After many years of holding a meeting at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, Marton, each October, a change took place in 2016, when the meeting was held at the Whitby Museum, Pannett Park, Whitby. The meeting was hosted by the Whitby Naturalists’ Club (WNC), with speakers organised by the WNC and the CCS.
I travelled to Yorkshire on the Friday of the weekend gathering, and stayed, as did many other CCS members, at the Blue Bell Hotel, Middlesbrough. At the entrance there was a warm greeting from Alwyn Peel, our Secretary, who was chatting to other members who had arrived ahead of me. The evening was spent chatting to CCS members at the bar and over an informal dinner. Most people asked me the same question: “Is Ruth coming?” I was glad when my daughter finally appeared.
Saturday, after breakfast we gathered in the hotel’s car park to board a coach arranged by Cliff Thornton, our President. It took us over the Yorkshire Moors to Whitby, a journey I’ve made many times in a car. We were taken to the top entrance to Pannett Park, and had only a short walk to Whitby Museum. There were already many people in the room for the meeting—WNC members and other CCS members who had made their own way. David Minter chairman of the WNC formally welcomed us all, and introduced the Club to everyone. Cliff Thornton did the same for the Society.
Our first speaker was Robert Huxley, who spoke about many of the naturalists who travelled on the explorations to the Pacific in the 17th to 19th centuries. They included
- Luis Vaez de Torres, the first person to describe an Australian animal
- William Dampier, a brilliant observer and natural historian, who described many birds and plants in his books
- Philibert de Commerson, the naturalist on Bougainville’s voyage, who died before the ships returned
- Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, who sailed in Endeavour
- Robert de Lamanon, who sailed with Jean-Francois de la Pérouse. The ships were wrecked and no one returned.
- Jacques Labillardière, who went with Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux
- Charles Wilkes’s expedition for the United States
- Charles Wyville Thomson and the zoological lab-oratory of the Challenger expedition
After a quick run through of who these people were, Robert split his talk into topics, explaining how the naturalists differed in
- Preparing and planning the voyage
- Collecting, preserving and storing the specimens of plants, insects, birds, marine life, etc.
- Interacting with the native peoples
- Finding and using space on the ships, e.g. Banks kept a pocket book of everything they collected
so they didn’t repeat and waste space
- Their relationships with the captains
- Capturing images, be it paintings or photography
- And, finally, the fate of the collections
The second speaker was CCS member Irmtraut Koop, whose talked was called “The Forsters’ scientific results in Dusky Bay, New Zealand”. Most people in the room didn’t know much about JR Forster and his son George, so we were fascinated to learn of Reinhold’s life up to 1772. At the end of her talk Irmtraut pointed out that we were gathered on 22 October, 2016, and Reinhold was born on 22 October, 1729, 287 years ago.
Irmtraut gave us a brief, but excellent, summary of Forster’s life before 1772, including when he was at Warrington Academy. His published scientific literature, included
- An introdcution to Mineralogy... 1768.
- A Catalogue of British Insects. 1770.
- Novae Species Insectorum Centuria. 1771.
- Short directions for collecting and preserving and transporting all kinds of Natural History Curiosities. 1771.
Irmtraut then turned to Cook’s Second Voyage, saying after 117 days in the cold and icy southern latitudes, Resolution arrived at Dusky Bay. To give us an idea of what it might have looked like at the time, we were shown several photos taken during her recent visit to the area. Whilst at Dusky Bay, George (an accomplished painter) drew 140 birds, 81 fishes, 33 mammals, 14 invertebrates and 3 reptiles. All of these drawings are held by the Natural History Museum, London. Irmtraut used one of John Robson’s maps to show us several places in the area named by Cook after birds.
The third speaker was David Minter, who conducted research in Tierra del Fuego in the 1980s. He spoke of its natural history when he was there, and when Cook was there in 1769 and 1774. Endeavour anchored in the Bay of Good Success, and Sydney Parkinson painted the scene. David showed the painting, pointing out a stream visible on the right-hand side. He then showed an aerial view of the same area, and pointed out the stream is on the left. He asked for possible reasons for the anomaly, and received several ideas. David then showed a photo taken in 1882 of a wigwam hut, which he felt was similar to the ones seen by Cook, etc., and then a photo of a modern reconstruction.
