states how he cannot but regret that ‘an experienced botanist was not sent out’. In this he was echoing the sentiments of Arthur Phillip who had met nothing but frustration in the lead up to the hurried departure of the First Fleet. Initially the far-sighted future Governor had argued strongly that an advance party should be sent to New South Wales to build huts and cultivate vegetables so that the new settlers would have some protection against starvation and the ravages of scurvy when they first arrived. Such measures, however, would have delayed the departure of the fleet to an unacceptable extent, and the request was refused. The authorities were desperate both to empty the hulks of their prisoners and get the convicts disembarked in New South Wales in time for the fleet to carry on to China and pick up the tea crop to bring back to Europe.

Phillip had to make do with what he was given, but his reports back to the Government are full of problems that could have been avoided if the equipping of the fleet had been more carefully thought out in the first instance. As early as May 1788 he wrote to Lord Sydney:

It is my power to give more than a very superficial account of the produce of this country, which has such a variety of plants that I cannot, with all my ignorance, help being convinced that it merits the attention of the naturalist and the botanist.

He pointedly commented that, ‘being myself without the smallest knowledge of botany I am without one botanist, or even an intelligent gardener, in the colony’. He made reference to the relatively unsuccessful attempts of the untrained convicts to find local plants they could live on and begged that few new convicts be sent out unless they be, ‘farmers who can support themselves and assist in supporting others’. He went on to add that ‘if 50 farmers were sent out with their families they would do more in one year in rendering this colony independent of the mother country, as to provisions than 1,000 convicts’.

[15.3 Illustration: 15.3 Landscape of New Holland]

The bitter complaints of Phillip and others slowly filtered back to Britain and Banks organised for two plant collectors to be sent to New South Wales on the supply ship Guardian in 1789. Their detailed instructions from Banks were concerned with the care of the plants being sent to the colony, and the care and collection of plants to be sent back to Banks. There was no mention of assessing the vegetation for the benefit of the settlers. However, George Austin and James Smith had chance to fulfil neither task, they were drowned when the Guardian was wrecked at the Cape of Good Hope on her outward journey. In September 1791 the Gorgon, sent as a replacement for the Guardian, disembarked David Burton, gardener, at Port Jackson. Burton's official post was as Supervisor of Convicts but he was at Phillip's disposal to undertake a full botanical and agricultural survey of the colony. Burton, related to James Lee the Hammersmith nurseryman, was also under instructions from Banks to make collections to send back to him in London. Unfortunately, although Burton did manage to report some of his findings to Banks, his contribution to the knowledge of Australia's flora was cruelly cut short when he died in April 1792 as a result of a freak shooting accident. After these abortive attempts Banks did not send out other botanists or collectors to the colony until the next century when Robert Brown travelled with Matthew Flinders on the Investigator, and George Caley was specifically trained for the purpose of systematic botanising in New South Wales.

It was not just in the field of botany that Australia's productions were ignored in the early years. By the time the First Fleet disgorged its convicts into their harsh new prison camp, other British colonies were already providing wealth: Australia would have to produce something very special to make the long sea transport to Europe worthwhile, yet no experts were sent to assess Australia's natural resources. Tench remarked:

Previous to leaving England I remember to have frequently heard it asserted that the discovery of mines was one of the secondary objects of the expedition. Perhaps there are mines, person competent to form a decision is to be found among us.

The colonists found little of commercial use—even Australia's splendid timber was undervalued. John White, reported that there were only three types and that it was generally so dense that it blunted the tools used to try and fell the trees and cut the wood. Five years after settlement, a book appeared in London lamenting that in New South Wales no plants had been discovered with ‘a proportionable degree of usefulness to mankind’. Australia would have to pay its way by eventually producing commercial commodities from imported plants and animals. The only way to make New South Wales quickly self-sufficient was to cultivate tried and tested food plants from Europe, South Africa and South America; there was no time for the luxury of investigating the unpromising-looking native flora.

Although it was the aim of the first three governors to attain self-sufficiency in food, it was not until 1805 that it was independent of imported supplies in basic foodstuffs, and 1808—twenty years after the arrival of the First Fleet—before the first government purchases of locally produced beef and mutton were made.

The British Empire, built with war treaties, words and guns, not discoverers, was mainly a collection of appropriated countries, discovered by other powers. The east coast of Australia was different. Its colonisation, which spread from Botany Bay, is a rare example of British development of an area actually discovered and then occupied by them.

For fifteen years New South Wales was a little strip of Britain on the edge of nowhere, but despite the horrendous problems and near starvation faced by the colonists, this tenuous foothold in Australia was somehow maintained. Apart from the fifteen square miles of rocky little Norfolk Island, hundreds of miles out in the Pacific Ocean to north-east of Sydney, settlement was confined to the plains and rivers around Port Jackson. The Blue Mountains shut it in to the west, the Pacific bounded it on the east. British tenure was the equivalent of occupying Gibraltar or Malta, then laying claim to the whole of Europe. This fragile claim led to a defensive attitude towards the French, the only European power which displayed any interest in Australia. No other European country disputed British possession. The Dutch, discoverers of the northern and western coasts, never planned any colonies. Although the French sent five expeditions between Cook's voyages and the Battle of Waterloo, they never seriously challenged Britain's supremacy in Australia.

Unknown though it was, Britain set out to colonise this new land, to turn it into a nation of small farms owned by former convicts. But Australia's nutrient-poor soils had never been subjected to European-style agriculture. The species the colonists attempted to grow in these soils were inappropriate, and without the time or the wherewithal to investigate the suitability of either the ground to grow European species, or the local vegetation to feed themselves and their animals, the colonists had an uphill struggle.

There were devastating ecological ramifications of this poor understanding of local vegetation. Settlers treated most native trees and foliage as an enemy, seeing nature as something to be conquered so they could farm. They gave orders to ‘chop the bloody things down’ before identifying what was being destroyed. The bush was regarded as ‘wild and uncivilised’ the prevailing maxim being ‘if it stands still, cut it down.’

Seeds of European weeds were unwittingly imported along with those of intended food plants, and gradually these began to replace native species. As areas were cleared, and new plant species encroached, some native plants became locally, if not completely, extinct. As the forests were cleared, epiphytes which grew on the trees, came crashing down, just left to burn or rot and with the forests gone, their habitat disappeared. Imported wheat, cows, sheep and a host of other alien species overcame endemics at the urging of the colonists.

Far from commemorating the glories of nature Botany Bay soon became a by-word for penal servitude and unthinkable physical hardship. Although Port Jackson had been chosen for settlement, it was Botany Bay's name that lingered on in British folklore as a horrific place of deportation; it echoed through ballads and prisons, evoking dread and fear instead of innocent delight in foliage and flowers that inspired its original naming. Ironically, it was also Botany Bay that would represent the irreparable alteration and destruction of much of Australia's native flora.

16. Chapter 16 The Surgeon, the Convict and the Gentleman

In the first months of the colony, the vital task of describing, classifying and studying the uses of the indigenous plants of New South Wales was carried out by an unlikely trio: a naval surgeon, a London gentleman and a rich botanist, aided by an unhappy convict artist. The efforts of John White, Thomas Wilson and James Edward Smith and the reluctant Thomas Watling, all contributed to getting a small selection of Australia's flora and fauna described, illustrated, into print and available to a interested public back in Britain. Their work appeared in various publications, including the first book exclusively devoted to Australian plants ever to be published. This is, as explained elsewhere in this book, something more than Sir Joseph Banks ever directly achieved.

The very year that Australia was settled James Edward Smith founded the Linnean Society of London—now the oldest society in the world devoted to natural history—and became its first president. The nucleus of the society were the vast collections of the influential Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. It had been his work on these that had earlier established a standard system of classification which became the basis of modern taxonomy. New and small though this learned society was, along with the Royal Society and the royal gardens at Kew, it formed strong links with the new colony. These three scientific societies had one man in common: Joseph Banks. Banks was the unofficial director of Kew, the President of the Royal Society, and it was through him that Smith had ended up with the collections.

Linnaeus, who developed the procedure for naming species with a Latin binomial that is still used today, had been dead ten years when Australia was settled, but his influence still spread thousands of miles across the oceans to the infant colony. Even after his death, his followers scoured the globe for flora and fauna, fossils and minerals, and attempted to fit them into coherent systems of classification. The building up of herbaria—collections of dried and pressed plants—against which other species could be compared, was essential for the classification, naming and study of plants. Linnaeus's type specimens—annotated by him or one of his students—were then the most significant botanical collection in the world. Linnaeus also extended his work to the animal kingdom and his collections reflected the jigsaw puzzle of relationships between families, genera and species which would inspire Darwin and others to formulate their theories of evolution. Linnaeus left his collections of 9,000 plants, 828 shells, 2,100 insects and 477 fish, from all over the world, to his son, also a talented naturalist. However, the younger Linnaeus's early death left the collections in jeopardy. The family was in need of funds and the authorities in Sweden seemed little inclined to purchase the plants, fish, shells and insects for the nation.

When a letter from Linnaeus's widow arrived at Banks's Spring Grove home, just before Christmas in 1783, twenty-four-year-old James Edward Smith happened to be breakfasting there. The letter was a request, following the untimely death of Linnaeus fils, for Banks to buy the collections and Linnaeus's library for the hefty sum of 1,000 guineas. Banks, for reasons of his own, decided not to make the purchase. Instead he threw the letter down and turning to Smith, suggested that if he wished to make a name for himself, he could do a lot worse than acquire the Linnaean collections.

[16.1 Illustration: Portrait J. E. Smith Colour]

Smith was then studying medicine, but his over-riding interest was in botany. The next day he wrote enthusiastically to his father, a wealthy Norwich wool merchant, requesting a loan so that he could make this auspicious purchase. ‘I hope you will look on this scheme in as favourable a light as my friends here do,’ he enjoined, ‘there is no time to be lost, for the affair is now talked of in all companies, and a number of people wish to be purchasers’. His father balked at the scheme, pointing out that apart from the expense of the purchase itself, Smith would need a small house in which to ‘place so capital a collection.’ He also doubted that the Swedes would, in the event, let it out of the country. Eventually, after seeing various negotiations with other interested parties fail, and realising the immense value of the collection, Smith senior relented.

In October 1784, twenty-six cases containing the priceless acquisition arrived in the Port of London on the brig Appearance. One version of the story of the transfer of this fragile cargo to England is that the King of Sweden, on hearing that Linnaeus's collections were to actually leave Swedish soil, sent an armed convoy after the Appearance to retrieve them, but to no avail. Smith hired rooms in Paradise Row, overlooking Chelsea Physic Garden, to house them. Here he began to arrange the books, plants, fish, insects and shells aided by Banks and his librarian, the appropriately Swedish, Jonas Dryander.

Basking in the glory of his acquisition, Smith eschewed his medical studies and, employing a housekeeper to look after the collections, finished his education with a Grand Tour of Europe. While he was away he began the collection of the further 18,000 specimens that he was to add to the herbarium over the next four decades. On his return to London Smith turned his attention once more to the treasures nestling in his Chelsea rooms. His dream was to found a natural history society based around them. With this goal in mind he moved to better accommodation in Great Marlborough Street. Plans for a new natural history society finally crystallised on 26 February 1788, at a meeting which included Smith, Banks and Dryander at the Marlborough Coffee House. The first public meeting of the Linnaean (sic) Society of London was held at Smith's new rooms on 8 April 1788. Smith was elected President and he grandly declared that he held the Linnaean treasures in trust for the sole purpose of making them useful to the world, to natural history in general and the society in particular—aims that the Society continues to fulfil to this day.

Initially, the new society competed in interest with the increasingly moribund Society for the Promotion of Natural History, also based in London. There was talk of merging the two but this did not happen until the next century. However, as the Linnean Society gained popularity, the leading natural historians of the day boasted membership of both organisations. One member, Thomas Wilson of Gower Street, was to have a marked influence on the promotion of Australian botany in England.

Due to the lack of any experts resident in Botany Bay, interested parties in England with a curiosity about the plants and animals of the new colony had to rely on information from amateurs and laymen. The best known of these amateurs, who sent both information and specimens, was the colony's Surgeon-General, John White. His exact birthdate is unknown but White was reportedly 75 years old on his death in Sussex in February 1832. He was born in Drumaran, County Fermanagh in Ireland around 1756 and after graduating in medicine from the University of St Andrews in Scotland he went to sea and became a naval surgeon's mate. Several appointments on different vessels followed, including three years in the West Indies. Described as ‘a young man of much credit in his profession’, and recommended as able, adventurous and well suited to take charge of the medical arrangements in a new colonial venture, White found himself, at the age of thirty, bound for Botany Bay. Between joining the Fleet at Plymouth in March 1787 and its departure on May 12th, he busied himself arranging medical supplies and trying to improve the sanitary conditions of the ships.

