Voyages of Discovery: A Visual Celebration of Ten of the Greatest Natural History Expeditions

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9780565092306: Voyages of Discovery: A Visual Celebration of Ten of the Greatest Natural History Expeditions

A rare and beautiful selection of works handpicked from the vast archives of London's Natural History Museum.

"The book's greatest contribution is to showcase the work of the artists who, usually under very difficult circumstances, so brilliantly served science and opened Western eyes to new worlds."
- School Library Journal (on the original edition)

Voyages of Discovery is a mesmerizing visual survey of the most significant discoveries in the history of natural science exploration. Superb artwork and photographs spanning three centuries document landmark advances made in the field and bring to life the fascinating stories of the explorers, naturalists, artists and photographers.

The book is fully illustrated in color with informative text and captions. Highlights include:

  • Sir Hans Sloane's 1687 voyage to Jamaica, where he collected and recorded plant specimens, including cocoa, which are preserved to this day
  • Maria Sybilla Merian's personal journey to Surinam in 1699, where in brilliant detail she recorded butterflies and exotic insects
  • Charles Darwin's fateful trip to the Galapagos Islands, on which he cataloged finches and fossils
  • William Bartram's fanciful documentation of North American wildlife
  • Matthew Flinders' mapping of Australia, where he was accompanied by Ferdinand Bauer, perhaps the greatest of all natural science artists.

The Natural History Museum in London has the world's most comprehensive collection of natural science specimens and artworks. Voyages of Discovery offers readers a privileged opportunity to explore that collection.

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About the Author:

Tony Rice is a scientist and the writer or editor of more than 200 publications. Formerly a curator at the Natural History Museum in London and the head of Benthic Biology at the Southampton Oceanography Centre, he is a specialist in deep-sea biology and an authority on the Challenger expedition of 1872.

Dr. David Bellamy is a botanist, broadcaster, environmentalist and the best-selling author of 40 books and numerous scientific papers on ecology and the environment.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

by Dr David Bellamy

I MADE MY FIRST VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY INTO THE WORLD OF NATURAL HISTORY OVER 60 YEARS AGO, scaling great heights to meet my first Diplodocus face to face. The heights? Well they were the steps up from the Underground to the front door of what is still for me one of the most excIting places In the world. Yes it has its rivals: diving uncharted coral reefs, pushing through pristine cloud forests or looking down a microscope at a drop of water from the ice at the North Pole. Each are voyages of personal discovery which hold that special excitement of erasing terra incognita. However, the voyage through the terracotta portals of The Natural History Museum is in many ways more awesome, for once within you are in the presence of the real giants of the past: not just the dinosaurs and pachyderms that grace the galleries, but the leviathans of natural history who made their voyages of discovery before the days of air travel, air conditioning and anti-malarials. It was their fortitude that laid the foundations not only of this museum but of taxonomy, genetics, evolution, continental drift, the theories that changed the way we think about ourselves, the planet on which we find expression and the role we play within the continuity of life. Their statues and portraits are there for ready reference, set amongst the glass cases or at rest in the stack rooms that hold the objects of their endeavour -- household names like Cook, Bank, Linnaeus, Darwin and many more. Delve deeper and you will find the works of unsung heroes and heroines, without whose skill and devotion much of the vital information would have been lost. They are the artists who took the same risks as the superstars.

This fascinating book makes some amends for the capricious nature of historical record by allowing us to discover those missing links of human endeavour, itself part of the process of evolution. It is a time machine that focuses on just 300 years of the tumultuous story of life that is housed in this great building, a keystone period if ever there was one for it saw the turning of curiosity into science and curiosities into specimens, each of which gave new meaning to all our pasts and still forces us to ask questions concerning all our futures.

In 1699, just a few decades after it had been conclusively demonstrated that insects developed from eggs, not from mud, Maria Sibylla Merian travelled to Surinam to produce a series of paintings on the metamorphosis of butterflies, including the food plants of larvae and imagoes. So good were her pictures that when Carl Linnaeus was producing his work describing all the animals then known to science, he included species she had recorded. Two Dutch artists, Hermann and de Bevere, shared the same honour, for it was their artistic expertise that allowed Linnaeus to write the flora of what we now call Sri Lanka. Thanks to the artistic talents of William Bartram, the plant and animal treasures of parts of North America were painted and documented, while in the Pacific, several artists played crucial roles on major expeditions: Sydney Parkinson on James Cook's Endeavour voyage with Joseph Banks and his naturalist Solander; George Forster on Cook's Resolution voyage; and Ferdinand Bauer, reputed to be the best of all natural history artists, on the Investigator with Matthew Flinders. The saga of Darwin on the Beagle is perhaps the most famous voyage of all. However without all the painstaking painting, drawing and cataloguing that had gone before, Darwin and his contemporaries Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates could never have set their findings within the context of natural selection.

The existence of this book and the treasure house of evidence it draws on is thanks to the vision of the British government of the late 18th century, a national lottery and the collections which Hans Sloane garnered in his lifetime. One of his most significant collections was made on his first voyage, to Jamaica, from whence he gave the world milk chocolate and a detailed account of the island's natural history, illustrated by a local artist, the Reverend Garret Moore. The end of the era -- 300 years when science and art worked in symbiosis -- came with the ultimate terra incognita, the challenge of earth's own inner space and the invention of photography. The scientists who were part of the voyage of the Challenger relied on a team of artists and photographers to make them famous as they plumbed the secrets of the oceans.

It is all too easy to dream about having been one of those early pioneers discovering things for the first time and to forget that in all those places, except the depths of the sea, people had been there long before discovering things for themselves. It is also easy to forget that every new voyage made by an individual is into terra incognita. So to be able to travel with the giants of the past is awesome indeed.

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