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The Society for the History of Discoveries
42nd Annual Meeting
Denver, Colorado
September 6-9, 2001

Exhibition - Voyages of Discovery

The following was excerpted from a press notice dated 29 June 1999 and released by The Natural History Museum of London, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD. “Voyages of discovery” appeared there from 4 July 1999 to Spring 2000.

This exhibition will be an optional event of the SHD Annual Meeting at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on Saturday, September 8, 2:00 to 5:00 PM


A major new historical exhibition at The Natural History Museum…
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, 1913-1925

The first ever exhibition of eighteenth and nineteenth century British sea voyages and their impact on our understanding of the world, Voyages of discovery opens to visitors 4 July 1999 until spring 2000 [in London].

Illuminating the diversity of the natural world and the human quest for scientific knowledge, Voyages of discovery looks at the influence which voyages such as those of the Endeavour and the Beagle have had on current scientific theory and methods of collecting, such as the use of sea bird feathers brought back from these early voyages in monitoring pollution levels.

Exploring the human drama of the voyages, the voyagers themselves and the extraordinary places, animals, plants and people they encountered in distant and unknown lands, the exhibition is set in a contemporary design space which takes the visitor on an historical journey using dramatic sound effects such as waves crashing and creaking rigging.

Nowhere in the exhibition are the adversities of voyaging better demonstrated than with the example of the Endeavour artist Sydney Parkinson. Facing storms at sea, lack of space and illness, Joseph Banks recorded that at one point a swarm of flies were eating the paint off his paper as fast as he could lay it on. Parkinson died aged twenty-five from malaria and dysentery on the journey home.

Revealing natural history treasures never seen by the public before, the Museum opens up its vast collection of botanical, entomological, geological and zoological specimens, historical artworks, photographs, prints and drawings, all collected or made on the voyages. On display are the exquisite and scientifically accurate Amazonian fish drawings by Alfred Russel Wallace, the only collections to survive the devastating fire which destroyed his ship, and a photograph of an iceberg captured on film by the first camera to be taken on a scientific voyage (the Challenger voyage 1872-6).

Collections on display include the actual finches brought back by Darwin from the Galápagos Islands – a seminal example of his revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection – and the cocoa bean Theobroma cacao, the basis for milk chocolate, collected by physician Sir Hans Sloane on his 17th century voyage to Jamaica.

Voyages of discovery showcases some of the half a million original drawings, paintings and prints housed at the museum – the third largest collection of art on paper in the UK. These include the beautiful and scientifically accurate painting of a pair of shimmering golden seahorses painted by Investigator artist Ferdinand Bauer and the first sketch of a kangaroo by a European naturalist, made by Endeavour artist Sydney Parkinson.

“…an animal as large as a greyhound, of a mouse colour and very swift.”
A record of the first ever sighting of a kangaroo by a European, made by Joseph Banks, a young scientist on board Captain Cook’s Endeavour in 1770.

Background on the major voyages

1660 – 1753 Sir Hans Sloane…was a wealthy physician who voyaged to Jamaica in 1687-9. Sloane’s collections formed the basis of the British Museum and The Natural History Museum. He wrote “Natural History of Jamaica” (1707-25), collected the cocoa plant, Theobroma cacao and invented the recipe for milk chocolate.

1768 – 1771 The Endeavour…Captain Cook, Sir Joseph Banks (scientist), Daniel Solander, Sydney Parkinson, an artist, went on the voyage to the South Pacific including Australia. It was the first time there was a dedicated natural history team on a naval voyage. Artworks and specimens brought back include the paintings of Sydney Parkinson, including the first sketch of a kangaroo.

1801 – 1805 The Investigator…Voyage to Australia captained by Matthew Flinders to chart the entire coastline of the continent. Ferdinand Bauer, the artist on board the ship, is regarded by many as the world’s greatest natural history artist.

1831 – 1900 The Victorians…An “explosion” of scientific voyaging, linked to naval trade.

Darwin and The Beagle…Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the resulting Origin of Species were influenced by this voyage. The exhibition includes beetles collected by Darwin, as well as two of his Galápagos finches.

Alfred Russell Wallace and Henry Walter Bates…Voyages to the Amazon and Wallace’s voyage to [the] Malay Archipelago. Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin, also independently came up with proof for the Natural Selection theory. Exhibits include Bates’ insects and notebooks (Batesian mimicry), from the Amazon, Wallace’s fish drawings, butterflies and a bird-of-paradise.

1872 – 1876 The Challenger…New type of scientific exploration - oceanography. This was the first expedition with a specific aim and the first scientific voyage to take a camera on board. Specimens include deep-sea fish and collecting instruments.

Key Specimens

Theobroma cocoa - The very first specimen of a cocoa bean, the basis for milk chocolate, collected by physician Sir Hans Sloane on his 17th Century voyage to Jamaica (1687-1689).

Harlequin beetle Acrocinus longimanus - Collected on the Endeavour voyage (1768-1771) by Sir Joseph Banks.

Kangaroo drawing – First sketch of a kangaroo by a European naturalist, made by Sydney Parkinson on the Endeavour voyage (1768-1771).

Bauer’s painting of sea horses Phyllopteryx taeniolatus – From the Investigator voyage (1801-1805), one of the exquisite paintings from The (London) Natural History Museum’s art collections, the UK’s third largest collection of natural history art on paper. Ferdinand Bauer is considered one of the greatest natural history artists.

A first edition of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ – The greatest and most controversial natural history book written on the theory of evolution and published in 1859.

Darwin’s finches – Collected in the Galápagos on the Beagle voyage (1831-1836), the finches are the most famous of Darwin’s theory of evolution, later published in his ‘Origin of Species’ (1859).

Wallace’s fish drawings – The original exquisite pencil drawings of amateur British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, who in 1848 set out for the Amazon to collect natural history specimens. A fire on the return journey destroyed all of his collections apart from a unique collection of sketches of fish, later presented to The Natural History Museum.

Wallace’s butterflies (specimens) – Collected in Malay in 1854-1862, the butterflies are fine examples of the region’s spectacular and diverse wildlife.

Bird-of paradise (specimen and artwork) – Collected in Borneo, Wallace’s bird-of-paradise (standardwing) was reference for Gould’s dramatic painting of the specimen.

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