Tadeás Haenke to Joseph Banks 1

Sydney Cove, in the Southern Wales
15 April 1793

Most noble Sir Joseph Banks, Bart., etc.


from Tadeás Haenke, Botanist to the King of Spain.

    On the eleventh of March 1793, having been driven away from New Zealand by an extraordinary storm, we beheld with unanimous delight the coast of New Holland, and the following day the ships Descubierta and Atrevida with favourable winds approached Port Jackson. It is difficult to express the longing I felt in approaching and beholding a land, a large part of which you once happened to see and travel through with [Daniel] Solander as your companion, and which has added such a number of Plants to the treasury as to be judged worthy of being known by the name of the beloved Science of Botany [i.e. Botany Bay]. Why shall I not say it? the sandstone rocks, barren and steep at the mouth of the harbour, in whose clefts some Plants sheltered, to me and my companions appeared most pleasing and delightful, removed as we had been for the space of almost four months from the coasts of the land, longing from a distance, with storms over us and the waves of the Ocean often distressing us. When, gradually, we penetrated further and further into the harbour, the appearance of a land new and strange to me, with a wealth of trees and bushes, caused me, just as it should, very great joy, and also aroused great hopes of a rich harvest. Approaching the land, my soul was struck by the beautiful genus of cone-bearing Bushes and Trees, which by the favour of Flora and the Muses will bequeath to posterity the name of Banks: its beauty, great number and variety of species so worthy of bearing the name of the Maecenas of the Age. The space of almost a month was presently spent in the pleasure of many Botanical and Zoological excursions, which we undertook daily from Sydney Cove, the capital of the Southern Wales, into the adjoining countryside and neighbouring places: of which the more memorable were the one to Botany Bay, and in the opposite direction the one which we undertook to the new towns of Parramatta, Toongabbie and Prospect Hill, from the heights of which place we beheld in the distance the wilder country of the mountain range called the Blue Mountains. The number of Plants, which everywhere in the places mentioned we gathered very freely by hand, surpassed all our expectations. I grieve for the unhappy fate of Burton, who a year ago, to the detriment of science, met a premature and untimely death in this district, and whose story I heard with most agitated feelings.2

    Not to neglect by silence, I here express the public testimony of a grateful soul for the very extraordinary humanity and kindness with which the English in their new Colony welcomed us wandering vagabonds, Ulysses' companions. A Nation renowned thoughout the world, which has left nothing untried, will also overcome with the happiest omens, by the most assiduous labour and by its own determined spirit the great obstacles opposing it in the foundation of what may one day become another Rome.

    Lack of time, which in similar situations you have often experienced, forbids writing more; only allow these very few Botanical observations, which are now to your hand, to contribute to the increase of your glory. Long life and farewell.

    Unwillingly, O Queen, thou art from the shore farewelled. - Virgil

1 Original in Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin PKB (Sig: Sammlung Darmstädter Amerika (2): Haenke); published in Victoria Ibáñez, Trabajos Cientificos y Correspondencia de Tadeo Haenke, Museo Naval y Ministerio de Defensa, La Expedición Malaspina, 1789-1794, Tomo IV, Barcelona, Lunwerg, 1992; and, with English translation, in Victoria Ibáñez and Robert J. King, "A Letter from Thaddeus Haenke to Sir Joseph Banks, Sydney Cove, 15 April 1793", Archives of Natural History, vol.23, no.2, 1996. The date of 15 April is puzzling, as the expedition left Port Jackson on 12 April.  Text courtesy of, and translated by, Robert King.

2 David Burton came out to the colony on the Gorgon in 1790 as a superintendant of convicts.  He had also arranged a contract with Sir Joseph Banks to collect botanical specimens for him for a sum of £20 per annum.  Burton had been trained as a gardener, and was related to James Lee of the Kennedy and Lee Nursery at Hammersmith.  On 7 April 1792, Burton's fowling piece discharged accidentally during a duck hunting expedition.  The charge, "entering at his wrist, forced their way up between the two bones of his right arm".  He died from the wound six days later. David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, London, Vol. I, 1798, p.206.


Updated: January 13, 2018