After his appointment, and before he joined the ships, Surgeon-General White was apparently in contact with Thomas Wilson of Gower Street, London. It seems likely that White already had an interest in natural history and, perhaps, even approached the Society for the Promotion of Natural History, of which Wilson was an active member, with an offer to provide information about Botany Bay. White who was elected to membership of the Society in 1789, during his absence in New South Wales, was asked by Wilson to write a journal of the nine month voyage to Botany Bay and the first few months of the colony. He also encouraged him to make observations and collections of the natural history. White duly kept the journal and, in a letter he sent to Wilson along with the manuscript, wrote:

As the following Journal was undertaken at your Request, and its principal Object to afford you some Amusement during your Hours of Relaxation, I shall esteem myself happy if it answers that Purpose.

With descriptions of convicts and kangaroos, hunger and hardship, floggings and punishments, the Aboriginal people and the myriad difficulties that the settlers faced, White's journal gives a vivid account of the voyage and the first months of the colony up to October 1788. When it was published in London in 1790, with 65 black and white plates illustrating the natural history of the new land, it was so popular that French, German and Swedish editions soon followed. More importantly, here in print appeared some of the first accounts and illustrations of Australian flora since Dampier's Journals had been published earlier in the century. James Edward Smith, proud President of the new Linnean Society, described four species of Banksia, three eucalypts and the sweet tea plant, Smilax glyciphylla for the book. For this we have Wilson to thank. In London he had passed the Australian plants (with lay descriptions in English), seeds, animal and bird skins, shells and drawings sent to him by White, on to experts, including Smith, for their opinions.

While on the other side of the world White's convict artists in Port Jackson drew the flowers and fruits of the pressed plants which were dispatched to England, Wilson arranged for further paintings to be made of the flora and fauna specimens for publication. He engaged five different artists, including the expert natural history illustrator, Frederick Polydore Nodder, who had worked on Banks's as yet unpublished Australian flora collection some ten years previously. The finished drawings were then engraved under the supervision of Thomas Milton.

[16.2 Illustration: Plant engraving from the Journal B+W]: Banksia serrata.

Unfortunately Wilson was a less than competent editor and the Journal's appendix, with Smith and others' descriptions of the natural history, like the text of the Journal itself, is poorly organised. But Wilson worked extremely quickly. He advertised the work in August 1789 and the first copies were available just twelve months later when a review appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine. As the voyage to Botany Bay from England could take up to a year—it took nearly two years sometimes to get a reply to a letter—it was an amazing feat to bring out an illustrated account within three years and three months of the departure of the First Fleet. Despite a substantial price tag of £1.16s.0d for a copy in boards, it sold very well indeed and the list of original subscribers included Sir Joseph Banks and Samuel Goodenough.

[16.3 Illustration: Frontispiece of White's Journal]

The President of the Linnean Society was obviously inspired by the White specimens that he described for Wilson. Just three years after the appearance of the Journal he published a much more comprehensive work on the botany of Australia using more of White's collections. A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland was the first work devoted entirely to Australia's plants. Here again Thomas Wilson's hand can be seen. Smith dedicated the Specimen with the words, ‘To Thomas Wilson, ESQ., F.L.S. at whose persuasion this work was undertaken and on whose friendly communications it is founded, the following pages are inscribed.’

None of the ‘friendly communications’ survive among Smith's correspondence at the Linnean Society in London, but one can assume that the President was in frequent personal contact with Wilson, obviously an enthusiastic Fellow. No doubt it was through Wilson that Smith acquired the additional plants collected by White on which he based the bulk of the descriptions. Smith also had access to some sixteen on-the-spot drawings, again provided by White. These were used as reference by James Sowerby, the artist employed by White to illustrate the Specimen. Sowerby was a founder associate member of the Linnean Society, and one of the best flower painters around. He could be regarded as an expert on the depiction of Australian plants for he, like Nodder, had also worked on the completion of Parkinson's drawings for Banks.

[16.4 Illustration: block of four images comparing Watling and Sowerby pics Epacris grandiflora and Melaleuca ericifolia]

Some of the plants sent by White are still extant at the Linnean Society in London—as are watercolours he sent from new colony on which Sowerby based his illustrations. In 1793 Thomas Watling, a young Scot, came to New South Wales as a convict under sentence of transportation for fourteen years. He was the first important artist in the colony whose training had been away from the rigid conventions of the naval school. He was also the first professional artist to arrive in the colony since its inception nearly five years earlier. The paintings done by Watling left more vivid and accurate visual impressions of the colony and its people than any artist who preceded him, and, in the opinion of many, from any who followed for an appreciable time.

In Scotland, the very year that Botany Bay had been settled, Watling had been arrested on charges of forgery—for falsely presenting the Bank of Scotland twelve promissory notes for the sum of a guinea each. The Lord Advocate in Scotland recommended him to the attention of those in command as ‘an acquisition to the new colony’ because of his artistic skill. When he arrived in the colony he was not put to hard labour clearing and cultivating the country, but assigned to White to make drawings of birds, animals, and plants—although his preference was to paint landscapes. In the two years he worked for White he made the majority of the drawings now in the collection of the Natural History Museum in London.

Watling did not enjoy his indenture to White. He wrote to his aunt that the letter had been penned ‘in much indigence, sickness and indescribable sorrow’ in stolen hours ‘by one who has to toil as a slave by day and [is] prohibited from such an attempt under the terror of rigid punishment’. But his pictures provided Smith and Sowerby with important references for the illustration of Smith's books on Australian flora.

Smith records in his preface that the Specimen was:

An attempt to make the Public acquainted with some of the productions of a country of which they have lately heard so much, and in which they are now as a nation so deeply interested—a country too so extremely unlike those best known to Europeans.

He recognised, however, as Banks and Solander must have done when they gathered literally hundreds of new species at Botany Bay and around the Endeavour River, that a complete flora was difficult, if not impossible. ‘The present must be considered only as, what it pretends to be, a Specimen of the riches of the mine of botanical novelty,’ he explained.

Smith's fascination with Australia's flora is obvious, and the difficulties faced by those who would classify it is no better expressed than in the following passage, prefacing his description of a gum tree:

When a botanist first enters the investigation of so remote a country as New Holland, he finds himself as it were in a new world. He can scarcely meet with any certain fixed points from whence to draw his analogies; even those that appear most promising are frequently in danger of misleading, instead of informing him. Whole tribes of plants, which at first sight seem familiar to his acquaintance, as occupying links in Nature's chain, on which he has been accustomed to depend, prove, on a nearer examination, total strangers...

Perhaps it is no surprise that Banks and Solander finally failed in their attempt to describe Australia's flora, or that subsequent attempts consistently fell short of the mark.

Smith's work, however, reflected more than just an academic curiosity in the productions of New South Wales, it also had a more practical side. Once the colony had become established in 1788 a steady, and gradually increasing, stream of seeds and live plants found its way back to England. Smith hoped that his work would ‘inform the cultivators of plants concerning what they have already obtained from New Holland, as well as point out some other things worthy of their acquisition in future.’

Smith was concerned that his Specimen should of use to his ‘countrymen and countrywomen’ and so wrote it in English, even providing translations from the Latin descriptions. It is interesting that he acknowledges the interest in botany and horticulture shown by women at this time. Such pursuits were regarded as perfectly appropriate for ladies. In his thumbnail sketches of each plant Smith includes, where he can, such useful detail to the cultivator as the soil type preferred, whether the plant needed to be grown in a greenhouse, and the rough form and dimensions of the fully grown plant.

Not all the plants he described were actually in cultivation at the time of his writing but, if they were, Smith often recorded the name of the garden where they were grown. These descriptions give an invaluable insight into the distribution of Australian flora in British, particularly London, gardens in the years immediately following the establishment of the Port Jackson colony.

Smith received, for instance, a living specimen of scaly Pultenaea (Pultenaea stipularis) from Alexander Murray, gardener to Benjamin Robertson, from his garden in Stockwell; the flax-leaved Pimelea (Pimelea linifolia) had flowered in the greenhouse of Lord Viscount Lewisham and at Syon House, and the Dowager Lady Clifford had the only known living specimen in Europe of the spectacular waratah (Telopea speciosissima.) now the floral emblem of New South Wales, growing in her garden at Nyn Hall, near Barnet. At this point Lady Clifford's waratah, received as a living plant from ‘Sidney Cove’ had not flowered, nor had it germinated in England.

It wasn't just private individuals who were cultivating Australian plants at the time, commercial nurseries were also having some success; the cut-leaved embothrium (Grevillea filaifolium) reported Smith, had flowered at Messrs Grimwood's, a well-known nursery in Kensington, in 1793. Smith makes no mention of any living specimens seen from Kew or from Joseph Banks's own garden, but does acknowledge access to Banks's Australian herbarium in his production of the Specimen.

Although general interest in Australian flora was obviously increasing among gardeners and horticulturists in England, there was still a feeling that it was not getting the attention its uniqueness truly deserved. Smith suggests why this might have been the case. Firstly he almost apologises for the apparent fact that Australia offered few edible plants. He states, that among the great variety of Australian plants ‘there has not yet been discovered a proportionable degree of usefulness to mankind, at least with respect to food.’ His description of the beautiful crimson Styphelia (Styphelia tubiflora) suggests a further reason:

It has lately been a complaint among cultivators of plants, that the vegetable productions of New Holland, however novel and singular, are deficient in beauty. We do not think the censure by any means just in general; and if it were so, the shrub here delineated might atone for a multitude of unattractive ones, by its own transcendent elegance...

Smith did not stop here in his attempts to publicise Australian flora to a wider audience. In 1804 he published his Exotic Botany, another beautifully illustrated work with colour figures, describing, ‘New, Beautiful or Rare Plants as are worthy of cultivation in the Gardens of Britain’. Not surprisingly, he included many examples of Australian plants and again, with the cultivator in mind, made ‘remarks on their qualities, history and requisite modes of treatment’. James Sowerby was once more employed to make the drawings, from both live and herbarium specimens, including specimens and drawings sent by White anything up to fifteen years earlier. His close observations for the purpose of making accurate drawings seem to have been of use to the taxonomists. Smith records, for instance, that it was Sowerby who first noted the presence of minute glandular structures on the stalk of Dillwynia ericifolia that were absent from dried specimens.

Smith indicated that a number of Australian plants were in cultivation in Britain by the beginning of the nineteenth century, just twelve years after the establishment of the New South Wales colony. He mentions several growers by name and refers to Australian plants being ‘raised by many cultivators about London’. Despite the obvious interest of some growers, however, the impression that Australian plants were generally not enthusiastically received persists in this later work. Displaying the fervour of an evangelist, Smith attempted to convert British gardeners to the delights of Australia's flora. He speaks in terms of ‘fine species’ and of plants being entitled ‘to a place in our conservatories’ or ‘desirable acquisitions to the gardens’ because of their beauty or uniqueness. He bemoans the fact that some worthy plants are not getting the recognition they deserve. Viminaria denudata, the leafless rush-broom, for instance, although introduced to the gardens of Europe soon after the settlement of Port Jackson and successfully cultivated, 'is not now common in greenhouses'. Smith puts this down to the plant being 'more singular than ornamental.' Certainly few Australian plants would become as popular, or as familiar a sight in English gardens as exotics from other parts of the world such as the rhododendron, the camellia or the marigold.

In Exotic Botany there is further insight into Sir Joseph Banks's role in the distribution of plants to English gardens. But as said elsewhere in this book contemporary criticism was levelled against Banks that he kept all new plants for himself, or more specifically, for the King's garden at Kew, resisting requests to distribute them more widely. It certainly seems that Banks was very anxious to maintain the pre-eminence of Kew, but obviously occasionally distributed seeds and plants to a select wider audience. Smith records, for instance, that Lady Hume had several plants of the eponymous Humea elegans flower in her garden grown from seeds provided by Banks.

Mr Robinson's garden in Stockwell appears to still be an important source of live specimens, but Smith also refers to gardens further afield in his Exotic Botany. For instance, a catalogue of Cambridge plants records the cultivation of several Melaleucas. Smith also refers to the eminent French botanist, Ventenat, receiving a Melaleuca, from an unspecified nursery in England, possibly for Empress Josephine's garden at Malmaison.

About this time there was also a new source of plants from Australia, some of which would end up preserved in the Linnean Society collections. Banks employed George Caley, who he had had trained at Chelsea Physic Garden and Kew, as his personal collector, describing him as ‘young, full of health, and abounding with zeal’. Caley reached Sydney in 1800 and went directly to Parramatta where he started a garden, commenced botanising and began to rub his superiors up the wrong way. Conflict arose because his salary was paid for by Banks personally but his house and rations were supplied by the government. Considering himself only answerable to Banks, he often did not co-operate with the governor. He would hold back specimens of flora and fauna either for himself, or to send to his employer in England.

