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The Swedish naturalist made famous by the HMB Endeavour voyage

Daniel Solander joined the HMB Endeavour as a renowned naturalist and is best known for his precise and detailed botanical work on the expedition—collecting and describing specimens using a new classification system developed by the famous naturalist, Carl Linnaeus.

Together with botanist, Joseph Banks, and assistant naturalist, Herman Diedrich Spöring, Solander collected thousands of specimens of plant species that today form one of the world’s great botanical collections.

Charles Daniel Solander portrait medallion. John Flaxman for Wedgwood. Jasperware, 1775. It was modelled as a companion to an early version of a portrait medallion of Sir Joseph Banks. Source: The British Museum.
Charles Daniel Solander portrait medallion. John Flaxman for Wedgwood. Jasperware, 1775. It was modelled as a companion to an early version of a portrait medallion of Sir Joseph Banks. Source: The British Museum.

Coming to England

Solander studied natural science at Uppsala University under Professor of Botany, Carl Linneus (known then as Carl von Linné). As his star pupil and most trusted protégé, Linnaeus entrusted Solander to travel to England and promote his classification system. Solander arrived in England in July 1760 and met many of Britain’s leading naturalists, quickly becoming indispensable to them.

Thanks to his connections, Solander secured work at the British Museum cataloguing the natural history collections. In 1764, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society; the same year he met wealthy landowner Joseph Banks. Banks was 10 years his junior but the two became lifelong friends—their relationship cemented by their intensive work together on the HMB Endeavour expedition.

In the words of Banks:

‘During this voyage, which lasted three years, I can say of him that he combined an incomparable diligence and an acumen that left nothing unsettled, with an unbelievable equanimity. During all that time we did not once have any altercation which for a moment became heated.’

The HMB Endeavour expedition (1768–1771)

Throughout the expedition, Solander and Banks took every opportunity to go ashore and collect specimens. They prioritised writing up descriptions, sometimes adding to them while at sea, while botanical artist Sydney Parkinson illustrated their findings. 

By the time the HMB Endeavour reached the east coast of New Holland (Australia), their plant collection was already a good size, but it was about to get substantially bigger.

On 29 April 1770, the HMB Endeavour made landed at Botany Bay and Solander became the first university-educated scientist to set foot on ‘Australian’ soil. The naturalists were astounded by the number and variety of new and strange plants. Part way through the nine day stay Banks noted their collection of specimens had become ‘so immensely large that it was necessary that some extraordinary care should be taken of them least they should spoil in the books.’

The specimens Solander and Banks systematically collected and documented in Botany Bay became one of the most important botanical collections made using the Linnaean System and mark the integration of Australia’s flora into western science.

Solander slips, Charles Solander. Ink of paper, bound. 1768-1771. Solander’s notes categorising specimens were meticulously completed. Source: The National History Museum, London.
Solander slips, Charles Solander. Ink of paper, bound. 1768-1771. Solander’s notes categorising specimens were meticulously completed. Source: The National History Museum, London.

They continued adding to the collection as the HMB Endeavour sailed up the east coast and had further opportunity to spend an extended period ashore when the ship needed repairs.

Banks noted in his journal that ‘Dr Solander and myself began our Plant gathering’ leaving Captain James Cook and his crew to wait for a high tide to float the HMB Endeavour off the reef and move her to the river now bearing her name.

The extensive repairs and the challenging trade winds meant the HMB Endeavour remained in the area for close to seven weeks—it was the longest time the ship remained in one place on the east coast and by 28 July the naturalists had completely exhausted the area. ‘Botanising with no kind of success,’ Banks wrote. ‘The Plants were now intirely compleated and nothing new to be found, so that sailing is all we wish for if the wind would but allow us.’

Solander also contributed to zoological investigations during the expedition. During the seven week stay awaiting the repairs he is said to have recorded the first scientific description of a Kanguru saliens (kangaroo).

By the end of the voyage, Banks, Solander and their team had collected and recorded more than 30,000 specimens from Madeira, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, the Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia.  The collection included some 1,300 species new to Western science.

Returning to England to great acclaim

When the HMB Endeavour returned to England in July 1771, Solander and Banks were immediately hailed for their discoveries and initially received more attention than Cook.

In a letter to Linnaeus, renowned English naturalist John Ellis described how Banks and Solander returned to Britain ‘laden with the greatest treasure of Natural History that was ever brought into one country at any one time by two persons’.

After the voyage, Solander became Banks’ secretary and librarian and began preparing the scientific results of the expedition. Watercolours and engravings were made from hundreds of Parkinson’s drawings. But, despite continuing efforts—in between other commitments and expeditions—it would be more than 200 years before this work was published.

The first complete full-colour edition of the Florilegium was published between 1980 and 1990 in 34 parts by Alecto Historical Editions and the British Museum (Natural History).