Naturalists at Sea

Naturalists at Sea: Scientific Travellers from Dampier to Darwin

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Naturalists at Sea
    Book Description:

    On the great Pacific discovery expeditions of the "long eighteenth century," naturalists for the first time were commonly found aboard ships sailing forth from European ports. Lured by intoxicating opportunities to discover exotic and perhaps lucrative flora and fauna unknown at home, these men set out eagerly to collect and catalogue, study and document an uncharted natural world.

    This enthralling book is the first to describe the adventures and misadventures, discoveries and dangers of this devoted and sometimes eccentric band of explorer-scholars. Their individual experiences are uniquely their own, but together their stories offer a new perspective on the extraordinary era of Pacific exploration and the achievements of an audacious generation of naturalists. Historian Glyn Williams illuminates the naturalist's lot aboard ship, where danger alternated with boredom and quarrels with the ship's commander were the norm. Nor did the naturalist's difficulties end upon returning home, where recognition for years of work often proved elusive. Peopled with wonderful characters and major figures of Enlightenment science-among them Louis Antoine de Bouganville, Joseph Banks, John Reinhold Forster, Captain Cook, and Charles Darwin-this book is a gripping account of a small group of scientific travelers whose voyages of discovery were to change perceptions of the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18220-0
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Map
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Plates
    (pp. None)
    (pp. xiii-xv)
    Glyn Williams
  6. Map
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    The discovery in the late fifteenth century of a New World in America, and the opening of seaborne trade routes to the East, transformed the economic and cultural life of Europe. Despite its spectacular impact, silver was not the most important product brought back by the early adventurers and traders. Rather it was the food-producing plants of the Americas – maize, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and manioc – that together with Asian spices became vital elements in the diets of the growing populations of the Old World. At a different level, there was an intense curiosity about the flora and...

  8. CHAPTER 1 The ‘rambling voyages’ of William Dampier, Self-Taught Naturalist
    (pp. 7-31)

    For the maritime nations of Europe, the late seventeenth century was part of ‘the Dark Age of Pacific historiography’,¹ that long interval between the discovery voyages of the sixteenth century and the systematic explorations of the age of Cook. The immensity of the Pacific Ocean, inexact navigational instruments, the ravages of scurvy and the straitjacket of winds and currents posed huge problems to methodical exploration. After the Dutch explorations of Tasman in the 1640s the slow-moving course of Pacific exploration came to a halt. English enterprise in the ocean had been represented by the predatory voyages of Drake and Cavendish...

  9. CHAPTER 2 ‘Ten years of preparation; ten hours of exploration’: The Alaskan Tribulations of Georg Wilhelm Steller
    (pp. 32-53)

    In the early eighteenth century the lands and waters of the North Pacific were for Europeans among the least-known parts of the inhabited globe. Sailing from Mexico along the coast of Lower California, Spanish ships in 1603 had reached as far north as Cape Blanco in latitude 43°N., but then turned back. A century later and five thousand miles distant the next known point of land was the northern peninsula of Kamchatka on the eastern fringes of Asia, reached by Russians in 1706. The physical contrast between the two peninsulas, the one hot and arid, the other snow-covered and fogbound...

  10. CHAPTER 3 ‘My plants, my beloved plants, have consoled me for everything’: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Philibert de Commerson
    (pp. 54-72)

    After the ending of the global Seven Years’ War in 1763, Britain and France experienced a Pacific craze in which new national heroes emerged in the shape of naval explorers and itinerant scientists. Expeditions set off into the unknown expanses of the Pacific Ocean, to return after three years laden with artefacts and specimens, and with their crews eager to publish descriptions, charts and views of the wondrous places visited and peoples seen. The first discovery voyages of the new era of oceanic exploration were set in train by the British Admiralty. In 1764, Commodore John Byron sailed with instructions...

  11. CHAPTER 4 ‘No people ever went to sea better fitted out for the purposes of Natural History’: Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander
    (pp. 73-94)

    James cook’s first Pacific expedition was one of the most improbable of all of Europe’s great discovery voyages. Commanded by a junior lieutenant sailing in a converted collier, it located the position of Polynesian island groups, charted the coasts of New Zealand, established the eastern littoral of the Australian continent and confirmed the existence of Torres Strait. So wide-reaching were its achievements that it is easy to forget that in origin it was not a voyage of geographical discovery at all, but a scientific expedition sponsored by the Royal Society with the sole aim of observing the transit of Venus...

