I know winter has returned with a vengeance over here in U.K. but briefly the sun shone, the birds sang and I found a bee the size of a humming bird in my conservatory yesterday. Shining sun brings out the best doesn’t it? Everyone seems more alive, more hopeful, and more ready to face the day. Nice. That small glimmer of the inevitable march of the season brought out the flowery side of me, and over at the Library of Congress are some beautiful botanical illustrations from the late 19th century. some of which I have archived here, and also made my own collage from. I admire the painstaking attention to detail and the handwrittten notes make me ashamed of my own calligraphy. They are artefacts that show how time is a necessity for noticing and recording with patience and care.
Captain Cook set sail in 1768 with Joseph Banks, Daniel Solander, Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan, alongside about 90 others. Joseph Banks was a wealthy man and the scientific organiser behind the expedition, the first to devote itself exclusively to scientific discovery. Parkinson died at sea, and many of the illustrations he started as sketches were completed by artists in England. It was a massive undertaking, to record the newly discovered specimens and Banks wanted to issue 14 volumes of his discoveries at a cost of about £10,000. Five watercolorists worked on Parkinsons unfinished work from the winter of 1773, and eventually 738 copper plates were engraved, showing the plants at full size. These were made with the intention to go print, but sadly this didn’t happen.
It was not until the 1980’s that the Museum renovated the copper printing plates and produced a limited edition of 100 sets, the ‘Banks’ Florilegium’.
The scope of this trip was heroic, lasting over three years, and resulting in illness and death amongst the travellers, we have been left with a legacy of illustration containing a story of vision, dedication and perseverance I can only wonder at in awe. To imagine the excitement and fervour these naturalists must have felt in identifying and recording species that were exotic and unknown to their European counterparts is only going a tiny step with them on their journey.
Now some of the images from that trip are online here, http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/art-nature-imaging/collections/endeavour-botanical/indexadv.dsml, and anyone can explore the story more fully.To show you just a sample from them,