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Cheeseman's flora 1906

MEDIA RELEASE 14 November 2006

Cheeseman's flora 1906

An exhibition of images and ephemera celebrating 100 years since Cheeseman published his definitive Manual of the New Zealand Flora in 1906.

17 November 2006 - 4 March 2007

Tamaki Gallery, Ground Floor Entry included in admission donation
Thomas Frederick Cheeseman (FLS, FZS, FNZI – 1845-1923) was the Auckland Institute and Museum botanist and sole Curator (director) for nearly 50 years (1874-1923). He was one of New Zealand’s greatest botanists, and the first with a New Zealand education. During his career, Cheeseman described three plant genera, some 140 species, 67 varieties and one forma. A genus and 29 plant species from New Zealand and Cook Islands were named after him. He published the Manual of the New Zealand Flora (1906, 2nd ed. 1925) and Illustrations of the New Zealand Flora (1914), as well as countless scientific articles, primarily on botany, but also included zoology and ethnology. Amongst his accolades he was elected fellow of the Linnean Society of London and received their prestigious gold medal in 1923.

Largely self-taught, Cheeseman’s interest in natural history, especially botany, soon developed into a full-time passion. There was much to occupy the young naturalist, as the native flora and fauna had only partially been described since Banks and Solander made their initial forays a century earlier. He wrote up his observations and published them wherever possible, reaching out as far as he possibly could in his efforts to bring the descriptive work he did on New Zealand natural history before the reading public. When he was 22 years old he sent a local orchid to Joseph Hooker at Kew that was later named after him: Corysanthes cheesemanii.

Born in Hull, Yorkshire, Cheeseman immigrated with his family to Auckland when he was eight years old. He developed an interest for collecting and studying plants at school, and by the time the Auckland University College opened in 1883 he was already a recognised botanist and sole Museum curator for nine years.
Cheeseman had a reputation for patience in dealing with enquiries from young and old and he was a skilled teacher. In 1879 he taught botany and zoology to boys from the Church of England Grammar School in Parnell, taking them on expeditions to the Auckland Domain ponds and Hobson Bay. Photographs show that he was fully bearded, bald headed, with a kindly face and a twinkle in his eye. In later years it was Cheeseman who expressed the need for a children’s museum to allow young Aucklanders to learn to love natural history as he did.
To assist in the writing of a new New Zealand flora the New Zealand Government asked the British Museum in the 1890s for a set of Banks and Solander specimens, proof prints of the Banks’ Florilegium and a copy of Solander’s unpublished manuscript. These were initially for Thomas Kirk, Government botanist at Wellington and Cheeseman’s predecessor at the museum, but due to his premature death in 1898 the flora project was passed onto Cheeseman who was commissioned in 1900 to write the flora.

By the time his 1906 Flora was published Cheeseman was corresponding with numerous botanists within New Zealand and overseas. The great English biologist Charles Darwin was among Cheeseman's correspondents. This letter, typical of the scientific discourse of the time, concerns the way in which an orchid is pollinated.
Dear Sir
I thank you for having sent me your extremely interesting paper. I can entertain no doubt that your explanation is as correct, as your account is clear. The case is strictly analogous, though to results affected by e.g. different means, as in Cypripedium; not as I incorrectly described it at first, but as described by H. Müller viz, that the insect is forced from the inflexed rim of the labellum to crawl out of the two apertures close to the anthers and stigma. Your case is much more curious.
With my best thanks
I remain
Dear Sir
Yours faithfully
Ch. Darwin
I tried Cypripedium with a minute bee & saw the whole process, as you did with your orchid.

Cheeseman bequeathed his herbarium and related papers to the Museum. Of the 14,400 specimens in the Cheeseman Herbarium nearly 7,000 of these had been collected by Cheeseman. Many well known New Zealand botanists were sending him specimens, e.g. Carse, Cockayne, Colenso, Kirk, Matthews. Often these were entities that they thought were new to science, and when they were sometimes Cheeseman named them after them. Cheeseman also set up specimen exchange programs around the world. The Museum also holds 510 sheets of herbarium specimens collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander during Captain James Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand, 1769-1770.