A former stable boy with only a smattering of Latin and Greek, Caley's contribution was practical, not academic. Specimens continued to be sent to England—as before by White—as there was still no-one in the colony with enough knowledge to classify them. Perhaps because of his lack of botanical Latin Caley would record local Aboriginal names on his specimen sheets— thus providing the first real data for the future study of Australian ethnobotany.

Caley was fearless in his explorations and covered much new ground, especially around the Blue Mountains. When, after ten years in New South Wales, he returned to England, he brought with him his adored pet parrot and the Aboriginal tracker who had helped him on his tedious collecting journeys in the bush. He now profited from the specimens he had guarded so assiduously by selling his collection of quadruped, bird and reptile skins to the Linnean Society in 1818. After his death in 1829 he left money for the care of his parrot, and his executors presented the Society with his superb selection Australian timber specimens to join the collections of White and the drawings of Watling. These were sold in 1863 when the Society decided to restrict its collections to those of Linnaeus and Smith, but in the sale, some of Caley's specimens found their way back to Australia.

The Linnean Society provided a focal point for the study of Australian flora in England. Thomas Wilson and James Edward Smith disseminated knowledge about Australia's plants with the publication of White's Journal and Smith's A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland and Exotic Botany, and Caley's unique Australian collections momentarily resided in the Society's rooms. Above all, the Society promoted Linnaeus's classification and taxonomic methods which his followers were applying to the increasing number of Australian plants that found their way to Europe.

1. Chapter 17 The French Discovery of Australian Flora

During his short stay in Botany Bay La Pérouse sent two letters to Paris—his last—via the returning convict transports. These letters had told of his plans to head for the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides. Then ‘I will go to the Friendly Islands’, he wrote, before he sailed into tropics in the cyclone season. From there he would go to the Isle-de-France, Mauritius, where he was expected in 1789. He never arrived. The ships were so long overdue that there was deep concern for their safety, especially by the Société d'Histoire Naturelle for La Pérouse's scientific staff of thirteen. Nothing had been heard of the ships since they left Botany Bay in early March, 1788.

In Paris, the Revolution had occupied public attention to the exclusion of all else, but now, the Société petitioned the National Assembly to send a search party which would, at the same time, continue La Pérouse's scientific research in the south-west Pacific. A pitiful picture was painted of the possible survivors, stranded on an alien shore, ‘their gaze wandering over the immensity of the seas’. The Société pointed out that if Britain could find the resources to send the Pandora after the Bounty mutineers, surely France could send out a search party for the worthy La Pérouse.

[17.1 Illustration: d'Entrecasteaux B+W Badger p167]

The National Assembly voted a million francs to send two ships, the Recherche and the Espérance, under the overall command of Admiral Antoine-Raymond-Joseph de Bruni d'Entrecasteaux. Huon de Kermadec had command of the Espérance. The plan, when they left on 28 September 1791, was to explore the southern coast of Australia, then sail for Fiji, following La Pérouse's probable route after his departure from Botany Bay. When the ship left Paris it was just two months after the King's flight to Varennes and the tense atmosphere of the Revolution was bought to Australia on the decks d'Entrecasteaux's ships. The captains and officers were ardent royalists while the crews and scientists were, in general, ardent revolutionaries. The scientists, as sons of the Enlightenment, were opposers of the ancien règime—especially the botanist Jacques-Julien Houtou de La Billardière, (1755–1834)—usually known simply as Jacques-Julien Labillardière. Felix Delahaye, the gardener-botanist, avoided being categorised as a supporter of either party. The invidious distinction as to status and promotion between noble officiers rouges and plebeian officiers bleus, although soon to be abolished, rankled; there was plenty of scope for tension on this scientific voyage.

Labillardière, the chief botanist, was born in Normandy. Having studied medicine at Montpellier, and botany under Antoine Gouan, he collected in the Swiss and French Alps then studied in England for two years. Here he visited Joseph Banks's herbarium at Soho Square and even met Banks himself, an association that would later prove invaluable to him. Labillardière's collecting trip to Syria and Lebanon resulted in the publication of Icones Plantarum Syriae Rariores. He ‘seized with avidity’ the opportunity to join the Pacific expedition and ensured that he was as well equipped as possible, taking 30,000 small pins for mounting specimens, 30 pints of sulphuric acid, 11,000 sheets of drying paper and a vast library.

Felix Delahaye (1767–1820) came to Paris when aged twenty as an apprentice at Paris's Jardin du Roi, eventually becoming Director of the city's l'Ecole Botanique. On this expedition his assignment was to effect plant exchange on a spectacular scale; to introduce various European plants around the islands they visited, and to bring back seeds, shoots and young plants for introduction into France or her colonies. Delahaye was eventually to work at Malmaison for the Empress Josephine, whose passion was growing exotic plants.

The expedition left Brest in September 1791 and the voyage to the Cape of Good Hope took a lengthy three months. When they arrived in Table Bay, a rumour was heard—although quickly denied—that Captain John Hunter (later Governor of New South Wales) had seen canoes manned by Admiralty Island natives wearing French uniforms. Although the information was suspect, d'Entrecasteaux felt obliged to follow it up, so a route was charted to the Admiralty Islands via the Moluccas (Maluka). Once at sea, his slow progress forced d'Entrecasteaux to modify his plans again. Supplies were rotting and maggot-ridden so he decided to follow a route similar to that of Bligh on the Bounty—across the Indian Ocean on the Roaring Forties—so that he could refresh quickly in Tasmania, and then enter the Pacific via the Tasman Sea.

Instead of arriving in Tasmania at Adventure Bay as they had expected, they found themselves in the ruggedly beautiful region near where Hobart now stands. One bay d'Entrecasteaux called after his ship, Recherche, he then named another channel and island after himself. They continued on to Adventure Bay, establishing that it was in fact part of a small island, not the main island of Tasmania at all. They also made more detailed maps of the area than those drawn during the voyages of Cook and Bligh.

Labillardière was delighted with the flora and fauna of this untouched environment and collected Eucalyptus globulus—Tasmanian blue-gum—as well as hundreds of other plants, including the old favourite of seamen, sea parsley, which had never been named before. He called it Apium prostratum, named so ‘because of the position of the stem which creeps along the ground...We carried a large quantity on board with us’. He also collected a large number of seeds.

The expedition left Tasmania on 28 May 1792. Little did they realise that soon after they left Bligh would stop once again at Adventure Bay on his second breadfruit voyage. Two pomegranates, a quince tree, three fig trees, an apple tree (which died) and a few acorns, were planted near a tree inscribed by Cook, in 1777, to commemorate his only visit there. Bligh, too, had an inscription carved onto the tree trunk to mark his visit and to draw attention to the fruit trees. At the end were the words: ‘Messrs. S. and W. botanists’, referring to Christopher Smith and James Wiles, chosen by Banks to care for the breadfruit plants, and to select and bring back other plants for Kew.

Meanwhile the French sailed north-east to New Caledonia, passing and stopping at island after island in the search for La Pérouse, of whom they found not a trace. They reached the Admiralty Islands and had dealings with the natives there, but found no evidence for the French uniforms story of Hunter. They stopped at Amboina (Ambon) for provisioning, where they were received cordially enough by the Dutch despite the deterioration in French relations with the rest of Europe as the Revolution had progressed. In October they headed for the west coast of Australia, reaching Cape Leeuwin, the south-western corner of the continent, in December 1792. They anchored at the entrance to King George III Sound but rough sees prevented them entering so they carried on, finally anchoring at Esperance Bay—named for their ship. Here they stayed for a week, going ashore several times. On one occasion Riche, one of the naturalists went missing, and it was only on Labillardière's insistence that the expedition waited for him to be found, nearly three days later. Labillardière made some exciting collections here finding what was to become known as kangaroo paw, the beautiful Anigozanthos, one species of which, A. manglesii, is now the floral emblem of Western Australia. He also found two new species of Banksia (one is now designated as Dryandra nivea) and a bush bearing edible fruit later named by Robert Brown Billardiera in his honour.

[17.3 Illustration: Billardiera Colour]

Labillardière's professional approach is reflected in the fact that he often recorded detailed descriptions of the plants he found directly into his journal. He had the following to say, for instance, about his discovery of the kangaroo paw:

In those arid wastes, grows a fine plant which nearly resembles the iris and which naturally classes itself with the genera dilatris and argolafia. It forms, however, a new and very distinct genus, principally by its irregular corolla.

I have delineated it under the name of Anigozanthos

Its flowers have no calix.

The corolla has the form of a tube, the edges of which are divided into six unequal parts recurvated inwards. It is covered with reddish pili.

The stamina, which are six in number, are inserted under the divisions of the corolla, which is placed upon the ovarium.

The style is simple, as well as the stigma.

The capsule is nearly spherical, and of the same colour with the flower by which it is surmounted. It has three cells filled with a great number of angular seeds.

The top of the stalk is covered with reddish pili, like the flowers.

I had denominated this species Anigozanthos rufa.[A. rufus]

The expedition then returned to Tasmania, arriving at Recherche Bay on 21 January, 1793. The same day, thousands of miles away in Paris, Louis XVI went to his death, still anxious to know of the fate of the man d'Entrecasteaux was searching for; he reportedly enquired on the steps of the guillotine, ‘At least, is there any news of Monsieur La Pérouse?’ Oblivious of the turn of events in France, Labillardière found Bligh's trees doing well—apart from the dead apple tree—but the ardent revolutionary was indignant at the inscription; he objected to the botanists having to display deference to Bligh by putting only their initials and giving him his full name.

The expedition stayed in Tasmania for a month, getting on well with the local Aboriginal people. They left on February 27th and headed straight for New Zealand but didn't make a landfall, hurrying on to Tongatapu where they took fruit and other fresh provisions on board, including 300 breadfruit tree saplings. They continued to New Caledonia where they were horrified at the evidence of cannibalism. Here, Huon de Kermadec, died of an illness from which he had been suffering since they left Tasmania.

As the search ships carried on towards New Guinea, near Santa Cruz, they sighted an island that they named after the Recherche. Never has a naming been more ironic. If only they had gone ashore, the French would have found that it was on this island, now known as Vanikoro, where, five years earlier, La Pérouse's ships had met their end, smashed against the rocks during a storm. At that point they might even have found some survivors. By a cruel turn of fate, the ships of the search party sailed within forty miles of where copper plates, timber decorated with the fleur-de-lys, guns, bells and a silver sword sheath were found almost forty years later. Unaware of their near miss, d'Entrecasteaux searched the Solomons and the Louisades in vain during May and June, finally giving up and turning the ships, with their exhausted and scorbutic crew, towards Java on 9 July.

The two search ships, like the lost ones they were seeking, never returned to France. D'Entrecasteaux died of scurvy and dysentery on the slow voyage to Java where the expedition ended in chaos. In the span of four years after the departure from Brest nearly half the crew perished. Unbeknown to the weary survivors, Dutch relations with France had deteriorated dramatically in that four years. The ships reached Java on 19 October 1793, to hear the devastating news that France was at war; her King and Queen had been guillotined; the National Assembly had been replaced and the Terror had begun; some 16,600 aristocrats, artisans, peasants and priests would share the fate of France's royal family before it would end.

Reflecting the violence in France, fighting broke out on board ship as the expedition dissolved into two factions, the republicans, led by Labillardière—who were desperate to get to the already revolutionised Isle-de-France—and the royalists. Anxious to gain support from the Dutch, the new captain, d'Auribeau, hoisted the white banner of the Bourbons with its golden fleur-de-lys, and had Labillardière's collections confiscated. The Dutch confused matters by not letting any of the Frenchmen leave. Seven republicans, including Labillardière, were arrested and marched for fifteen days 200 miles to Samarang, where they were kept under house arrest.

It was from here, in April 1794, that Labillardière wrote to Sir Joseph Banks in London, thanking him for his advice in the preparation of the voyage but informing him of the sad news that his work of the last three years, his collections, had been seized by d'Auribeau. He enclosed a similar letter for L'Héritier. The letters took two years to reach 32 Soho Square and Paris. Britain was then at war with both Holland and France.

D'Auribeau died in August 1794 and his successor, Roussel, took over the collections. He, and other French officers, were finally given permission to leave on the Hooghly in a Dutch convoy of ships leaving Batavia. It departed in January, 1795, fourteen months after the French had arrived, carrying the precious collections of flowers from Australia. Six months later, after many near mishaps, the Hooghly, was captured by the British as it was leaving St Helena on the homeward leg of its voyage.

