The Forsters and The Botany of the Second Cook Expedition (1772-1775). Nicolson, Dan H. and F. Raymond Fosberg. 2004

The Forsters and The Botany of the Second Cook Expedition (1772-1775). Nicolson, Dan H. and F. Raymond Fosberg. 2004

Dan H. Nicolson and F. Raymond Fosberg, 
The Forsters and The Botany of the Second Cook Expedition (1772-1775).
Issued as Vol. 139 of Regnum Vegetabile.
A.R.G. Gantar Verlag.
ISBN 3 906166 02 3.

Dr F Raymond Fosberg while a curator of Botany at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA had begun a study of the plant collections made by the Forsters (father and son) on Captain Cook's second voyage 1772-1775. When he retired Dr Fosberg continued his study in an emeritus capacity at the Institution. On his death in 1993 Dr Dan H Nicolson, a fellow curator in the same museum, took over the responsibility of seeing Fosberg's work to a conclusion. He has generously acknowledged his senior colleague's input by including Dr Fosberg as his co-author in this present book.
The need, however, to resolve so many problems arising from these important collections has been the reason why it has not been possible for Dr Nicolson to present the results of both author's research until now.

Dr Nicolson begins the book with an explanation of the troubled political background in Prussia (Poland), Russia and France and how it had affected Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-1798) and later his son George (1754-1794), before they both arrived in England towards the end of 1766.

There follows a biographical sketch of both father and son together with Forster family ancestry. Next is given the itinerary of Cook's Second Voyage in the Resolution, along with a useful list of islands visited together with their modern name equivalents. Eight pages are devoted to a short description of the twelve institutions, mostly in Europe, that hold larger sets of Forster's plant specimens, and several other establishments that have a smaller number represented. The section ends with an excellent bibliography of all those publications that Nicolson has traced that describe or comment upon the Forster collections.

During the voyage the Forsters, according to Begg & Begg1 "collected no fewer than 785 botanical specimens" (Nicolson has substituted "described" for "collected", meaning individual species). Of these, 227 were from the Pacific. Among the flowering plants, 187 were from the Polynesian islands and 119 from New Zealand. George Forster made 301 botanical sketches. In addition he painted 14 invertebrates, 80 fishes, 35 mammals and 140 birds - in all 272 sheets. After the Resolution anchored back in England in 1775 the Forsters landed their immense collections of dried plants. Like Banks and Solander on Cook's First Voyage they had collected several examples of each gathering so that duplicate sets could be later prepared for distribution or exchange.

In October 1778 George left for the Continent taking with him "68 pounds of specimens, artifacts, drawings and manuscripts". His main purposes, however, was to seek funds to clear their debts and to seek a suitable post for his father. Before leaving England for good the Forsters gave a set of their plants to Joseph Banks, who had enabled them to have access to his library, collections and manuscripts. The last included many descriptions and names applied by Solander to new species that were, as yet, unpublished.

Within modern times several distinguished botanists have accused the Forsters of plagiarism by substituting their own generic names for those applied by Solander for the same plants. This they published in their Characteres Genera Planterum (Nov. 1775). Other botanists, without investigation themselves, have perpetrated the vilification of the Forsters by repeating the same accusation. However, Hoare2 was able to draw attention to certain botanical manuscripts existing in the Central Library of the Paris Museum d'Histoire Naturelle which demonstrate quite clearly that those names of the Forsters that they had been alleged to have substituted were in fact coined by them during the voyage and not afterwards.

The bulk (pp. 85-695) of Nicolson's new book is taken up with a listing systematically of those of Forster's plant specimens he has located and examined and the institution holding such examples. He commences with the lichens followed by the seaweeds, bryophytes (mosses and hepatics) and the ferns and gymnosperms (conifers). The flowering plants, which come at the end, represent the largest group (pp. 162-695). The species are arranged first under their family, then alphabetically under each genus and then the species. Under each is listed the institutes where such examples of that species are held; its typification (i.e. the identity of the specimen on which the species description was based); reference to any of Forsters publications in which they may have been cited; any associated notes or detail; and finally the range of the species as it is today.

Towards the end of the book are some photographic reproductions of actual Forster specimens and a map of the Resolution's track (although there is more clearly seen, as reproduced as end papers to the book. The index (pp. 707-759) is devoted solely to an alphabetical listing of the species of plants as mentioned throughout the text. It would have been useful to have included a list of which species were found under each of the facilities visited.

As a botanist myself, I had known that Dr Nicolson had been working on the Forster's plant collection for a long time. Indeed, some years ago I turned over to him all the notes I had made on them, as he was further advanced than I on his investigations, and concentrated my time on Archibald Menzies, the botanist who made plant collections on George Vancouver's voyage. Nevertheless, I have still maintained an interest in the Forsters and the contribution they made to the success of Cook's Second Voyage and to the advancement of Pacific botany. I, along with many other students of 18th century maritime expeditions, are grateful to Dr Nicolson for ably bringing his researches to fruition in this book.

Eric W. Groves

1. Begg, A. C. and Begg, N. C., 1968 (rev. ed.). Dusky Bay: In the Steps of Captain Cook. Christchurch, NZ: Whitcombe and Tombs.
2. Hoare, Michael, 1976. The Tactless Philosopher, Johann Reinhold Forster, 1729 - 1798. Melbourne, Australia: Hawthorn Press.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 36, volume 28, number 1 (2005).

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