Story: European discovery of plants and animals

Page 2. Cook’s second voyage, and the French

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The Forsters

James Cook’s second expedition to New Zealand was in 1772–75, on the Resolution. He brought the German naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg, and the Swedish naturalist Anders Sparrman – a student of Linnaeus, the inventor of the modern system of biological classification.

They collected at Dusky Sound in Fiordland, and Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound. This time more birds were collected, and a number of new fish were discovered. Species of invertebrates (animals without backbones) did less well, and fewer plants were collected than might have been expected. The collections suffered a similar fate to those of the first voyage, and little was published.

On their return, the Forsters wrote three botanical publications that included New Zealand plants. Although their work was criticised for lack of detail, some of the species descriptions are still valid, including those of flax, cabbage tree and rimu. They also published a description of the little penguin. Sparrman described nine birds, including the red-crowned parakeet and the bellbird.

The records from Cook’s third voyage to New Zealand (1776–80) did not add much to earlier discoveries.

Other explorers

The visit of the French navigator Marc Joseph Marion du Fresne to the Bay of Islands in 1772 produced the first record of kauri, although his party did not collect specimens.

Archibald Menzies, surgeon on George Vancouver’s Discovery, collected ferns, mosses and liverworts from Dusky Sound in 1791. Some of these featured later in the publications of William Hooker, the founder of Kew Gardens in London.

French explorers and naturalists

Three significant French expeditions arrived in the first half of the 19th century:

  • The Coquille, under Louis Isidore Duperrey in 1824. Ports of call included the Bay of Islands.
  • The Astrolabe, under Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville in 1827. They called in at the western side of Tasman Bay, Tolaga Bay, Waitematā Harbour, Whangārei and the Bay of Islands.
  • The Astrolabe and Zélée, under Dumont d’Urville in 1840. This visit covered the Auckland Islands, Otago Peninsula, Akaroa and, again, the Bay of Islands. Dumont d’Urville was a botanist, and other naturalists doubled as naval officers.

By the time of these visits, earlier problems in conserving and describing collections were largely solved. In contrast to the earlier British expeditions, the French government promptly published and illustrated the reports.

French finds

Among the animal finds were the flax snail, southern royal albatross, grey warbler, yellow-eyed penguin, and the only known specimen of the kawekaweau – the world’s largest gecko (600 millimetres long), now considered extinct. Less spectacular was a large collection of marine and terrestrial invertebrates.

The French botanist Achille Richard, in the first attempt to treat the New Zealand flora as a whole, covered 380 species of flowering plants, ferns and mosses. He also wrote the first description of the kahikatea (a conifer).

French naval vessels later monitored the French colony at Akaroa, on Banks Peninsula. E. F. L. Raoul, a naval doctor based at Akaroa, took a substantial collection of plants from the area. Some of the French colonists at Akaroa sent plant and animal specimens back to France.

How to cite this page:

John Andrews, 'European discovery of plants and animals - Cook’s second voyage, and the French', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 July 2024)

Story by John Andrews, published 24 Sep 2007