The captain of the British ship Sceptre seized Labillardière's collections, papers and documents from the Hooghly, much to the anger of the two French officers guarding them. Two weeks later, when west of the Azores, a cutter came from the Sceptre to transfer the two French officers and their baggage to yet another ship. They were given no explanation for their transfer. The Hooghly which had started leaking badly, was abandoned and set on fire. It was only because of luck and war that the Australian collection was not on board.

Finally, after this bizarre journey from the other side of the world, the collections were unloaded in England in November 1795. At this point Labillardière's original letter to Banks from Java still hadn't arrived. The French king in exile, Louis XVIII, who was living in England, expressed a desire that the collections should be given to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, who, like her former mother-in-law Princess Augusta, spent much time at Kew. In March the thirty-six trunks were taken from the Customs House to the London residence of the royal French ambassador, the duc d'Harcourt, for safekeeping. The Queen then commanded Joseph Banks to examine them and advise whether she should accept the gift. Banks duly inspected them, assessing as best he could, the extent of the large collections without looking at them in any detail. He had recently finally received Labillardière's letter from Java, written two years earlier, but had yet to receive a direct request from Labillardière, only just himself safely arrived back in Paris, for their return. Banks wrote to the Queen's Vice-Chamberlain, Major Price:

The collection of plants bears testimony of an industry all but indefatigable in the Botanists who were employed, the chief of whom [Labillardière] I am sorry to say was the principal fomenter of the Mutiny, which took place in the ships, built on the strongest Jacobin Principles.

He recommended that the Queen accept the collection and offered to select one specimen of each species for her, a task that, given the size of the collection (he estimated about 10,000 specimens), would take him about a year. He didn't suggest what might be done with the thousands of duplicates.

At the same time as Banks was assessing the collection, the Directoire in Paris appealed to the British Government for its return. Banks then received a personal letter from Labillardière requesting his help in getting his specimens back. Labillardière also wrote to James Edward Smith at the Linnean Society, ‘Please make, my friend, all possible efforts. You know how much could be lost for science if collections of this nature were not returned to those who made them.’

The battle over the collections' proper destination raged. One side believed that they belonged to the French Crown and should be given to Queen Charlotte as Louis XVIII wanted, meanwhile the French authorities and savants at the Jardin des Plantes, pleaded for them to be sent across the Channel to France. This row is interesting in that it illustrates how plant exploration, botany and gardens, were a matter of state, and that ministers were no strangers to the botanical sciences.

A second approach was made by the new Directoire to the British in May. They also appealed directly to Banks. Having appeared committed to acquiring the collection for his Queen Banks then completely changed his stance and began to work behind the scenes to get the collection returned. On the 9th of June he wrote to Labillardière that members of the Cabinet were sympathetic to his arguments, and later that month got a verbal agreement from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grenville, that they might be restored. When nothing had happened a month later Banks wrote to the authorities again requesting a ‘speedy answer to this interesting subject, and to deprecate a refusal’. In early August an agreement was finally reached, the collections would be returned and Banks had the unpleasant task of telling the Queen that she would not be receiving any plants from them after all. Banks wrote to his friend de Jussieu in France the same month:

I confess I wish much to learn from his specimens some of those discoveries in the natural order of plants which he must have made, but it seemed to my feelings dishonourable to avail myself even of the opportunity I had of examining them...all will be returned to him. I shall not retain a leaf, a flower, or a Botanical idea of his collection, for I have not possessed myself of anything at all of his, that fortune committed to my custody.

The capitulation by the British may have been an olive branch to the Directoire, as it was thought they may be weakening and reinstating the monarchy; however, it is doubtful that the incident would have been drawn to such a fair conclusion without the intervention of Banks. It is also noteworthy that this correspondence was carried on, and a satisfactory conclusion achieved, despite the fact that Britain and France were at war.

At the height of the dispute, Labillardière had written a letter stating:

I believe that to persuade the English to return them to the Republic it is essential to treat them as personal property, the war between us would be a powerful reason for the retention of anything belonging to the nation.

It is, of course, disputable, whether they actually were the personal property of Labillardière, but his subsequent classifications and publication of the flora of Australia and New Caledonia, justified his actions.

The expedition in search of La Pérouse, like that of La Pérouse himself, had ended in chaos. Yet out of this extraordinary attempt at reconnaissance, in which so many lives were lost, came a remarkable haul of plants—the first large collection of flora from Australia since that of Banks and Solander, to return to Europe. Thanks to Labillardière's unstinting work afterwards, it would also lead to first major published work on the Australian flora.

With his collections on their way back to Paris Labillardière looked forward to starting this ambitious work, but before that could happen, a pushy, ambitious young general, had him sent to Italy to assess works of art that he intended to acquire for France. Napoleon Bonaparte's order meant Labillardière's hard-won collections had to wait.

1. Chapter 18 Spain and Britain in the Pacific

Despite suffering frequent near famine a settlement at Port Jackson had been created from nothing, but the day was still distant when the colony would not have to rely on food from ships coming right around the globe. The colony was becoming busy; whalers, traders and cargo ships found their way into Sydney harbour including the Atrevida and the Descubierta, ships of the first major Spanish voyage of exploration to the Pacific for many years. Led by Alessandro Malaspina, a highborn Italian, the expedition was to provide the first opportunity for assessment of the colony by professional botanists. Malaspina anchored for a month in the autumn of 1793 and during that time, he and his crew had the opportunity to see and judge the new settlement at close quarters.

The Spaniards had been the first Europeans in the Pacific. For more than two centuries past their slow moving galleons, heavy with cargoes, crept across from Panama, via Guam, to Manila in the Philippines along one uniform course, thirteen degrees south of the equator. These galleons, unless diverted by weather or pirates—such as Read and Dampier—seldom strayed from their plotted route. The Spanish controlled settlements on the eastern and western shores of the Pacific, but they had not been near Australia since the time Torres, in 1606, had sailed through the strait named after him.

Malaspina's grand expedition, which sailed from Cadiz in July 1789, was one of the rare occasions when the Spanish officially deviated from the Manila - Panama route. With two graceful and splendid frigates, superbly equipped and staffed with scientists and artists, it ranks along with the La Pérouse voyage as one of the most organised and expensive eighteenth century European ventures into the South Pacific. It was also noteworthy in having one of the best health records of any of the early Pacific voyages: out of a crew and staff of well over 200, there were only ten deaths during its five year duration from the usual murder, accident, fevers or disease. Malaspina was particularly successful in conquering scurvy which usually plagued such voyages.

The perfect choice to lead this prestigious Spanish expedition, with its nobly scientific aims to advance the frontiers of knowledge, Malaspina had unrivalled maritime experience and, in the opinion of the naval minister, Valdés, was the foremost officer in the Spanish navy for reasons of his ‘knowledge, lineage, nobility and elegance of person and manner, proud bearing, firmness of manner and talent for society’.

The ships visited Montevideo, the Falkland Islands, Cape Horn, Central America—where Malaspina suggested a canal might be cut through the isthmus to link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans—and the west coast of the United States and Canada. They then crossed the Pacific stopping at several island groups and New Zealand before heading for New South Wales, arriving in March 1793. The expedition spent a month in Australia and then sailed to the Vavau islands of Tonga, claiming it for Spain, before returning to Cadiz in July 1794, via South and Central America.

The five year voyage—it was not a circumnavigation—produced a wealth of information but, because of the imprisonment of Malaspina after his return, the notes of the scientists and the drawings of the artists were scattered, and it was nearly a century before a report on the expedition was published. The only results that were immediately consolidated were of some of the botanical collections, of which more later.

The suppression of the scientific papers was a consequence of the dashing Italian Malaspina's flirtations with the Spanish Queen Maria Luisa. The subtle power and vindictiveness wielded by the meretricious Queen—and her fat but weak husband, Charles IV—were immortalised by the court painter Goya, in his candid portraits of the two very flawed royal characters. Unfortunately, Malaspina was to become a victim the pair's machinations.

Malaspina had sailed two weeks after the fall of the Bastille, and returned at the time of the Terror, when there was a bloodthirsty reaction against liberal thought. Malaspina rashly tangled with chief minister Godoy, the Queen's lover, criticising Spanish policy in the government of its colonies and, even worse, competing with him as a possible rival in the favours of the Queen. She persuaded the handsome Malaspina to put his radical views in writing and to leave them in her care. He was critical of the ‘closed shop’ of Spanish administrative practice, pointing out the advantages of autonomy and free trade. The Queen betrayed him. Ostracised from royal circles as an insurgent, the seven lavish volumes of reports of his voyage, which would have included an account on the botany of Sydney, were abandoned. Malaspina was imprisoned in the castle of La Coruña for seven years. Forbidden—and unable in his cramped cell—to write up his own journal, or to continue supervision of the scientific results of the voyage, Malaspina fell into a state of melancholy. Banished from Spain forever he died seven years after his release, which had been instigated by Napoleon, at his home in northern Italy. Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), the great German scholar said, ‘this able navigator is more famous for his misfortunes than for his discoveries.’

This voyage, which ended so disappointingly, had sailed from Spain full of promise with a carefully selected scientific staff on two superbly equipped ships. No expense had been spared in fitting out the expedition and the ships' identical crews of sixteen officers and eighty-six sailors. The French government supplied maps and details about the missing La Pérouse expedition in the hope Malaspina might discover something of its fate.

There were two naturalists on board of which the more eminent was Luis Née, a naturalised Spaniard of French descent. He had worked in the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid during the reign of Charles III. The King's interest in botany is marked on the garden gates with the words ‘restorer of the botanic art for the health and delight of his citizens.’ He breathed new life into the gardens and under him, Spain was ambitious to become a world leader in plant exploration.

Malaspina wrote to Sir Joseph Banks in January 1789 about the scientific aspects of the expedition. He informed him of the ‘two specially built ships which will set sail about the first of July [will have aboard] botanists and artists...the trails of the later voyages, especially those that Captain Cook and La Pérouse have blazed for us’. He then requested that Banks ‘point out any research—be it of a physical or maritime nature—that you might deem most helpful for this kind of voyage’.

Malaspina did not receive a response and wrote once more, on 17 June. This time he got Banks's reply full of advice and encouragement, and sent a final letter just before he sailed. ‘Nothing’, he wrote to the veteran of the Endeavour, ‘can dispute your right [to know] everything which pertains to botany and natural history in general from this kind of voyage’.

Nearly a year into the voyage a third botanist, Thaddeus Haenke, joined Née and his colleague Antonio Pineda, at Santiago in Chile. This famous Bohemian intellectual had missed the ships in Cadiz, but was so keen to participate that he sailed to the Atlantic side of South America, then travelled by donkey, horse and foot across the Andes to the Pacific to catch up with the Spanish frigates then en route to Acapulco, Manila, Tonga and countless Pacific Islands.

In February 1793, when Malaspina was off New Zealand near Dusky Sound, strong winds forced his ships offshore. He decided to head for Botany Bay. Judge David Collins, who was responsible under the Governor for the colony's entire legal establishment, wrote in his journal after the arrival of these graceful frigates, ‘they were the two ships of whose expected arrival information had been received from government in the year 1790: and to whom it was recommended that every attention should be paid’. The letters from Malaspina to Joseph Banks four years earlier had paved the way. Collins continued:

They were well manned, and had, beside the officers customary in king's ships, a botanist and limner on board each vessel...The arrival of these strangers, together with that of the ship from Bengal, gave a pleasant diversity to the full routine that commonly prevailed in the town of Sydney; everyone striving to make their abode among us as cheerful as possible, and to convince them that though severed from the mother country, and residing in woods and among savages, we had not forgotten the hospitalities due to a stranger...

Indeed, the Spaniards were warmly received and there was much exchange of hospitality. The Spanish even killed a cow on board for a dinner for the British officers and their ladies. The colony, a little over five years old, made a favourable impression, especially on a jaunt up-river to see the farms established on the more fertile soils at Parramatta.

Haenke wrote to Banks from Port Jackson in which he referred to the colony as a future new Rome. ‘It is difficult to express the longing’, he wrote ‘I felt in approaching and beholding a land, a large part of which you once happened to see...and which has added such a number of Plants to the treasury as to be judged worthy of being known by the name of the beloved Science of Botany [i.e. Botany Bay]’. He went on to describe the beauty of the Banksias he saw and how the number of plants surpassed all their expectations.

