Illustrating the Grasses and the Transactions: John Buchanan’s Development of Technologies for Lithography in Natural History

Linda Tyler[1]

Natural history, and in particular, botanising was a popular interest for all strata of society in nineteenth century colonial society. Botanical science relied on illustration to convey the wonders of ‘the vegetable kingdom’ throughout the era of colonial expansion, and was boosted to a peak in the mid-nineteenth century with the interest created by the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859.

Any able plantsman or woman could make a discovery of a species ‘new to science’. Specimens gathered and pressed by dedicated amateurs could be as important as those discovered by members of the nascent scientific profession in describing types. The centre for scientific authority was the Herbarium founded at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in London in 1853. Plants were shipped to William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865) and then from 1865 to his son and successor Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911) to be named and pass from being mere specimens to becoming the holotypes for the species.

Joseph Hooker’s Flora Nova-Zelandiae, published by Kew in 1855, established the written descriptions for New Zealand plants from these holotypes and was updated as the Handbook of New Zealand Flora in 1864 and 1867.  Duplicates of the same plant (isotypes) formed the basis for colonial herbaria or plant libraries where books were illustrated not only by using techniques of direct printing and photography but also with exsiccata or the dried specimens of the plants themselves.

One of the grandest examples of natural illustration was published at London in 1816. This was Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis: or, an account of the results of experiments on the produce and nutritive qualities of different grasses, and other plants used as the food of the more valuable domestic animals: instituted by John Duke of Bedford, by George Sinclair (1786-1834). Arguably the world’s first ecological experiment, the work carried out at Woburn Abbey under the direction of Sinclair (gardener to the Duke of Bedford) attracted considerable interest, not least from Charles Darwin, who made use of it in The Origin of Species. In the first edition published at the Duke’s expense, Sinclair’s catalogue included thirty-five samples of seeds, plus 123 dried specimens (some hand-coloured) mounted on blank leaves, with their Latin and English names printed on slips which were pasted in. It made a very handsome volume, but the logistics of its production were uneconomic. For the larger commercial editions that were published in 1824 and subsequently, conventional illustration processes were used.

The Herbarium attached to the Colonial Museum in Wellington, New Zealand made increasingly large numbers of native plants available for consultation and study as the country was mapped. Coincident with this development was the local enthusiasm for collecting ferns, modelled on the English precedent from the 1850s. The Victorian fern craze or ‘pteridomania’ had originated with London surgeon Nathaniel Ward’s accidental discovery in 1829 that potted gardens made airtight by glass enclosures would self-water at night with condensation of the plants’ transpiration, meaning that live plants could be traded and transported over long distances. New Zealand was already famous for its ferns, and there were several enterprising pioneers who prepared volumes with natural illustrations, like those from British publishers in the 1830s and 1840s.  Using a cyanotype photogram process similar to that of Anna Atkins almost forty years earlier, for example, Herbert Boucher Dobbie (1852-1940) published New Zealand Ferns in two parts with 104 pages of white silhouettes on blue paper in 1880.[2] Such albums seem to have been prepared primarily for tourists, and were often bound in calf-backed kauri wooden boards. About 1870, an Auckland ‘dealer in ferns, shells and curios’ named Eric Craig published one such album called New Zealand Ferns.

Nature printing, where the fronds were inked and pressed into paper, was one method by which fern collections could be quickly formed, especially when drawing or mounting and storing abilities were lacking. Alois Auer, Director of the Government Printing Office of Vienna, patented his Naturselbstdruck method of printing in 1852. Henry Bradbury became familiar with Auer’s process while studying graphic arts in Vienna and introduced it into England in 1855, when his father’s firm used it for the fifty-one colour plates in T. Moore and J. Lindley’s folio The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland which was published at the very high price of six guineas in 1855-56. Even using a large folio format, it was not possible to illustrate the specimens without breaking the fern fronds to fit onto the plates for electrotyping – one of the weaknesses of the process for which only natural size was possible. A slow seller, Bradbury decided to issue the smaller and less expensive Octavo Nature-Printed British Ferns (1859-60). Moore selected smaller examples and wrote a new text and sold this publication for two guineas a volume.

Plant images produced by the nature printing method are characterised by their precise and detailed rendering of structures.  This precision is one reason for the favouring of the technique for scientific purposes, since botanists could use them to carry out comparative morphological studies.  In addition, the use of nature-printing offered a solution to two kinds of problems encountered by botanists: the conservation of herbaria which were frequently destroyed by insects, and the production of images that were both accurate and affordable.  Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), who held the Chair of Botany applied to Fine Arts at the South Kensington Department of Science and Art, gave a paper on ‘A New System of Nature Printing’ at the Society of Arts in March 1857 based on a lithographic process patented on 22 December 1855.[3] In the lecture, he describes coating a leaf evenly with ink, before placing it with the prepared side downwards on a lithographic stone which has been warmed to keep the ink liquid when it comes into contact. A sheet of paper is then laid over the leaf and gently rubbed so that the ink leaves an impression on the stone, and this can be printed from, just like a drawing with a lithographic crayon.

