List of Figures

September 29, 2011

Iconic types

Exhibit A:
This somewhat naïve painting was made in 1774 by Georg Forster. Naturalist, travel writer, — and revolutionary! — he spent his formative years accompanying his father Johann Reinhold Forster on scientific expeditions around the world, including the famous second voyage of James Cook on HMS Resolution. On Ulietea (now Raiatea), one of the Society Islands in South Pacific, the team collected one specimen of a previously unknown bird. As an assistant to the expedition’s official naturalist, it was Georg’s job to record the acquired samples of local flora and fauna (there’s actually a picture showing him doing exactly that in Tahiti). Later, the specimen was sent to the collection of Joseph Banks (the renowned naturalist of Cook’s fist voyage, for whom the Forsters were a last-minute replacement). While there, it was examined and scientifically described by John Latham as a Bay Thrush. Just four years later, this important type specimen disappeared, nobody quite knows how. No living bird was seen again, either; the species was almost certainly extinct by 1850. Despite a considerable effort, no bones, eggs or skins could be found. Nothing. All that remains is this small watercolor.

Exhibit B:
This is another example of what is known as iconotype, an image used instead of the type specimen, when it’s destroyed, lost, or otherwise unavailable. For this particular species, though, the iconotype is not just a poor substitute. Described from this picture in 1915, White-throated Pigeon died out on its native Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea some 60 years prior; no specimen or skin was ever obtained. The unique depiction was produced by George Raper, a self-taught painter who was a midshipman on board HMS Sirius, flagship of the First Fleet bringing convicts to establish the first European colony in Australia.

1 Comment »

  1. Raper, he he he

    Comment by zcx — September 30, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

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