  12. CHAPTER 5 ‘A kind of Linnaean being’: The Woes of Johann Reinhold Forster
    (pp. 95-121)

    The precipitate withdrawal of Joseph Banks and his entourage from theResolutionin May 1772 left a huge gap in the scientific arrangements for Cook’s second voyage. To find a naturalist who could substitute for Banks and Solander at short notice, and who would be willing to leave home and family for three years, was not a straightforward task. The replacement candidate – as far as we know the only one considered – was to prove controversial. Six years earlier Johann Reinhold Forster had arrived in England as, in his own words at the time, ‘a Foreigner & but an obscure...

  13. CHAPTER 6 ‘Curse scientists, and all science into the bargain’: Cook, Vancouver and ‘experimental gentlemen’
    (pp. 122-149)

    From the moment that the news of Captain Cook’s death reached England in January 1780 interest in his last Pacific voyage was dominated by the fatal encounter at Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, the previous February. Up until the present day, scholars have argued interminably about the circumstances of his death, while other, equally puzzling aspects of the voyage have received less attention. Even before Cook left Plymouth in July 1776 in search of the Northwest Passage, he seemed to be behaving out of character. On his first two Pacific voyages he had destroyed the illusion of speculative geographers that a large...

  14. CHAPTER 7 ‘Devilish fellows who test patience to the very limit’: Naturalists with La Pérouse and d’Entrecasteaux
    (pp. 150-178)

    More than almost any other exploring voyage of the eighteenth century, the French expedition commanded by the Comte de la Pérouse reflected both the spirit of scientific enquiry of the Enlightenment and the great-power rivalries of the period. Much of Cook’s third voyage had taken place in wartime under the protection of a safe conduct issued by the French government in recognition of the scientific importance of his expedition, and the explorer’s death at Hawaii had been mourned by many outside his own country. Even so, once the War of American Independence had come to an end, preparations began in...

  15. CHAPTER 8 ‘All our efforts will be focussed on natural history’: The Scientific and Political Voyage of Alejandro Malaspina
    (pp. 179-200)

    The superbly equipped expedition commanded by Alejandro Malaspina that left Cádiz for the Pacific in July 1789 was intended to reassert the tradition of Spanish voyaging in theMar del Surwhich had faded from view in the glare of publicity that accompanied the voyages of Cook, Bougainville and La Pérouse. It represented at one level the philosophical and scientific interests of the European Enlightenment held by Spain’s Bourbon monarch, Carlos III, at another a determination to investigate the political and economic state of Spain’s sprawling Pacific empire. It would not be a voyage of discovery in the traditional sense,...

  16. CHAPTER 9 ‘When a botanist first enters so remote a country he finds himself in a new world’: The Australian Surveys of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders
    (pp. 201-231)

    Whatever the aura of prestige that surrounded Sir Joseph Banks in his later career when as baronet, president of the Royal Society and adviser to the king and cabinet, he became in effect unofficial minister for the sciences, in some ways the most important years of his life were those when as ‘Mr Banks’ he sailed with Cook on theEndeavourvoyage. The importance of that experience on the development of his character and outlook was shown in later years when he became patron of Cook’s men and promoter of enterprises associated with Cook’s discoveries. The decision to locate the...

  17. CHAPTER 10 ‘Like giving to a blind man eyes’: Charles Darwin on the Beagle
    (pp. 232-259)

    In the years after the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy dominated the world’s oceans. With no enemy fleets to engage, the shrunken peacetime navy’s main responsibilities were law-and-order operations, anti-slavery patrols and surveying. For many young officers, denied hopes of promotion through battle, an alternative route to advancement, and a focus of interest on routine and often tedious voyages, was the pursuit of scientific investigations in fields ranging from natural history and geology to geomagnetism and meteorology.¹ Encouraged by John Barrow, second secretary to the Admiralty from the war period to 1845, and by Francis Beaufort, hydrographer of the navy...

    (pp. 260-263)

    In a published review of the account by his shipmate John MacGillivray of the survey voyage of HMSRattlesnake(1846–50), the marine biologist T.H. Huxley summed up the frustrations of generations of shipboard naturalists.¹ All began their adventures, he wrote, with high expectations: ‘Each of us has been his own Columbus – to each there has been a time when the idea of a voyage of discovery filled us with inexpressible longing – when we believed, that beyond the world we knew, there lay a southern cloud-land full of strange wonders and overflowing with adventure. But we have grown...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 264-288)
    (pp. 289-296)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 297-310)