Cheeseman’s fieldwork took him to many remote areas of New Zealand by train, foot, boat and even horseback. Notable collections were made from Kermadec and Three Kings Islands, North Cape area, Nelson, inland Canterbury and Mt Cook districts. His only overseas work was to Rarotonga. He bequeathed his herbarium of some 14,000 pressed plant specimens which formed the basis of the Museum herbarium that today numbers more than 330,000 specimens.

While much of his attention after 1900 was given to botanical writing, Cheeseman never lost sight of the needs of the rest of the Museum and recognised the need for more space and a new museum building - the old Princes Street site was cramped and there was no room for the collections and exhibitions to expand. He spearheaded a campaign to secure the present site "... no better site could be found than Observatory Hill". His clever strategy to achieve this vision was to propose a new War Memorial Museum, "commemorative of the services of the many thousands of young men who have willingly left this country and undergone countless sacrifices in order to assist in crushing the German peril".

He succeeded but died suddenly in 1923 after leading the museum for almost 50 years. Although he never saw the new building completed, he did see the winning design. From the beginning of his long stewardship of the Museum, Thomas Cheeseman showed the political astuteness, enthusiasm and passion that enabled him, perhaps more than any other single individual, to ensure the survival of Auckland Museum into the next millennium.

Thomas Frederick Cheeseman (1845 - 1923)

Cheeseman on horseback at his family home in Remuera

Cheeseman in old Auckland Museum in Maori Court

Dracophyllum sinclairii Cheeseman (1906). Banks' Florilegium plate 501; Banks and Solander collected this shrub in the Firth of Thames, November 1769

(please contact the communications manager should you require hi-res images of these)

20-22 NOVEMBER 2006 (2 days for the conference, 1 day for field trips)
Engineering Building, University of Auckland
A 3-day symposium to celebrate the centenary of the first edition of Cheeseman’s Manual of New Zealand Flora (1906).
The Cheeseman symposium will celebrate the centenary of Thomas F. Cheeseman’s Manual of the New Zealand Flora (1906): his life and times, taxonomic work, flora writing, and the centenary of the 1906 publication of the first full treatment of the New Zealand flora by a resident botanist.
Session headings
Early botanists Keynote: Lucy Cranwell Lecture Ewen Cameron – T. F. Cheeseman
NZ floras and bioinformatics Keynote: Aaron Wilton
New Zealand flora systematics Keynote: Rob Smissen
Science, conservation, and conservation management Keynote: Andrew Young
Plant morphology, cytology, and function Keynote: Brian Murray
Pollination and reproductive biology Keynote: Linda Newstrom
Plant phylogeny and biogeography Keynote: Leon Perrie
Dr Judy West, President of Australian Plant Conservation Network, will give an invited address

The New Zealand Plant Conservation Network will offer some concurrent sessions on the implementation of the Global Plant Strategy, Plant Propagation, and ex-situ conservation.

The Cheeseman's 1906 Flora exhibit is supported by a range of public activities for all ages.
Curator in the House

Join Botany Curator Ewen Cameron in the gallery to explore the many fascinating objects, herbarium specimens and illustrations in this exhibition including Cheeseman’s traveling writing case and a letter from Charles Darwin to Cheeseman written in 1873. Cheeseman was the Auckland Museum botanist and sole curator for 50 years (1874-1923). He wrote the Manual of New Zealand Flora in 1906.
Cheeseman Makes an Appearance

Meet this stalwart Museum character whose fieldwork took him to many remote areas of New Zealand by train, foot, boat and horseback. As sole curator of Auckland Museum for 50 years, Cheeseman was responsible for growing the Museum’s botany, ethnographic and zoology collections. Join this pioneer in his office and gain an invaluable insight into our Museum’s history.
Botanical Drawing Workshop
Artist Tabatha Forbes, a recent recipient of the CNZ Wild Creations residency programme, references traditional botanical illustration techniques in her sublime paintings. Tabatha will take you on a botanical journey though the research centre of the Museum and Cheeseman Exhibition and culminate in a hands-on botanical drawing workshop in the Natural History Information Centre. Drawing paper included.


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