28 November 2013

Sydney Parkinson Artist - NZs First European Conservationist?

I'm often drawn to the words of Sydney Parkinson the young Scottish Quaker and botanical artist who, after Buchan died in Tahiti, was the sole artist of any ability on Cook's first voyage. He wrote -


Sydney Parkinson
“The country about the bay is agreeable beyond description and, with proper cultivation, might be rendered a kind of second Paradise.  The hills are covered with beautiful flowering shrubs, intermingled with a great number of tall and stately palms, which fill the air with a most grateful fragrant perfume.”

Parkinson wrote this at the watering cove near Tologa in 1769.  He was twenty six when he died, of dysentery, between Java and South Africa, before the Endeavour returned to England.  We may disagree about his first or second paradise he was suggesting for Aotearoa - and I wonder if he was referring to cabbage trees (Cordyline australis, rather than palms) which would have been dispelling their fragrance at the time, late October. And I rather think that he would be happy to insert management for cultivate - or does it matter.

He obviously had a 'sensitive soul' and would have been one of the first European arrivals (probably the first) to write some words for conservation of New Zealand's natural values. His vision for New Zealand becoming a “kind of second Paradise”, we might hope to be prophetic. 


Banksia serrata by Parkinson




Parkinson produced nearly 1000 illustrations during Cook's voyage. His botanical sketches were amplified by engravers after the voyage and published in his 'Florilegium' a magnificent collection of significant botanical art.

The most impressive collection of Parkinson's prints I've seen was lining the walls of Australia's Federal parliament back in about 1980. I don't know if they are there now.