Johann Reinhold Forster was appointed to be the main naturalist for Captain Cook’s Second Voyage in June 1772. Together with his 17 year-old son George, a talented painter and fellow naturalist, he sailed in Resolution.
After their return from a successful voyage JR Forster spent the years from 1780 in Halle (Saale), Prussia. He was installed there as professor of natural history and professor of medicine. And he was appointed as Director of the Botanical Garden of the famous University of Halle. He died on 9 December, 1798, and was buried at the “Stadtgottesacker”, the main graveyard.
In 2013, German CCS members tried to find the grave in Halle, but didn’t succeed. Forster’s grave had not been clearly marked, and the information about where his grave was thought to be turned out to be wrong. Over the last year local research, mainly undertaken by Bernd Hofestädt, has uncovered the story behind the final resting place of JR Forster.
Together with the local authorities in Halle, German members of the Captain Cook Society collected money for a plaque to commemorate this important man. He was a renowned scientist and researcher of his time, a well-read and multi-talented naturalist, who has been neglected over the past centuries, even in Germany.
The German branch of the CCS thought it worthwhile and appropriate to organise a meeting to accompany the unveiling of the commemorative plaque for JR Forster at Halle’s Stadtgottesacker.
As with the tradition of the CCS meetings held at Marton, UK, the weekend event started on Friday evening, 6 May, when CCS members met in downtown Halle, a wonderful University city with a rich history. We happily exchanged our news, especially about Cook, Forster and our last trips. The next day was going to be filled with lots of highlights: unveiling of the plaque, viewing of a log book kept in Resolution, a symposium with several talks, and a superb dinner.
Saturday, 7 May, began with preparations for the symposium in the afternoon. Herbert Koop was our devoted head of logistics and food preparation by choice, virtually our local victualling board. He also had some help from CCS members to get everything ready in time.
At noon a crowd of about 100 people (CCS members, the artist, representatives of the local authorities, some friends, and supporters of the “Stadtgottesacker”) gathered in the southeast corner of the cemetery. Peter Dahlmeier, head of the “Bauhütte” society,1 who initiated the restoration of the historical cemetery, gave the welcoming remarks. He expressed his thanks to the CCS for initiating and supporting this milestone in the completion of the restoration of the “Stadtgotte-sacker”. He was followed by the mayor of the city of Halle.
Irmtraut Koop expressed her thanks to members of the CCS, members of the Solander Society, and the local institutions for their virtual, scientific and financial support. Bernd Hofestädt, the main arch-aeological and historical scientist behind the re-vealing remarks about the final grave of JR Forster, gave a short summary of the achievements of this great naturalist of the 18th century, later Professor in Halle, and Director of the Botanical Garden.
Finally, the plaque was unveiled making everybody quite happy. The words on the plaque are
IM BOGEN 61 BEGRABEN
JOHANN REINHOLD FORSTER
NATURFORSCHER UND WEITREISENDER
MIT SOHN GEORG TEILNEHMER AN
CAPTAIN COOKS 2. WELTUMSEGLUNG
AB 1780 PROFESSOR DER UNIVERSITÄT
UND DIREKTOR DES BOTANISCHEN
GARTENS ZU HALLE
Portraits of JR Forster produced during his life are almost always decorated with the flower that also appears at the bottom of the plaque. It is the Forstera sedifolia.2 This plant was found by Anders Sparrman at Dusky Bay, New Zealand, and dedicated to Forster. Sparrman was the botanist found by JR Forster at the Cape of Good Hope, when the ships called there on their way to the Pacific. Forster persuaded Sparrman to join the circumnavigation.
The next highlight was an appointment with the curator of the University Museum in Halle. Described on the internet as “Log-book kept on board His Majesty's Sloop Resolution Capt. James Cook Esq. Commander: Begun. July 13th MDCCLXXII”, this document is held at the University and State Library of Sachsen-Anhalt.3 A note on page two declares it to be a gift of the late Forster.
Local library personnel working in the Department of Autographs compared the hand-writing in it with that of Georg and JR Forster, but it seems neither of them is the author of this logbook. It is not clear whether it was written on board the Resolution or copied from the original. Further research is needed.
A guided tour through the old main university building, including the old auditorium and the deten-tion room, brought to a close this part of the day.
After a short walk from the University Museum we arrived at the “Zentralmagazin der Naturwissen-schaftlichen Sammlungen zu Halle-Wittenberg”. Karla Schneider, curator of the extensive collection, gave us a hearty welcome, and a short tour around the exhibits including corals brought home by Forster . The old lecture hall was a perfect place for our symposium, which was organised in conjunction with the “International Georg-Wilhelm-Steller-Gesellschaft” (chairperson Elisabeth Hintzsche), and the “Zentralmagazin der Naturwissen-schaftlichen Sammlungen zu Halle-Wittenberg” (curator Karla Schneider).
Anke Oberlies, chairperson of the German branch of the CCS, gave some introductory remarks, andwelcomed everybody. Heike Heklau, a research associate of the Botanical Institute of the University of Halle, gave a very lively talk on JR Forster’s time at Halle from 1780 until his death in 1798. The detailed circumstances and the missing links revealing the final spot where JR Forster is buried were comprehensively presented by Bernd Hofestädt, a local archaeologist and family history researcher.
As a perfect addition, CCS member Helene Nymphius reported on her research in Paris, where she walked in Georg Forster’s footsteps to locate his house, his places of work, and his final grave. This, however, disappears in the vast catacombs of Paris.
The coffee break was a very welcome interlude, giving us time to discuss further the circumstances of JR Forster’s life, his son Georg, their relation to Captain Cook, the Pacific voyage, and to chat amongst ourselves about what we had seen so far this weekend.
Our next speaker was CCS member Michael Spiekien who, together with Teija Spiekien and Anke Oberlies, had embarked on a journey to Kamchatka last year. He showed us their wonderful photographic impressions of the landscape, and the historic spots relating to Cook’s Third Voyage. At that time, Charles Clerke was Captain of Resolution. Michael showed us the different locations of Clerke’s grave at Petropavlovsk as it was moved around, and the memorials he and Teija had visited that had been erected to other famous explorers who stopped at Kamchatka.4
The last talk was given by Irmtraut Koop, concerning the Forsters’ scientific results in Dusky Bay, New Zealand. The number of new ornitho-logical and fish species, and new botanical specimens found there, described and drawn by the two Forsters is tremendous. In honour of these results, and the impressive report by Georg Forster, the descriptive tableau at Astronomer’s Point is a quote from Georg Forster’s account, Voyage round the world.5
After this exceedingly inspiring, informative and entertaining day, the evening was spent at a local restaurant, where we indulged ourselves in local food and beer. We chatted, discussed and laughed until deep in the night, and were all very happy with this successful event, and the new friends we had made in Halle.
On Sunday morning, 8 May, Heike Heklau gave us a guided tour around the Botanical Garden of Halle—the place that JR Forster had influenced and directed for eight years. She knew every flower and
tree, and gave us the relation of each one to Forster, wherever possible . Afterwards some of us visited the famous “Francke’sche Stiftungen”, an 18th century orphans home and school, with its wonderful old library, and the “Naturalienkabinett”, a German equivalent to other curiosity collections of that time.
Finally, the city of Halle had invited those participants in the Forster meeting to a concert of the local traditional boys choir, which was a perfect finale to our CCS-Halle-Forster-meeting of 2016.
The photos accompanying this article are by Irmtraut Koop, Anke Oberlies, and Michael and Teija Spiekien.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 39, volume 39, number 4 (2016).
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