Louis Née gave a detailed description of his own botanising in the area:

I went out to herbalise when the rain did not prevent me. I usually started at 9 in the morning because before that hour the dew is so heavy that it is as bad as rain. I explored all the hills surrounding Port Jackson, collecting rare plants. One day I started to Botany Bay at 4 in the morning accompanied by two soldiers. I found the narrow paths covered with undergrowth and the dew was so heavy that I was wet to the skin. The soil is arid and there existed no water except in a few ditches. Here and there stood a group of trees and some thickets, and for the rest there was hardly any vegetation. I saw a few places suitable for agriculture, among them patches of black earth but no water, and a plain of half a league wide lay between Port Jackson and Botany Bay which I think will yield wheat and barley. Various species of melaleuca, rushes and [sedge?] show there is humidity in the soil, which is covered with vegetable moss...Some half a league before I reached the bay I found a valley with an abundant stream of water, so abundant that it would suffice to fertilise the soil, a good deal of which is marshy and would be suitable for rice until the water can be drained...Upon the shore we found three sorts of armulus [Armuelle] of which one was bearing fruit: three kinds of convoluli, one very like soldanella; two ranunculi and among many other plants three geraniums, one resembling coloured grass, and in the standing water some reeds and three new droseras. A little further from the sea there were casuarinae, el mangle [mangrove], which is also common in the Philippines, and various banksias with curious cryptogams. Such is the quantity of plants that grows there that, in order to classify and collect them, it would be necessary to live there fore many years. Having satisfied my curiosity and loaded myself with plants I resumed my way to Port Jackson. I reached the river again but could not cross it because of the tide, so I waited for it to go down, employing my time in increasing my collection by eight plants...At last I crossed the river, collecting nine new plants as I went, and arrived safely at the town, where I dried and pressed my collection, robbing the moments from rest and sleep. He who knows what it is to study flora will be able to judge of the extent of my observations when he learns that in 27 days I collected more than 1000 plants of a new kind and of each plant various species.

Malaspina noted that the colony was obviously still very new but he was impressed by the ‘corn, wheat, and barley, [which] though not too abundant, were giving signs of an attractive harvest...The fruit trees, vegetable patches, and especially the lemon and the grapevine, gave new stimulus to the common activity and aspirations’. He was disappointed that ‘because of this season of the year, the botanical collections of Messrs. Haenke and Née were rather sketchy, although both of them had worked very hard’.

Describing the collections as ‘a little sketchy’ was perhaps too strong a criticism as it was from this extensive plant collection that Antonio José Cavanilles published over forty Australian plants in 1800, including three important new Banksias—B. oblongifolia, B. robur and B. marginata. He also named Melaleuca quinquenervia (as Metrosideros quinquenervia) because of its dark-green, usually five-nerved leaves.

About 12,000 of the 16,000 plants that Née brought back to Spain—1,500 of which were collected in Australia—are still preserved at the Real Jardin Botanico, Madrid. These were worked on by Née himself and by Cavanilles. Unfortunately both were quite old when they started to sort out the material and Née, who wanted to produce a vast treatise on his findings, died before he could publish.

Haenke's 15,000 specimens fared a little better, most being acquired by the Prague Museum, and some were distributed to institutions in Europe and the United States. The major botanical results were published in the late 1820s in C. B. Presl's Reliquiae Haenkeana. Haenke had disembarked in Peru on the homeward voyage and never returned to Europe. His interest in South America was such that he stayed there until his death nearly thirty years later. The job of classifying the plants therefore fell to other botanists, who often found it difficult deciphering Haenke's often illegible notes in half a dozen different languages jammed up on tiny bits of paper.

Malaspina's was not the only expedition in the Pacific during the 1790s, and the botanical results of a simultaneous British voyage, led by George Vancouver, would also have a chequered history. The north-west coast of America, from San Francisco to Alaska, was sketchily known and both Britain and Spain had an interest in the area. In 1789 a British expedition to chart the coast and investigate the North-west Passage was being planned when Spain's aggressive territory-seeking in the area added a political dimension to the voyage. Spain suddenly laid claim to Nootka Sound, a fur trading post on what is now Vancouver Island. They arrested some British ships there, much to the indignation of the British government. Diplomatic negotiations between the two nations over the so-called Nootka Sound Affair rumbled on for months and eventually, Captain George Vancouver, with two ships, the Discovery and the Chatham, was sent to repossess the trading post for the British. Vancouver was also to chart the coast and to visit Australia during the course of the four year voyage.

[18.2 Illustration: Menzies B&W]

Never one to miss a chance to send a plant collector across the world, Banks organised for the surgeon-botanist Archibald Menzies to travel with the expedition. In February 1791 he sent Menzies a long and detailed letter with instructions on plant collecting and making observations about natural history and native peoples. He also instructed him to keep a journal. Menzies already had experience of the north-west American coast from an earlier voyage and had provided Banks with many specimens. Unfortunately Menzies and Vancouver got off to a bad start, and the lack of clarification of Menzies' status on board meant that their relations were intermittently strained. They got so bad in the latter part of the voyage that Menzies spent the last three months of it under arrest. During this time his collections of live plants, assiduously collected and cared for, suffered irreparably. Despite his trials and tribulations Menzies managed to retain his dried specimens and manuscripts, many of the former he duly delivered to Banks on his return. Among those collections were plants collected in King George III Sound, Western Australia.

Vancouver set out in April 1791 bound for the Cape of Good Hope via Tenerife. From the Cape they headed for New Holland—as the western half of Australia was still known—and sailed along the coast from Point d'Entrecasteaux to King George III Sound, where Albany now stands. The expedition stayed in this florally rich area for just over two weeks in September and October 1791, and Menzies made some perceptive observations of the flora as well as collecting plants including some new Banksias. He made:

...various excursions around the Sound making copious collections of its vegetable productions, particularly the genus Banksia which were there very numerous.

He found the land far less barren than he had expected being ‘impressed with a very rich idea of its fertility from the richness and abundance of its vegetable productions’. Menzies regarded Australia as ‘a fine field for Botanizing!’ and his enthusiastic reports of the flora of the Albany area would lead to it becoming a Mecca for botanists.

When Menzies found eucalypts showing evidence of having been burnt he speculated that the local Aboriginal people may have had some part in the burning. He also recommended that this part of New Holland would afford an ‘eligible situation for a settlement’.

[18.3 Illustration: King George III Sound, B+W Badger p 196]

Vancouver elected not to stop at Botany Bay, much to the disappointment of the crew who were both curious about the new colony and anxious for a relatively civilised landfall. Instead, he carried on to Tasmania, New Zealand and Tahiti. Resuming the voyage again he sailed to Hawai'i, finally arriving in the Juan de Fuca Strait in April 1792 after several stops up the American coast. Vancouver successfully negotiated the Nootka Sound handover with the Spanish representative Don Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, and they agreed to name the disputed area ‘Quadra and Vancouver Island’.

Vancouver stayed in north Pacific area for the next two years charting much of the north American coast and revisiting Hawai'i while Menzies took every opportunity to botanise. On the way home in January 1795 HMS Discovery arrived at St Helena, just as the convoy carrying Labillardière's confiscated collection was departing. By a strange coincidence, these two important collections of Western Australian plants collected by Menzies and the revolutionary Frenchman, briefly came together.

The expedition finally arrived home in October 1795. The strained relations between Vancouver and Menzies that had existed intermittently throughout the voyage did not persist, and Menzies was allowed to take his collections. He immediately set about curating his specimens, comparing them with both Banks's and the Linnean Society's collections. He also showed them to such notables as James Edward Smith, Robert Brown and W. J. Hooker who published descriptions of some of Menzies' new species. Although he didn't publish anything himself, there is evidence that Menzies was preparing a manuscript on the collections which has since been lost. Menzies' contribution to the establishment of new species by others from his specimens still, over two centuries later, needs to be fully assessed. His annotations on his herbarium sheets indicate that he had his own ideas about the classification of different species. They show, for instance, that he obviously recognised a distinction between the Banksias and the Hakeas.

A large number of the specimens went to his sponsor Joseph Banks, but these too, like the rest of Banks's collections, would never be published—yet more Australian plants destined to languish, undescribed in Banks's herbarium. Some of the species Menzies collected were destined to be described instead by others, from their own specimens picked later. Eucalyptus cornuta, for example, collected by Menzies in King George III Sound, was eventually described by Labillardière from a specimen he collected in the Esperance area in 1792. The same is true of the genus Adenanthos, a member of the Proteaceae family, which Menzies also collected, but it was described and published again by Labillardière from an Esperance specimen.

Despite the huge potential of his collection, few of Menzies' Australian plants collected on this voyage were ever described as type specimens. Even today there is no concise listing of his collections. However, Menzies also brought back seeds from the voyage, some of which were successfully germinated. Descriptions of two Banksias, B. praemorsa and B. grandis, were made from plants grown from these seeds.

19. Chapter 19 Australia at Malmaison

The latter years of the eighteenth century in Europe were characterised by an increasing political tension between Britain and France, culminating in the Napoleonic Wars. By coincidence, much of the botanical work on Australian plants was being done at the same time, not by English but by French academics. Perhaps because of contemporary antipathy towards France, or perhaps because of the language barrier, this has often gone unacknowledged both in England and Australia—especially outside the academic botanical community—as has the Empress Josephine's enthusiastic cultivation of new Australian plants at her beloved chateau, Malmaison, near Paris.

[19.1 Illustration: Josephine B+W]

As Felix Delahaye, gardener on d'Entrecasteaux's ill-fated voyage, sailed around the Great Australian Bight towards his Tasmanian garden in January 1793; ten thousand miles away in Paris, events that were to shape his future were changing the social order in France. Louis XVI went to the guillotine closely followed by his wife Marie-Antoinette. Her garden, La Trianon, despised and neglected after her death, was eventually to fall under Delahaye's care, as was the garden of another French queen, the Empress Josephine's Malmaison.

Delahaye's adventures in the chaos at the end of the voyage were less traumatic than those of his colleague, Labillardière. He had not been labelled a real republican like his colleagues and was allowed to continue botanising in Java. After a pleasant sojourn collecting he was sent, with 280 living specimens in pots—including several healthy breadfruit trees—to the Isle-de-France. The breadfruit trees went to French islands in the Caribbean and Delahaye returned to France. He also had herbarium specimens—some two and a half thousand of them—duplicates of Labillardière's collection which had been taken to England.

Delahaye's return to troubled France took nearly four years, but eventually he arrived on the frigate Cybele in the spring of 1797. It was not long before this worthy gardener was employed, being made Jardinier-Chef at La Trianon in 1798. These adored gardens of Marie-Antoinette (1755–93) lie within, but far beyond, the gilded iron gates of the palace of Versailles. Originally built as a retreat for Louis XIV in 1670, over the next century La Trianon expanded to include a botanic garden and La Petit Trianon, built for Louis XV's mistress, the Comtesse du Barry (1741–93). However, after the King's death in 1774, Madame du Barry was dismissed from court, and La Trianon became a favourite residence of Marie-Antoinette, the wife of the new King.

Marie-Antoinette's name may be linked with frivolous extravagances in the closing years of the ancien régime, but her garden at La Trianon was the setting for a mimic peasant life. She had the garden laid out in the newly fashionable English style, with rustic villas, retreating paths and winding walks, where violets and daisies grew in the grass. It is this garden, not the grand French parks, with their statuary, topiary, straight lines and formal vistas, which is always associated with the ill-fated French queen. For six years Felix Delahaye resurrected it from the neglect and disorder from which all Versailles suffered after the Revolution. It is now one of the most visited gardens in Europe. He also started a horticultural establishment in Versailles which his wife ran so successfully that it was later carried on by his sons.

While Delahaye was re-establishing his career, his fellow naturalist on d'Entrecasteaux's voyage, Jacques-Julien Labillardière, began his seminal work on their collections of Australia's flora. Soon after Labillardière returned to Paris in March 1796, following his horrific three year journey from the shores of Tasmania, he was off on another excursion. He had hardly had time to write letters to London pleading for the return of his collections before his great breadth of learning, and knowledge of the fine arts, was required by the Directoire. Napoleon, having successfully invaded northern Italy, was planning the transportation to France of an enormous body of Italian paintings by the likes of Bellini, Correggio, Vecchio, Perugino, Raphael and Titian—as well as scientific specimens and books. Labillardière was recruited to travel to Italy and evaluate these works of art—as well as to collect plants. When the thirty-six trunks containing the fruits of his labours on the d'Entrecasteaux voyage finally arrived in Paris, Labillardière was absent in Italy. By some strange irony, this same collection would also end up in Florence some thirty years after Labillardière's death.

