It took many hours of sorting, registration, taxonomy review, preparation and coordination, then 12 long sessions in the imaging lab. Te Papa Science staff have now completed the online access for 2241 black & white engravings of plants collected on Captain Cook’s first voyage.
The Te Papa Collection Online narratives about the Banks and Solander black and white engravings tie these images together under geographical locations.
These black and white engravings are part of Te Papa’s Art collection. Captain Cook’s first voyage (1768-1771) included visits to Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, The Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Java. The botanists on board (Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander) collected plants from all of these places and Sydney Parkinson was the artist employed to draw these specimens while fresh.
Once back in the UK, Joseph Banks hired five artists to complete unfinished portions of Parkinson’s work (Parkinson died during the voyage home) and then 18 artists to engrave copies of these drawings into copper plates. This work was supervised by Daniel Solander with the intention of publishing these plates with their botanical manuscript. However, although they were completed, the manuscript and plates were not published or printed.
Joseph Banks had a prosperous and esteemed career. Upon his death, he donated his plant collections, works on paper, manuscripts and engraved copper plates to The Natural History Museum. In 1895, six sets of the New Zealand engravings were printed, upon request by Thomas Kirk and Sir James Hector. These proofs were donated by the Natural History Museum to serve as a research aid for Kirk’s writing of the New Zealand flora and to be published with the text. The botanical names you can see inked on these engravings were written by Kirk during his research. Thomas Kirk died before he finished the work and once again the prints were not published.
In the early twentieth century, 315 prints were issued entitled Illustrations of Australian Plants and others were published in the 1973 book Captain Cook’s Florilegium. We have great pleasure in now making available Te Papa’s holdings of black and white engravings of New Zealand and foreign plants.
As can be seen by the image below, some sheets are in poor condition. Most of this damage occurred early in their time in New Zealand when they were transferred between institutions and merely regarded by some as a research tool. Today all prints are being handled and stored to the highest standards of art conservation, regardless of condition. Conservation repair work may also be carried out in the future.
Other New Zealand institutions also hold copies of these prints, but a full New Zealand inventory has not been carried out since the 1980’s.
In the 1980’s, multiple sets of colour engravings were produced from the same set of, then restored, copper plates and entitled Banks’ Florilegium. A few copper plates did not survive the passage of time, making the initial black and white engravings produced from these plates even more valuable. Te Papa purchased a full colour set of Banks’ Florilegium, with the help of Friends of Te Papa, in 2011. These colour proofs can be found on the Natural History Museums’s website.
Thanks to Kent Chamberlain, Science Technician, for sorting and databasing this collection and to the imaging team for their assistance in producing quality images.