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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

On These Days, 10 and 11 June; celebrating Portugal and John Stokes

OK, it's cheating, but I wasn't here yesterday, and you don't really want to miss a good story do you? (And anyway it's still 10 June in some parts of the world as I type!)

10 June is Portugal Day. Portugal Day is unusual among national days in that it commemorates the death of a poet - Luís de Camões in 1580. He was responsible for Os Lusíadas, an epic poem celebrating Portugal's exploratory achievements (I've not actually read it, you understand). He knew something about his topic, having been shipwrecked in Indochina and (so the story goes) swimming ashore with the precious manuscript held aloft. Why his deathday? For the very practical reason that his birthday is unknown.

Portugal and Australia? Yes, indeed. The stories of the first maps to show 'Australia' are tangled webs indeed, and well beyond my limited expertise, but some of them from the 15th Century show a continent south of Java with surprisingly Australia-like features; the cartographers said that this was because information was gleaned from unnamed Portuguese sailors trading spices from the nearby Moluccas. This is not verified, but it's certainly plausible - the Portuguese were great sailors and map-makers. One of our iconic birds, the Emu, takes its name from the Portuguese Ema, signifying a crane (or any other large bird); more information here

Moreover, a very eminent Portuguese polymath gave his name to a very beautiful, and familiar, genus of Australian wildflowers.

Correa pulchella, Coffins Bay National Park, South Australia.
The genus is for Jose Francisco Correia da Serra.

Da Serra, born in 1750, was an abbé of the church who took a law degree in Rome. He was also an enthusiastic geologist and botanist who founded the Portuguese Academy of Sciences at Lisborn. In 1795 he fled to London to escape the inquisition, but managed to secure a position as secretary to the Portuguese embassy in England. He also did some very significant biological research there, became a fellow of the Royal Society and became acquainted with the great botanists of both England and France, including Banks, Cuvier and von Humboldt.
Correa lawrenceana, Kosciuszko National Park.

His liberal sympathies made his position at the embassy difficult, and he moved on to France. Here his research continued, and he facilitated significant cooperation between British and French scientists. At the Paris museum he described some Rutaceae genera - the family to which Correa, as well as citrus fruit, belongs - mainly from south-east Asia. When Napoleon invaded Portugal (and the Portuguese government shifted to Brazil), Napoleon ordered da Serra to write a letter supporting his rule of Portugal. He refused and went to the US in 1813, where he met Thomas Jefferson who described him as “the greatest collection, and best digest of science in books, men, and things that I have ever met with; and with these the most amiable and engaging character”.
Correa bauerlenii, Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens.

He stayed for nine years and in 1816 he was appointed Portugal's minister plenipotentiary to the United States. From the US he finally returned to Portugal in 1821, on the advent of a liberal government there. He died just two years later, a vastly respected scientist on both sides of the Atlantic – but barely recognised in his home land.
Correa alba, New South Wales south coast. An unusual Correa in not having the four petals fused into a floral tube.

The English botanist Henry Andrews honoured him with the name in 1798, while da Serra was living in London.

And now, as they say, for someone completely different.

John Lort Stokes was a naval officer who moved in exalted biological circles. He spent 18 years on the Beagle, including five sailing with Charles Darwin; later he succeeded the irascible Scot John Wickham as captain. I love the report that, exploring ashore on the Gulf of Carpentaria he wrote of ‘the exquisite joy of discovery’. He later commanded surveys in New Zealand and the British Channel. He was regarded as a genial fellow, and was promoted to an admiral – but only, as far as I can confirm, after his retirement...

I hope he was glad to have this very handsome dry country lizard named for him, in 1845 by, I'm almost certain, John Edward Gray, then Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum. Stokes (now captain) had been surveying in Western Australia a few years previously, and it is quite possible he collected the species from one of its two small isolated coastal populations there (it is much more widely distributed further east).

Gidgee Skink Egernia stokesii, Whyalla Conservation Park, South Australia.

Stokes died on this day in 1885; not a scientist of the calibre of da Serra, but I think geniality counts.



Susan said...

I think geniality counts too, so long as it is combined with substance -- then it is a charmed and charming combination. It isn't always enough just to be a nice person though. But what do I know, as someone who struggles to acquire either quality.

Ian Fraser said...

S, I don't know you enough to comment on your geniality, but your comments never lack substance! Actually I think it may be enough to 'just be a nice person' (though perhaps not if one is also a scientist!) but these things are subjective.