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Australia Expeditions & Florilegium – Parkinson & Bauer

KoalasDear Friends:

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There have been numerous expeditions to and around Australia. Between 1768- 1771, Captain James Cook took the first voyage around the world stopping in Madeira, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, the Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Java. As a result of commissions by royalty and early explorers, 17th and 18th century florilegia (records of plants collected) were created.

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During Cook’s voyage, Parkinson collected over 1,000 species and over 30,000 plant specimens representing 3,600 species of which 1,400 were new to science.  Parkinson’s sketches finally made up 21 large bound volumes – 674 outline drawings, 269 finished paintings.  Other artists: John Miller made 99 finished paintings after the voyage, Frederick Nodder 272, and three other artists contributed 114.  

These included the Banks Florilegium. The Banks’ Florilegium consists of 743 botanical line engravings, after the watercolors drawn from nature by Sydney Parkinson. The illustrations record the plants collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Carl Solander in Madeira, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, the Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Java.


Matthew Flinders met George Bass, a ship’s doctor, when they sailed to Australia on the Reliance. It was the first of many journeys of exploration they undertook together.  Flinders was the first colonist to prove that Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) was an island. In 1798, Bass and Flinders sailed the Norfolk through Bass Strait and around the southern island. This was the last voyage Bass and Flinders undertook together as Bass mysteriously vanished somewhere in the Pacific. Later, the British government asked Flinders to circumnavigate Australia. In 1802, he sailed north from Sydney in the Investigator, passing through Torres Strait and across the Gulf of Carpentaria. On the 1802 voyage from Sydney, Flinders recruited two Aboriginal people, Bungaree, who had sailed with him on the Norfolk, and Nanbaree. The visit of Flinders and other mariners to the coast of Arnhem Land is recorded in the paintings of ‘praus’ and European ships at rock art sites.

On the expedition with Captain flanders, Bauer collected specimens of more than 3,000 plant species and 1500 plant drawings. In addition, Robert Brown (botanist) and Bauer brought back animal, bird and mineral specimens, and numerous natural history drawings and paintings. In the following five years, Brown described more than 2,000 of the species, many of which were previously unknown. Bauer produced around 300 magnificent watercolours of his Australian sketches. His astonishing accuracy in colouring was achieved through a complex colour code he had devised early in his career. numbering from 1 to 999. 

Bauer Book

Ludwig Leichhardt was a German born explorer and scientist who led an expedition to find a new route to Port Essington, near Darwin. Ludwig left the Darling Downs in October 1844, and after a perilous journey of 15 months and over 5000 kilometres, his party finally reached Port Essington. They named the Dawson, Mackenzie, Isaacs, Suttor and Burdekin Rivers, as well as Expedition Range and Peak Range. One of his party, John Gilbert, was killed by Aborigines. On a journey from Moreton Bay to Perth, his party disappeared. Many reasons, from mutiny to floods, have been put forward to explain the disappearance. It still remains a mystery today. Leichhardt’s expedition and disappearance inspired Patrick White to base his great novel Voss on the explorer. The broad outline of the narrative is based on Leichhardt’s expedition from Sydney to Darwin.

In 1840, Edward John Eyre, together with his Aboriginal friend Wylie, trekked across the Nullarbor Plain from Adelaide to Albany becoming the first men to cross southern Australia from east to west. The expedition hoped to find good land and to open up a route to take cattle overland from Adelaide to Western Australia. Eyre set out from Adelaide with six white men, and three Aborigines. They took with them 13 horses, 40 sheep and supplies to last them 3 months. The harsh conditions and lack of water defined their desperate search for water and their yielding to survival lessons taught by local Aborigines who showed Eyre how to find water by digging behind the sand dunes on the shore, howto break off the roots of gumtrees and suck them to relieve their thirst, to collect early morning dew from leaves and to recognize use and look after native wells. Eyre and Wylie survived by killing and eating kangaroos. In June 1841, they came upon a French whaling ship anchored off the coast at Rossiter Bay (near Esperance) where they rested for two weeks before reaching Albany in July. Their journey had lasted four and a half months.

Many other explorers opened up the country for colonial expansion. Edmund Kennedy made many expeditions into unexplored areas of Queensland, opening up many new areas, before being speared to death while trying to open up a route to the tip of the Cape York Peninsula. John Oxley surveyed and described the country by following the Lachlan River and across to and down the Macquarie River. Oxley then proceeded north-east, discovering the Castlereagh River, finding the rich Liverpool Plains, and followed the Hastings River to its estuary at Port Macquarie. Charles Sturt undertook explorations of the Macquarie, Lachlan, Murrumbidgee, Darling and Murray River system.

As for Captain Cook’s voyage in 1768, Sydney Parkinson’s states his account aboard the  Endeavour  which was published in 1773 as follows:

RhabdothamousSoon after we arrived in the bay, we laid the ship on a steep bank, on the side of a river; set up tents on shore, unloaded her, carried all the cargo and provisions into them, and there lodged and accommodated our sick.

On the 22d, we examined the ship’s bottom, and found a large hole; through the planks into the hold, which had a piece of coral-rock, half a yard square, sticking in it: the same rock, therefore, that endangered us, yielded us the principal means of our redemption; for, had not this fragment intruded into the leak, in all probability the ship would have sunk.

We lost no time, but immediately set about repairing the ship’s bottom, and in a few days made it sound again. In the mean time, the boats were sent out, in search of another passage, which they found, and returned to the ship on the 3d of July.

On the 4th of July, the ship was carried to the other side of the river, and examined thoroughly; but, being found in good condition, she was soon placed in her former station; where she was loaded, and properly fitted to proceed on the voyage.

During the time we staid here, we picked up a great many natural curiosities from the reef we struck upon, consisting of a variety of curious shells, most of which were entirely new to Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander …

Of quadrupeds, there are goats, wolves, a small redanimal about the size of a squirrel; a spotted one of the viverra kind, and an animal of a kind nearly approaching the mus genus, about the size of a grey-hound, that had a head like a fawn’s; lips and ears, which it throws back, like a hare’s; on the upper jaw six large teeth; on the under one two only; with a short and small neck, near to which are the fore-feet, which have five toes each, and five hooked claws; the hinder legs are long, especially from the last joint, which, from the callosity below it, seems as if it lies flat on the ground when the animal descends any declivity; and each foot had four long toes, two of them behind, placed a greatway back, the inner one of which has two claws; the two other toes were in the middle, and resembled a hoof, but one of them was much larger than the other. The tail, which is carried like a grey-hound’s, was almost as long as the body, and tapered gradually to the end. The chief bulk of this animal is behind; the belly being largest, and the back rising toward the posteriors. The whole body is covered with short ash-coloured hair; and the flesh of it tasted like a hare’s, but has a more agreeable flavour.

The result of Parkinson’s labor as a botanical illustrator was many drawings and 743 completed watercolors. Banks hired 18 engravers between 1771 and 1784 to create the copperplate line engravings these watercolors at a considerable cost. The Florilegium was not printed in Banks’ lifetime and he bequeathed the plates to the British Museum. The first complete full-color edition of the Florilegium was published between 1980 and 1990 in 34 parts by Alecto Historical Editions and the British Museum. Only 100 sets were made available for sale, some on a subscription basis. Filoli is fortunate to have in its collection one of these complete sets. The plates were printed using a 17th century technique known as à la poupée where each color was applied directly to the plate; color accuracy was checked against Parkinson’s notes and through consultation with the Museum’s botanist, Chris Humphries. Each plate took from one week to two months to proof. New florilegium projects are underway worldwide.




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