Mercury Bay Museum Musings #2

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Mercury Bay Museum Musings - 18 September 2015

The 6th of October 1769 arrival in New Zealand of His Majesty's Bark Endeavour under the command of Lieutenant James Cook was unique in the sense that the vessel was crewed by more than just British subjects. Several of those “foreigners” on board, both sailors and civilians, were unique and made a significant contribution to the success of Cook's first exploratory voyage to the Pacific. None more so than the Swedish botanist and zoologist, Daniel Solander and the Finnish born clockmaker, naturalist and botanical draftsman who studied in Sweden, Herman Spöring Jr.

Daniel Solander studied natural history under the distinguished Swedish professor of botany, Carl Linnaeus at Uppsala University. Linnaeus was famous for his work in Taxonomy, the science of identifying, naming and classifying organisms (plants, animals, bacteria, fungi etc). Solander became an acolyte and protégé of Linnaeus and after graduating travelled to England in 1760 to promote the new Linnean system of classification. In 1763 he began cataloguing the natural history collections of the British Museum and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1768 the English naturalist and botanist, Joseph Banks, the private sponsor of the scientific party which was joining Cook's expedition  to the Pacific, convinced Solander to take leave of absence from the British Museum in 1768 and accompany him on the Endeavour. Solander then successfully encouraged his talented assistant, Herman Spöring, to join the scientific party.

Solander, along with Banks, undertook scientific studies of the flora and fauna of the new lands encountered and in this task were ably assisted by the accomplished botanical draftsman and artist Herman Spöring. On return to England only Banks received all the accolades and press coverage and had a major land-form named after him. Solander quietly resumed his work at the British Museum and became Banks' secretary and librarian, living in Banks' London house until his death at the age of 49 in 1782. Solander is possibly more often remembered for his invention, “The Solander Box”, still used in libraries and archives as the most suitable way of storing prints, drawings, some kinds of manuscripts and herbarium materials. He also wrote a manuscript describing all the species collected from New Zealand during the six months the expedition spent there. It was called Primitiae Florae Novae Zealandiae ('beginnings of a New Zealand Flora') and was to be illustrated with the plates prepared by Banks. It was never published but is available for study at the Natural History section of the British Museum. Daniel Solander's return to England with Cook and Banks made him the first Swede to circle the globe. The small windswept islands near Foveaux Strait in New Zealand are named after him.

Following the deaths of the expeditions artists, Alexander Buchan in Tahiti in April 1769, John Reynolds in December 1770 and Sydney Parkinson in January 1771, Spöring extended his botanical drafting work and sketches to include other subjects. A good example of his skill being a panorama of Mercury Bay showing Wharetaewa Pa at the southern end of Wharekaho Beach and the “Hole in The Rock”, then known as “Spöring's Grotto”, at the northern end of the Beach. During the return journey to England Herman Spöring tragically died at 38 of dysentery complications related to food poisoning in January 1771 whilst on stopover at Batavia. However his achievements have been recognised by a commemorative statue dedicated to him in Sydney NSW and a monument erected at his birthplace of Åbo in Finland. The Åbo monument includes a rock taken from Pourewa (Spöring) island and commemorates both Spöring's achievements and his ties with New Zealand, he being the first Finn to have landed here.

Along with Scandinavian scientists there were several North American sailors. Although technically still British subjects in 1768 one was impressed during a stopover in Madeira on the outward journey. There were others of differing countries of birth or ethnic backgrounds aboard the Endeavour – including Banks' two black servants who died ashore at Tierra del Fuego. It certainly gives a multinational flavour to what is considered to be an essentially British expedition under a British flag.