David went on to show some paintings by Parkinson of plants at Tierra del Fuego, and some photos that he took in the 1980s of the same specimens. He showed us photos of steamer ducks, so named in the nineteenth century by sailors as the action of their wings, as they flapped their way across the water, reminded them of a paddle steamer. Cook’s sailors called them Race Horses.
David described the impact of Europeans on Tierra del Fuego over the years, including horses, roads and buildings, and of introduced species, such as beaver, the daisy, rainbow trout and even the house sparrow. He also told us the native dogs are a different genus to those of Europe.
Jordan Goodman was our fourth speaker. He spoke of the efforts by Joseph Banks after the Endeavour voyage to enable living objects, especially plants, to be moved on subsequent voyages. After his voyage to Iceland in 1772, Banks stopped travelling around the world collecting plants, but he made sure several other voyages (both Royal Navy and East India Company ones) did that for him.
Jordan said that it used to be thought that plants should be kept in the Great Cabin of a ship, or one of the other cabins. However, for the Bounty voyage Banks demanded so much space for plants that they had to be kept on the top deck. He had a nursery constructed and put in the ship. The 500 plants collected fared well in this structure until they were thrown overboard following the mutiny. This event meant it wasn’t possible to prove if the plants would have survived in their container for a long voyage.
As the next ship, Providence, was bigger, Banks decided the voyage could be used to not only collect breadfruit plants at Tahiti and take them to the West Indies, but also to collect other plants elsewhere for Kew Gardens, London. Indeed, at the beginning of the journey some plants were taken aboard from England and from the Cape of Good Hope, and planted at Adventure Bay, Tasmania. Some other plants were collected there.
A shed was built at Tahiti, to a design by Banks, to house the plants as they were collected. Once they had been taken aboard Providence, there were over 2,500 plants to be tended, and transported for the West Indies and elsewhere. More plants were collected at stops on the way home, so about 2,000 plants were delivered to Kew. Banks had proved that plants could be transported by sea over long distances.
In 1789, Banks got involved in a voyage to New South Wales led by Edward Riou. Banks arranged for a plant cabin to be built on the ship, Guardian, for the plants and the accompanying gardener. During the voyage the ship hit an iceberg, destroying the plant cabin and all of the plants. Undaunted, Banks had a plant cabin built for George Vancouver’s ship, Discovery.
Banks also arranged for the East India Company to take plants from Kew to the botanic garden at Calcutta, India. A gardener was appointed to look after the plants during the voyage, in both directions. One ship, Royal Admiral, ended up with 300 plants, some purchased at the Cape of Good Hope, on her way to Calcutta.
Our final speaker was Cliff Thornton, who described Banks's visit to Yorkshire in 1775 to see his friend Constantine Phipps. Cliff told us they had known each other since being at Eton school. They had also sailed together to Newfoundland in 1766 in Niger.
During Cook’s Second Voyage, Captain Tobias Furneaux took the Polynesian Omai to England in Adventure. They arrived in London in 1774. The next summer, Banks travelled north to Yorkshire to see his friend Phipps, taking with him Omai, George Colman, and George’s son, another George. George the younger later wrote his memoirs, including a description of the trip.
From York they travelled east to Scarborough, where George the younger and Omai went into the sea. Colman doesn’t say whether they took their coach up through Whitby or around it. After Whitby, the road ran along the sands of the coast to Mulgrave Castle, Phipps’ family home.
Ralph Jackson wrote in his diary that in August 1775, he saw both Banks and Omai there, where he dined.
Colman said that during their stay they visited the local alum works, possibly the one at Sandsend. Alum was extracted from shale, though via a chemical process. Colman also wrote that Phipps and Banks dug up some local tumuli, possibly at Goldsborough. Colman didn’t mention any visits to Whitby during their stay. However, Reverend George Young wrote that F. Wardale, Esq., recollected seeing Omai in Whitby one day.
The party also visited Kirkleatham, near Redcar, on their way to Durham. Here they saw a person, said to be James Cook, Captain Cook’s father.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 24, volume 40, number 1 (2017).