Global Exploration and New Forms of Nature


A war canoe from Porter's Journal of his expedition to Polynesia

Here is Chief Mouina of the Taeeh tribe (left), drawn by Captain David Porter in his Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean in the Years 1812, 1813, and 1814. Mouina is remarkable, among other things, for the naturalistic ornaments that decorate his battle dress: feathers from man-o-war birds and tropic birds in his hair, a huge war-conch at his waist, bone and ivory ornaments for his ears, and a whale tooth necklace, “the object of the greatest value at this as well as all the other islands of this group” (near the Marquesas). Global explorations from the time of  Captain Cook onward were important not only because they introduced the Western world to new modes of human life, but also because of  the countless new species of plants and animals that were “discovered,” classified, and transported back to Europe and America as a result of these voyages. Naturalists, whose goal was to record and collect the wide range of flora and fauna that were always encountered in new corners of the globe, accompanied many of these expeditions. Sydney Parkinson (with Captain Cook’s first voyage, 1768-71), Johann and George Forster (on Cook’s second voyage, 1772-75), Ferdinand Bauer (in Australia) and William Bartram (in North America) all contributed scientific observation, personal narratives, and remarkable visual artistry to the emerging discourse of the natural world. Natural history by this time included backyard flower-pressers and parish priests, but it was also practiced by members of journeys of exploration that circled the globe. In fact, it was a 22-year-old “failed” medical student with a stack of notebooks who would board HMS Beagle in 1831 and change humanity’s sense of “nature” forever: Charles Darwin.

Taawattaa, a South Sea island "Priest," at the time of Captain Porter's arrival (Engraved by W. Strickland)

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