Undaunted by his Italian distraction and his experiences at the end of the voyage, Labillardière finally settled in Paris and began work on the first major account of Australian flora ever to be published. The two volumes appeared in Paris between 1804 and 1806 as Novae Hollandiae Plantarum Specimen. It was not just the publication of these two illustrated tomes which was a notable achievement, it was the fact that Labillardière had personally classified, named and published more of the flora of Australia than anyone else in the world. Robert Brown's Prodromus, which came out four or five years later, although more comprehensive, was not illustrated. Labillardière also wrote up the flora of New Caledonia, and a book describing the whole expedition, Voyage in Search of La Perouse. Always steadfast in his purpose, he lived in isolation in Paris on the seventh floor of a building, not because he was a misanthrope, but to ensure that he had few visitors to distract him from his absorbing work. Aloof, honest, with a sharp tongue, an amusing wit, a great sympathy for the Australian Aboriginal people and an appreciation of Australian vegetation, Labillardière's contribution to the history of Australian flora deserves a particular recognition.

While Labillardière was assiduously describing Australian plants, his future empress was delighting in growing them. In Josephine's garden beds, orangeries and glasshouses at Malmaison some of the first Eucalyptus, Angophora, Callistemon, Leptospermum and Acacia were thriving.

Probably few houses in modern history are more associated with a personality more than is Malmaison with Josephine. Three years after her marriage to Napoleon in 1796 she acquired this small chateau in Rueil, eight miles west of Paris, across the Seine from Croissy. For Josphine the house and garden of her beloved Malmaison were inseparable and she spent a fortune on both. Reared the daughter of a sugar planter in the tropical environment of Martinique in the Caribbean, Josephine had a passion for flowers. When Lord and Lady Holland visited Malmaison in 1802, Josephine told them, ‘these are my conquests’, plucking a branch of jasmine introduced from her native Martinique, she added ‘the seeds were sown and tended by my own hands—they remind me of my country, my childhood and the ornaments of my adolescence.’

Josephine modelled her garden on the romantic English school of landscape design. On the edge of a small lake, fringed with weeping willows, was an antique temple with eight Ionic columns; winding paths led the visitor into surprise glades and vistas. Much to Napoleon's displeasure, Josephine's chief gardener was also English, a Mr Howatson. Napoleon wanted a more formal garden and it was he who introduced the urns and statuary which marred the park. Josephine just wanted plants and more plants. The architect Fontaine complained that ‘Madame Bonaparte wants nothing but l'anglais, nothing but what is tortuous, animated, uneven, with precipices, rivers.’

Josephine began importing plants for her Malmaison garden around 1800. She first received seeds from her family back in the West Indies, and soon plants and seeds were arriving from Africa, Asia and South America. Notable donors included James Edward Smith and the Lee and Kennedy nursery in England, and the renowned naturalist Alexander von Humboldt in Germany. Sir Joseph Banks personally sent her Nicotiana undulata. Bonaparte himself also got involved in this plant exchange. In 1801 he wrote to Josephine saying he had some plants for her received from London, and in 1810, the year after their divorce, he sent her some 800 plants and an unknown number of seeds from Schönbrunn in Vienna. For fourteen years, until her death, rare plants poured in and were carefully tended, propagated, displayed and distributed.

In March 1804, Josephine wrote to her gardener:

I want Malmaison to become a source of wealth for all the Departments of France. That is why I have sent them so many trees and shrubs...I want each of them to ten years' time...a collection of precious plants issued from my nurseries.

Josephine was as generous as she was extravagant. It was this extravagance that finally provided Napoleon with the excuse he wanted to dismiss Howatson, sispensing with him when he received an excessive bill for the transportation of some shrubs to Malmaison. Charles-François Brisseau de Mirbel eventually stepped into the vacancy—and into the story of the introduction of Australian plants into Europe. For with de Mirbel came Felix Delahaye, fresh from his success at La Trianon, Versailles. Delahaye would be the conduit for many Australian species to find their way to Malmaison, providing Josephine with seeds that he and Labillardière had brought back from their voyage with d'Entrecasteaux in search of La Pérouse. Delahaye worked for Josephine for the rest of her life and so close was their relationship, that he was present in the house when she died.

The garden of Malmaison has long since gone, but the Australian plants which Delahaye introduced and tended there, were distributed all over France. From Josephine's hothouses many different plants, some grown for the first time outside Australia, were distributed to be cultivated in the open air of the Cote D'Azur and then to other countries around the Mediterranean.

Josephine's garden was immortalised in the book Jardin de Malmaison, with its stunning colour engravings by Pierre-Joseph Redouté of the wide range of exotic plants that she cultivated. Over a third of the illustrations are of the Australian plants that grew in her garden and hothouses. This beautiful production, with descriptions by the eminent ‘Botanist to Her Majesty’ Etienne-Pierre Ventenat, cost her 130,000 francs to produce. Many of the 184 exotic species Josephine nurtured at Malmaison, included kangaroo paw, wattle, banksias, callistemon, boronia, the flame pea, dianella, hakea, leptospermum, melaleuca and hibiscus from Australia.

Josephine first met Redouté around 1798 and she commissioned him to paint some watercolours for the walls of her bedroom at Malmaison, for which she paid him 7,200 francs. This highly talented artist was born in present-day Belgium and before the Revolution had been flower painter to Marie-Antoinette. He would later continue his association with royalty by painting for the restored Bourbon dynasty. Redouté was a close friend of the botanist Charles Louis L'Héritier, accompanying him on his visit to England—and Joseph Banks's herbarium—in 1786/7. When L'Heritiér made the first description of the genus Eucalyptus in his Sertum Anglicum, it was Redouté who drew the type specimen, Eucalyptus obliqua, collected in Tasmania by David Nelson back in 1777.

Redouté also knew Etienne-Pierre Ventenat, and when Josephine wanted Ventenat to write her book on the exotic plants at Malmaison, Redouté was the obvious choice of artist to prepare the sumptuous illustrations. Josephine employed him at a cost of 18,000 francs per year. He would also illustrate Aimé Bonpland's later work on the flowers of Malmaison and Navarre (1812–17). Redouté's association with Josephine was to lead to his most famous work Les Roses. Although this was not produced until after her death, the very first paintings were done while Redouté was in Josephine's employ.

Redouté's descriptions of the gardens he had seen in England, particularly Kew, were an influence at Malmaison. The largest of her hothouses was comparable to that at Kew and in some ways may even be regarded as its superior. It also served as a salon with exquisite furnishings and decoration.

There is no doubt that Josephine was more than just interested in plants, she also possessed a good botanical working knowledge gained from her association with men such as Redouté, Delahaye, Ventenat and de Mirbel. Guests to Malmaison were astounded at her recall of the Latin names of all her acquisitions and one commentator noted that Josephine kept several botanical textbooks at her bedside. Her knowledge was practical too. In a letter she wrote to her daughter, Hortense, in 1811, she describes a plant of the Morus family, (which includes the Mulberry tree), that she might expect to find in the woods around Fontainbleau, and instructs her how she might successfully transplant and cultivate it.

While Napoleon's troops regimented Europe, Josephine, with the help of devoted botanical advisers, stayed at home and grew exotic flowers. The cult of gardens and beautiful and unusual plants was, after all, a tradition of the former kings and queens of France, and across the Channel, Queen Augusta and Queen Charlotte showed a similar interest in their own royal gardens at Kew. Like royalty today, Josephine was also leader of fashion, in every sense. Every fabric she wore was reprinted or rewoven by the textile mills in imitated designs; every dress she had was copied by modistes all over France. The same flattery followed through to her garden; what she grew, other people wanted, the gardeners of France followed her lead and nothing pleased the display-loving Josephine more than having supplied France with a beautiful adornment.

Despite his irritation at her extravagance Napoleon recognised the great joy that Josephine found in her garden. After their divorce he even gave her four thousand livres to spend on Malmaison, saying it would allow ‘you to do as much planting as you like’. It was to Malmaison that Josephine finally retired and she died there in 1814. Napoleon revisited Malmaison in 1815 with Hortense. It was here in the quiet surroundings of the garden Josephine had created, that he had found his greatest peace and inspiration, having had a tent specially constructed in the grounds to provide an outdoor room. He declared that the fresh air, being conducive to the ‘expansion of ideas’, helped him to think.

Although she created a rich horticultural heritage Josephine is rarely remembered as a gardener. The work that most commemorates and celebrates her passion for gardening is Jardin de la Malmaison, but perhaps, with it's superb Redouté engravings, this is the most fitting tribute the gardener-empress could have had. Ventenat's dedication sums up Josephine's contribution to exotic botany:

You have gathered around you the rarest plants growing on French soil. Some, indeed, which have never before had left the deserts of Arabia or the burning sands of Egypt have been domesticated though your care. Now, regularly classified, they offer to us as we inspect them in the beautiful gardens of Malmaison, an impressive reminder of the conquests of your illustrious husband and a most pleasant evidence of the studies you have pursued in your leisure hours.

Ventenat earlier had named the beautiful Josephinia imperatricis, after his empress and patron. Fittingly, Josephinia, an Australian plant, was first grown in Europe at Malmaison.

20. Chapter 20 Australia Circumnavigated

The tenth anniversary of the new settlement was marked by the initiation of the most ambitious natural history voyage to date. In 1798, two years after Labillardière, and a year after Delahaye had returned to France with crates of Australian plants from their epic Pacific journey, the established botanical explorer and sea captain, Nicolas Baudin, proposed that another expedition be sent to explore the Australian coastline. Several stretches of the coast were still imperfectly known. There was still debate, for instance, as to whether the Gulf of Carpentaria led to a channel that actually divided the continent into two. Baudin gained the support of the Institut National (which became the Institut de France in 1806), and Napoleon, just after he was made First Consul, agreed to the proposition. An advisory committee, which included such luminaries as Bougainville, de Jussieu, Laplace, Lacépède, Cuvier and Fleurieu, ensured that the expedition would be unsurpassed in its scientific complement and equipment.

[20.1 Illustration: Portrait Nicolas Baudin B+W]

It was, perhaps, audacious of the French to plan a survey of the areas so close to a British settlement—especially as the British had not surveyed or mapped all the Australian coast themselves. Since Britain and France had been at war for over six years the French were obliged to request passports. Britain's humiliating defeat by the American colonists in the 1780s had been followed by a long struggle against Napoleon whose territorial ambitions were well known. Despite the fact that Napoleon's support of the venture was tinged with national interest, the passports were granted without demur as the overriding objectives of the expedition were scientific.

New South Wales was now firmly established as a British colony, and already more than a place of penal servitude. The gaol-without-bars had expanded to a population of around 6,000 souls and some of the colony's natural products—whale and seal oil—were being exploited and exported. Stories of schools of huge whales off the Australian coast abounded; a sperm whale had been seen in Sydney Harbour, yet another had capsized a small boat. But this was nothing compared to the tales of some captains who reported gigantic schools of whales between Tasmania and Port Jackson. One captain assured Governor Phillip that he had seen more whales on this coast in one voyage than in six years off the coast of Brazil. After landing their valuable convict cargoes some of the transport ships, which were actually owned and run by private contractors, went whaling with zest in the hope of taking home such lucrative products as whale oil and corset bones. In 1801, one ship alone took 155 tons of oil. Sealing in Tasmania was becoming another major industry. Groups of men were landed on islands to ruthlessly club to death seals, male and female, young and old, for their valuable fur.

Back in France, the detailed preparations for their latest venture to the south seas were complete. Nicolas Baudin (1750–1803), Post Captain and commander-in-chief of the elegant corvettes Géographe and Naturaliste,—showcases of the new revolutionary republic—set sail for Australia from Le Havre on 19 October 1800. These two beautiful ships were superbly equipped and manned. On board were twenty-two naturalists , far more than Baudin had originally intended. They included the naturalists Leschenault de la Tour and François Péron, widely regarded as the father of modern anthropology, as well as the artists Charles Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas Martin Petit, and a plethora of other zoologists, mineralogists, astronomers and gardeners.

Baudin's instructions were to examine in detail the south-west, west, north-west and north coasts of Australia. Combining this information with the maps already done by the English on the east-coast of New South Wales, and the French on Tasmania and the south-west coast, would give Napoleon's government a map of the entire continent.

[20.2 Illustration: Portrait of Flinders B+W]

The departure of Baudin's expedition provoked the British to action. They could not stand by and let the French chart, and perhaps claim, parts of the Australian coast. Matthew Flinders, a young midshipman from Boston in Lincolnshire, had already written to his countryman Sir Joseph Banks about the possibility of mounting a British expedition to complete the surveying of the coast of New Holland. Flinders, with George Bass, had recently spent some time exploring the south coast of Australia, at last confirming Tasmania's island status by sailing through Bass Strait. Flinders had written up this work in 1800 and published it in London with a dedication to Banks. Typically, Banks responded enthusiastically to Flinders' idea, and late in 1800 got the support of the Admiralty, who were, no doubt, acutely aware that the French expedition was well underway. In contrast to the detailed and expensive preparations of the French, the British Admiralty hurriedly refitted the rather leaky ex-collier, Xenophon and renamed her Investigator for the voyage. There was no committee as in France to choose the scientific party, everything was left to the eminent, now middle-aged, president of the Royal Society. In April 1801 Banks wrote a note to the Admiralty asking, ‘Is my proposal for an alteration in the undertaking of the Investigator approved? J.B.’ The reply from the Admiralty gives a glimpse at his role in the affairs in the colony, ‘Any proposal you may make will be approved. The whole is left entirely to your decision’.

Although none of his first choices finally went on the voyage, Banks ended up with a scientific complement of such high quality that the voyage proved to be a triumph for botany, as well as cartography and geography. Robert Brown was the botanist, Peter Good the gardener, Ferdinand Bauer the natural history painter and William Westall the landscape painter. Flinders, still only twenty-eight, was appointed as Lieutenant-in-Command and prepared the ship to follow a similar route to Baudin.

Given the rapidity of the preparations Banks had done well; there was even a large collapsible greenhouse on board—and one of the most determined and skilled botanists in British history. The journey would establish Robert Brown—discoverer of Brownian movement and the fact that living cells contain a nucleus—as perhaps the most distinguished botanist of his time. Born in Montrose in 1772, this well educated Scot, the son of an Episcopalian minister, had studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and gone on to be an army surgeon. But his main interest had always been in natural history. When a recruiting campaign for his regiment had taken Brown to London, he had managed to meet the great Sir Joseph. Banks was duly impressed, pulled strings to have Brown made an associate of the newly formed Linnean Society, and allowed him the use of his library and herbarium in Soho Square. So later when Brown went to Australia, he was already familiar with the flora from studying specimens from the Endeavour voyage. Banks took a major role in Brown's preparation, insisting that he compile a copy herbarium, of some thousand Australian plants from Banks's own duplicates, to take with him on the voyage for reference. Brown also assiduously copied out Solander's unpublished descriptions.

[20.3 Illustration: Portrait, Brown, Colour]

Ferdinand Bauer, another Banks protégé, produced work on this expedition which was so exquisite that it has been said his depictions of Australian flora and fauna have never been surpassed. The youngest of three sons of the court painter to the Prince of Liechtenstein, Bauer was orphaned in 1761, aged just one. A priest encouraged him and his two brothers in botanical drawing. In Vienna Professor John Sibthorp of Oxford—the celebrated son of the professor incumbent during Banks's time at the University—was so impressed by twenty-six-year-old Ferdinand that he commissioned him to accompany him to the Mediterranean. This resulted in the much celebrated work Flora Graeca, which Bauer illustrated, and, in 1800, an invitation from Sir Joseph Banks to sail to Australia and record the flora and fauna.

Little did Matthew Flinders know when he was made commander of the Investigator that it would be over ten years before he would return to England—and his new bride. Born in Donnington, Lincolnshire, in 1774, the son and grandson of surgeons, he had gone to sea against without the support of his family, when only sixteen. Having studied mathematics and navigation assiduously he quickly impressed his superiors. William Bligh chose him to sail on the second breadfruit voyage to Tahiti on the Providence, where he assisted in preparing charts and making scientific observations. Flinders' next voyage was to New South Wales on the Reliance in 1795, which took the second governor, John Hunter, a keen amateur naturalist, to the colony. It was on this trip that he, and ship's surgeon George Bass, explored the coast in dreadfully inadequate little boats, discovering that Australia and Tasmania were separate.

With a French passport setting forth the peaceful mission of his ship, Flinders finally took the Investigator to sea on 18 July 1801. Baudin already had a headstart of nearly nine months but Flinders was determined to do a good job declaring that ‘no person shall have occasion to come after me to make further discoveries’. Unfortunately, his ship was barely up to the task. He had hardly left the English Channel before the Investigator was leaking up to the rate of eight centimetres (three inches) an hour. In Madeira the ship's carpenters tried to caulk up the leaks, but water poured in so much that in Cape Town they had to stay for eighteen days while they borrowed expert caulkers from a visiting warship to effect repairs. It was to be a tragedy for the men, and for the specimens collected, that the ship was not equal to the navigator, botanist and artists she carried.

Five months after departure, on 7 December the Investigator entered King George III Sound, which had been discovered, named and charted ten years earlier by George Vancouver. The bottle and parchment which Vancouver had buried under a cairn of stones was never found, nor was the garden which Menzies had made of ‘vine cuttings, water cress and the seeds of various fruits’. During the Investigator's three-week stay, Brown found this florally rich area as fascinating as Menzies and Labillardière before him and collected around five hundred species, many of them new. Just as Labillardière had been plagued on board with rats attacking his drying paper, Brown had a constant problem with mice and damp.

From King George III Sound the Investigator followed close to the coast so that accurate charts could be made. Slowly they crept around the southern coast making numerous landings for collections and expeditions. Robert Brown's diary reveals the hardships that the naturalists underwent in their quest to collect plants and make observations:

We slept, or rather lay down...In a gully without water and without fire...At daybreak we descended the mountain and about 7 o'clock got to the bottom where we found our servants whom we had been obliged to leave yesterday, scarce half up the mountain, exhausted with fatigue...And about 4 o'clock reached the beach opposite to the ship, exhausted with fatigue, the heat of the day and want of water...

In the four months they had been on the Australian coast there had been no sign of any recent European visitors, Flinders, it seemed, had beaten the French expedition in the charting and naming of the south coast of the continent. But on 8 April 1802 they at last encountered the French who were sailing westwards. Flinders ordered the decks to be cleared and the red ensign hoisted. Baudin, on the Géographe, hoisted the French ensign. The atmosphere was tense. If hostilities ensued, the poorly-armed Investigator would have no chance against the superiority of the French vessel. Little did they realise that the war between France and Britain was over, the Treaty of Amiens had been signed on 27 March. But the French declared peaceful intent and showed a British jack, Flinders replied with a white flag and ordered a boat. With Brown as an interpreter he went aboard. All was friendly and courteous, although the French had laid claim to all they had seen, and had renamed the south coast, ‘Terre Napoleon’. Not knowing Flinders had got there before them, they had christened features already delineated by him with names such as ‘Golfe Bonaparte’ and ‘Golfe Josephine’. Next morning there was a second talk between the two commanders, then the ships parted. Flinders named the coastline opposite where they had met, Encounter Bay. Today, Flinders' names generally survive although some of the French ones have persisted.

More weeks followed of charting the southern coast, with more collecting by Brown, and more arduous trips inland by foot—including an excursion into the heathlands of the Mornington Peninsula. Here Brown collected and noted ninety-six species, including the native holly Lomatia ilicifolia. By now, Flinders was keen to get to Port Jackson before the storms of winter and they finally arrived on 9 May. ‘At one o'clock we gained the heads, a pilot came on board, and soon after three the Investigator was anchored in Sydney Cove’. The place had changed little since Flinders had left it more than two years earlier. There was now time to write accounts of the voyage so far to send back to England. Flinders reported back to his sponsor, Joseph Banks, full of praise for his companions:

‘it is fortunate for science that two men of such assiduity & abilities as Mr Brown & Mr Bauer have been selected: their application is beyond what I have been accustomed to see’.

Brown wrote that he had already collected specimens of 750 species of vascular plants. He also sent a letter to the Hon. C. T. Grenville, which showed that despite Flinders' praise, there was friction between the commander and the botanist:

Captain Flinders, who does not rate the importance of such collections very high, thought, I suppose, he did enough in affording me opportunities of landing at our different anchorages. The trouble of ordering boxes to be made and the occasional employment of his carpenters in that business, he does not seem to have reckoned on. However, as I would rather attribute his conduct to his inexperience in such matters than to any other causes, I think a few words from Sir Joseph will set him right in his notions of collectors and collections.

A convict ship left for England carrying this letter and the official report by Flinders for the Admiralty, plus 253 packets of seeds for Kew from the gardener Peter Good. Several excursions were made into the interior by Brown, Bauer and Westall, aided by their assistants, servants and George Caley, plant collector, recently sent to the colony by Banks. More and more plants were collected, and hundreds were planted in the Governor's garden to await transport to England in the collapsible greenhouse which was being erected on the deck of the Investigator. In an attempt to protect the dried specimens from the predations of white ants and rats they were stored at the Governor's residence.

[20.4 Illustration: Bauer drawing B+W Badger p.191]

On 20 June a ship was seen in obvious difficulty just outside the heads of Sydney Harbour. It was the Géographe, her officers and crew so weakened by scurvy that only a reported four, out of the complement of 170, were fit for duty. Governor King immediately offered assistance and once on shore the sick were admitted to hospital. Despite shortages in the colony, food was found for them and most made a rapid and spectacular recovery. The French expedition had not fared well. A stop at Timor had left several of Baudin's men dead, dying or ill, thanks to dysentery and malaria. Baudin himself had contracted the latter and was also suffering from tuberculosis. Scurvy too, had taken its toll, especially on the Géographe. The Naturaliste had fared slightly better, reaching Port Jackson in rather better shape eight days after the Géographe. Now Baudin decided to send the Naturaliste, under the command of Emmanuel Hamelin, back to France with the documents, the collections made so far and the crewmembers he considered too sick to continue. He planned to carry on along the coast once his crew had recovered. He purchased a schooner in Port Jackson, appropriately christened with the botanical name Casuarina, and finally left the British settlement on 18 November 1802. On this final part of the voyage they collected many live animal specimens including kangaroos, wallabies and emus, many of which survived the voyage to France—two of the emus went on to live in Josephine's garden at Malmaison. They continued along the south coast confirming, as Flinders had told them, that several likely looking bays did not offer a seaway to the north. Baudin returned to Timor to refresh before attempting a survey of the north coast. As before, Koupang proved a fatal port, and several more men died there. Baudin himself was also very unwell. He completed some of the survey then decided to head for the Isle-de-France. The Casuarina and the Géographe reached the island in August, but just a few weeks later Baudin died, probably of tuberculosis. The crew of the Casuarina transferred to the larger ship and they headed home, arriving on 24 March 1804.

The task of writing up the voyage fell initially to Péron, the only senior surviving naturalist. He had made many anthropological and zoological discoveries and his work was illustrated by the paintings of Charles Alexandre Lesueur. Baudin had adopted a high-handed attitude at times and, during the long voyage, had often come into conflict with his large complement of scientists. Like many of his shipmates, Péron had crossed swords with Baudin and his disdain is apparent in his account of the voyage, never referring to his commander by name. Baudin, had fallen into disfavour with the French authorities because of the great loss of life the expedition. Fear of association with this discredited leader of the expedition may also why Péron avoided using Baudin's name. Péron died after only completing one volume and the job was completed by Louis Freycinet, commander of the Casuarina.

The voyage produced an astounding number of specimens and drawings, particularly with relation to zoology and the study of native peoples. Péron's observations of the Aboriginal people were so profound that they are now regarded as marking the beginning of the study of anthropology. The botanical results from the expedition, however, were few, and it has been suggested that some of the specimens collected might have been included by Labillardière in his comprehensive two-volume work on the Australian flora. Some of the specimens, though, were later sent to Robert Brown in London, who used them in his own work on Australian flora, his Prodromus, and then returned them to the museum and to obscurity. They were found, still wrapped up, in the basement just a few decades ago. Hamelin, returning with the bulk of the collections on the Naturaliste in 1802, did a little more by ensuring that Australian plant seeds were passed on to Josephine, and these she eagerly cultivated. Several entries in her book Jardin de Malmaison, record introductions via this source, such as the spectacular Hibiscus heterophyllus.

A few weeks after Baudin reached the Isle-de-France, Flinders also arrived there on the Cumberland after a catalogue of disasters. Back in Port Jackson, Flinders had been delighted when Governor King informed him that the 60-ton brig Lady Nelson was at his disposal as a tender for exploring. After more than two months in Sydney the Investigator, complete with greenhouse, had set sail heading north along the east coast. The original plan of circumnavigating the continent in a clockwise direction was now reversed. Nine convict volunteers were signed on, as were two young Aboriginal men, Boongaree and the adopted child of Surgeon John White, Nanbaree. Stores included 1,483 gallons of rum purchased from some American ships in the harbour. It was to be a voyage full of misfortune and hardship. Flinders examined the coast up to Percy Isles and from Cape York to Arnhem Bay in what is now the Northern Territory, but was forced by the condition of the ship, lack of fresh food and water, and the monsoon to urgently sail for Timor. Flinders wrote:

In addition to the rottennes of the ship, the state of my own health and that of the ship's company...and from the want of nourishing food. I was myself disabled by scorbutic sores from going to the mast head, or making any more expeditions in boats; and, as the whole of the surveying department rested on me, our further stay was without one of its principal objects.

After a truly perilous voyage down the west coast of the continent and again along the south coast they got to Sydney eleven months after they had departed on 9 June. Four men had died during the voyage and another four, including the gardener Peter Good, were to die within a few days of landing. Fourteen others were unfit for duty. Sadly, at the same time that Peter Good died the seeds he had so assiduously collected arrived in England. Banks wrote, ‘they are all sown in Kew Gardens & much hopes built on the success of them, which we expect will create a new Epoch’.

It was obvious that the Investigator was completely unseaworthy and it was decided that it would be better to leave it in New South Wales, and for Flinders to sail to England quickly with the charts he had compiled and return in another ship. On 10 August the Porpoise sailed with Flinders as a passenger and the greenhouse fitted onto the quarter deck crowded with plants for Sir Joseph Banks. They headed for Batavia via the Torres Straits. Fortuitously, Brown and Bauer had asked to remain in the colony to continue their botanical work.

A week out from Sydney disaster struck. The ship was wrecked on a reef off the Queensland coast and the plants specimens and seeds so carefully collected by Brown, and the live plants nurtured in the Governor's garden before being loaded into the collapsible greenhouse, were lost. Flinders later recalled:

The rare plants collected in different parts of the south, the east and northwest coasts, for Her Majesty's botanic garden at Kew, and which were in a flourishing state before the shipwreck, were totally destroyed by the salt water; as were the dried specimens and plants.

Flinders organised a miniature colony for the shipwrecked crew, fitted up the cutter, and miraculously made his way back to Sydney in thirteen days. Here he broke the news to Brown who luckily had kept duplicates of the dried specimens. Brown wrote:

Melancholy intelligence of the loss of HMS Porpoise...almost everything of consequence has been savd...except the Garden and specimens so that I must consider myself as the greatest sufferer by this most unfortunate accident.

Flinders returned with another ship to collect the crew stranded on the reef. He was given a rousing welcome and he described his return as ‘one of the happiest moments of my life’. In Sydney the despondent Brown decided to travel to Tasmania and Norfolk Island to make further collections. Brown and Bauer remained another eighteen months in Australia, returning, ironically on the Investigator, still leaking and having been given a condemnation order, in 1805.

Flinders again tried to return to England, this time on the twenty-nine-foot schooner, Cumberland, put under his command by Governor King. Unfortunately, when he reached the Isle-de-France, his passport was questioned as it still named the Investigator, not the Cumberland. On this flimsy pretext, Flinders was held on the island under suspicion of spying, for the next four years. Briefly, at first, his incarceration was made more bearable by the company of his cat, Trim, for whom Flinders wrote A Biographical Tribute to the Memory of Trim, but for the most part his time under arrest was frustrating and dreary. He did manage, in 1807, to send his journal and various papers to Sir Joseph Banks. When he finally returned to England in October 1810 these were restored to him and from them he published A Voyage to Terra Australis. The first copy was sent to him day before he died on 19 July 1814. Flinders had wanted to anglicise the name of the land he had circumnavigated to, ‘ being more agreeable to the ear’, but Banks dissuaded him, little realising, perhaps, how the name would catch on.

Despite the string of disasters suffered on these expeditions of Flinders and Baudin, they did have some spectacular results of great significance to the elucidation of Australian flora and fauna. Brown began, but unfortunately never completed, the first systematic British attempt at a classification of the flora. His Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae et Insulae Van-Diemen—A Introduction to the flora of New Holland and Tasmania—published in 1810, was a groundbreaking work, but sadly, was ill-received and he was never financially able to follow it up with a further volume, illustrated by Bauer, as he had planned. The Prodromus described over 2,000 Australian species, well over half of which were new to science. He also used a so-called ‘natural system’ of classification, the principles of which would eventually supersede Linnaeus's ‘artificial system’. This, in itself, was a huge advance in the study of botany.

The pictorial record of both the French and the British expeditions is remarkable. The paintings by Lesueur—mostly of fish and animals—are now displayed in a special museum in Le Havre and the publication in 1814 of Flinders' A Voyage to Terra Australis contained nine plates of William Westall's superb landscapes. But it is Bauer's work that is the most spectacular. His representations truly brought to life the flora and fauna of Australia, combining scientific accuracy with an artistic sensitivity of the highest order. His complex system of coding colours on unfinished drawings allowed him to complete them with great accuracy after his return in 1805. He and Brown managed to publish only fifteen plates of his drawings in 1813 as a supplement to the Prodromus . Unfortunately, Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae sold pitifully few copies. Many of the original 2,073 drawings were lost subsequent to Bauer's death in 1826, although some are now preserved in the Natural History Museum, London. Bauer's drawings, annotated with his detailed colour coding, are held by the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

[20.7 Illustration: Bauer Grevillea. Colour The Grevillea Book p. 20 fig 11]

Information from these voyages led by Baudin and Flinders finally allowed the entire coastline of Australia to at last be delineated. It is sad that their successes were achieved at such a great human cost. Baudin lost many men to malaria, dysentery and scurvy and, like the five captains of the five ships of the previous three French expeditions that preceded him to Australia, he also died on the voyage. Flinders, one of the most able and likeable navigators of his time, died, having only just turned forty, after being weakened by his long incarceration in Mauritius. These unlucky voyages forged further links in the Flower Chain. As the nineteenth century progressed, this chain would become lost in a network of botanical connections created as the study of the Australian flora finally came into its own, and ending with the first comprehensive flora in the form of Bentham's Flora Australiensis.

1. Chapter 21 The Fate of the Flower Chain

After Robert Brown, other trained botanical collectors followed; invisible chains of flowers and seeds at last stretched across the oceans from Botany Bay and linked the colony with the natural philosophers in Britain. Kew, under the supervision of Banks, became the main repository of the living plant wealth of the British Empire. Barrels of plants covered in canvas were sent to Kew from New South Wales, and flora from the whole continent was displayed in the Botany Bay Glass House. In 1833 the invention of the Wardian case made transporting living plants much more successful. These were effectively mini greenhouses which both protected the plants from outside influences, and made it possible to maintain reasonably constant conditions for the plants inside.

[21.1 Illustration Pre-Wardian plant transportation]

Botanical expeditions from all over the world so enriched the scientific collections at Kew that the gardens and herbarium collections stood, in relation to botanical science, much as Greenwich does to astronomy. After Sir Joseph Banks's death in 1820 the Gardens' status waned, but was renewed again in the middle of the century under the influence of William Jackson Hooker and his son Joseph Dalton Hooker. Banks bequeathed his herbarium and library to Robert Brown—who had become Banks's librarian in 1810—for his use and enjoyment for life, and thence to the British Museum. However, in 1827 Brown decided to start the massive job of transferring the thousands of items earlier. Today this collection, including priceless drawings and paintings by Watling and Parkinson and Bauer, are in the Natural History Museum, London, which physically separated from the British Museum in the 1880s, eventually becoming an independent institution. Brown became Keeper of the museum's Department of Botany; his desk is still used by the Keeper today. Brown actually survived Banks by nearly forty years, dying at the age of eighty-five in 1858. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London, his grave now smothered in some of the weeds he had so carefully classified.

In 1825, Bougainville's nephew, Hyacinthe, arrived in Sydney and commenced the erection of a monument to the lost La Pérouse on the northern head of Botany Bay. At this point, La Pérouse's fate was still unknown but two years later an Irish sailor of fortune, Peter Dillon, voyaging in the Solomon Islands, acquired some European objects from the natives of Tikopia. Dillon guessed rightly that these were from La Pérouse's ships and secured the backing of the East India Company to investigate further. He located a array of relics, including a wooden panel decorated with the fleur-de-lys, astronomical instruments, crockery, guns and a large bell, obviously manufactured in France. At last the sea had yielded up its mystery, La Pérouse and his ships had met their end at Vanikoro. A French search party led by Dumont d'Urville in 1828 explored the site after hearing about Dillon's discoveries, and found evidence of La Pérouse's second ship. It appears they had been wrecked in a storm back in 1788 and the survivors had probably been attacked and killed by the local islanders.

Labillardière, veteran of the first voyage in search of La Pérouse, died at 79 in 1834. His Australian collection was purchased by the British botanist, Phillip Webb, who bequeathed it to Leopold, the last Grand Duke of Florence. For years the pressed blooms of kangaroo paws and Tasmanian blue gum, the first collected and bought back to Europe, rested on the second floor of the Pitti Palace, Florence. They are now carefully preserved in that city's University Herbarium.

The Flower Chain continued with the visit of the British Admiralty ship, HMS Beagle, in 1836, captained by Charles FitzRoy (1805–65) and with a young Charles Darwin on board as naturalist. FitzRoy was the great-great-great-grandson of Isabella Bennet, the first Duchess of Grafton, a relation of William Dampier's wife, Judith. During the meanderings around the world of her husband, when he had visited the west Australian coast in 1688 Judith Dampier had stayed with the Duchess at Arlington House (now the site of Buckingham Palace). After Darwin left Australia, the Flower Chain expanded into a web of connections between plant exchanges, books, papers and correspondents as networks of skilled gardeners, botanists and collectors took over from the solitary pioneers. Australia now had its own botanists, such as the indefatigable German-born Ferdinand, later Baron, von Mueller, who arrived in 1847, and who would at last, begin to elucidate the flora of their own country. Mueller alone published 1,330 books and papers and, despite deep philosophical differences and jealousies between them, also assisted Bentham in his compilation of Flora Australiensis by sending a vast number of his own herbarium specimens and descriptions. The publication of Flora Australiensis can, perhaps, be regarded as the true end of the Flower Chain, its production marking the culmination of the botanical efforts of the previous centuries.

[21.2 Illustration: Portrait, von Mueller The Grevillea Book p.33 fig. 23]

Back in Europe, a change in the methods of heating greenhouses meant the death of thousands of hothouse Australian plants in Europe. The steam heating which came with the Industrial Revolution created too much humidity causing them to die. Members of the Proteaceae such as Hakeas, Grevilleas and South African Proteas, lost their popularity in favour of luxurious tropical plants from South America and South East Asia. But Australian plants still found niches in Europe. The Marquis Cosimo Ridolfi grew several kinds of eucalypts in his park near Florence in 1818; by 1822 twenty-four Acacia species and eighteen eucalypts were growing in the Botanic Gardens at Berlin; the Baron Cesati started growing Tasmanian blue-gum at the former Naples Botanic Garden about 1829; the Botanic Gardens of Madrid distributed Australian eucalypts to Spanish provinces from about 1847. The capital of Ethiopia, built in 1887 owes it name, Addis Ababa, which means ‘new flower’, to the eucalypts planted there.

Now the work of the plant-hunters can be seen throughout the world. Three-hundred years after the first seeds and flowers left Australia with Dampier, Australian species comprise an important part of the cut-flower trade in the South of France, Israel, South America, California and elsewhere. The Norfolk pine towers over the horizon of Morocco, the Eucalyptus now purports to be the fastest growing hardwood tree in the world. The eucalypts joined the olive trees and changed the appearance of the Mediterranean coastline forever, spreading so quickly that they have become a menace, displacing the native vegetation, creating silent forests which, out of context, provide little for local birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Trees such as Melaleuca quinquenervia have spread and become wild, rampant weeds abroad. The Melaleuca has smothered surrounding vegetation, covering half a million acres in the Everglades, Florida, alone. Some Acacia species have become wild in South America and the fern Cyathea australis has spread in Hawaii. In South Africa, some species of Hakea have become naturalised.

By the same token, although the major destruction of the Australian flora occurred during clearing for crops and cities, grazing and roads, tremendous damage has been done in Australia by introduced plants which escape becoming prolific weeds in the bush. Seeds are spread by birds, with garden refuse, by winds, and by water during floods. It is estimated that over a third of all declared noxious plants in the Australian bush were once garden plants of introduced species. Australia has one of the most extravagant floras in the world, but the influx of foreign plants has been much greater than Australian natives being exported. Alien plants and ‘English flowers’ have been naturalised since the first day of settlement, when Surgeon Bowes Smyth bought his flowering geranium ashore from his cabin on the Lady Penhryn.

Cook's ‘fine meadows’ on the northern shore of Botany Bay became a suburb of Sydney with backyards growing roses. Banks's marshes have been reclaimed into a long runway projecting into the sea—Australia's main airport. Thus, most overseas visitors—just like Captain Cook, Joseph Banks and the First Fleet—still make their first landing on Terra Australis , albeit unwittingly, at Botany Bay.

[21.3 Illustration: Banksia serrata Colour Badger opp. p. 80]

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