This method of nature printing for the dissemination of images of new plants found in the colonies is seen first in a plate prepared by Ludwig Becker to illustrate Frederick von Mueller’s description of the species Macadamia ternifolia and published in the Transactions of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria (Australia) Volume 2 in 1858.[4]  His use of the process had no immediate followers, but from the late 1870s Frederick Manson Bailey (1827-1915) the Colonial Botanist of Queensland, used nature printing in several publications. In 1878 he produced an Illustrated Monograph of the Grasses of Queensland, issued by the Queensland government and printed by the firm of Warwick & Sapsford in Brisbane. Their process was unusual: the plates were printed lithographically, but each grass was electrotyped, from herbarium specimens, by Bailey and the Government Chemist, Karl Staiger. It proved a useful book for the Queensland pastoralist, but even though the volume was in large format, the grasses were bigger. As Bailey wrote, ‘often a small portion or plant has had to be used to fit the size of the plate.’[5]

For most scientific publications, however, drawing prevailed, with skilled draughtsmen employed to convey the characteristics of a specimen using techniques of lithography, albeit assisted by photography and microscopy. The Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute was an annual publication of scientific papers presented by experts at the various provincial branches throughout the country, and was first published in Wellington in 1868 and issued in 1869.[6]  Until his retirement from government service in 1885, it was primarily illustrated by John Buchanan (1819-1898). He was associated with some of the New Zealand government’s first forays into science:  the Reconnaissance and Triangulation Surveys of Otago in 1856, the Otago Provincial Geological Survey in 1863, the establishment of the Colonial Museum and Geological Survey of New Zealand in Wellington in 1865, and the layout of plantings of the Colonial Botanic Garden in Wellington in 1868, as well as publishing 29 papers based on his botanical research. He could be described as the colonial Victorian version of the Renaissance man.

Buchanan himself had no pretensions to being an artist and did not join any New Zealand art society or sketch club. Like his other interests – gardening, lithography and photography – his artistic abilities were put in the service of science. Aside from in the 1990 Dictionary of New Zealand Biography essay by the late botanical illustrator Nancy Adams,[7] and the outline of his career published in 2002 in Tuhinga (the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa journal) by the same author,[8] understanding of Buchanan’s practice has been sharply split between his contribution to New Zealand science, particularly botany, and his place in New Zealand’s art history.[9] This paper aims to give a broader understanding of Buchanan’s significance for both New Zealand’s science history and its art history by considering his relationship to the emergent techniques of photography and lithography as he used them in carrying out his work as a draughtsman at the Colonial Museum in the mid nineteenth century.

Photography’s invention coincided with the establishment of colonial museology in New Zealand, and it was initially coupled to the idea of evidence, located as a useful technology within the larger scientific enterprises of observation, classification and documentation.[10]  Put at the service of ‘natural philosophy’, as science was described, photography allowed an apparently unmediated encounter with nature. It was quickly adopted by the leaders of colonial expeditions such as the Scottish naturalist and medical doctor James Hector (1834-1907). Hector seemingly pioneered photography’s use in the Geological Survey of Canada, just a few years after Frederick Archer’s patenting of the wet collodion process in 1851, and immediately prior to his being recruited to begin the geological survey of Otago and Southland in New Zealand.[11]

From Otago, Hector went on to found the Colonial Museum and Geological Survey in Wellington, taking all his staff from the survey office in Dunedin with him, including John Buchanan. Trained as a textile designer, Buchanan could draw with facility and invention, but interpretation was not required in science. As photography was popularised in scientific work in the nineteenth century, the mechanical objectivity of the lens began to be seen as superior to the draughtsman’s work.  As Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher have observed, ‘the human agency responsible for [a photograph’s] manufacture [was] unacknowledged … the photograph was seen to be more effective in its depiction than other methods of representation.’[12]

The essential task in botanical art is to reduce a plant from three dimensions to two. Using the plant itself to produce the image, in nature printing as in photography, was understood as a mechanical way of avoiding the need for the artist’s eye, and for mind and hand to process the image and flatten it. It was therefore seen to be more truthful than drawing, with the Austrian inventor of this process, Alois Auer, claiming it surpassed photography in accuracy.[13] Sir George Grey, as the member of parliament for Auckland City West in 1875, had the House of Representatives pass a resolution on 29 June 1876 ‘to the effect that a work on the native grasses of the Colony should be prepared, with nature-printed plates, and descriptions of each species, the work to be accompanied by an essay on the grasses and forage-plants likely to prove useful in New Zealand.’[14] This resulted in Buchanan having to learn how to produce lithographs by using nature printing rather than drawing in order to produce a publication akin to the 1816 English volume by Sinclair. The Indigenous Grasses of New Zealand (1880)[15] was the first authoritative reference work on flora to be produced since the establishment of the Colonial Museum in Wellington in 1865 and was intended to assist with the identification of grasses for propagation purposes by farmers. The expansion of pastoral faming in New Zealand in the second half of the nineteenth century had created a need for more information about the identity, distribution, spread, and forage value of grasses, both introduced and native.

Given the enthusiasm for nature printing and photography, botanical drawing might seem to be on the verge of redundancy by the late 1860s, as ‘the nature print and photography both satisfied the growing requirement that scientific illustration not be influenced by the subjectivity of the artist.’[16] While agrostrography, the branch of botany concerned with the systematic description of grasses, was not suited to photography due to the similarity of many of the species, nature printing preserved the idea of scientific objectivity. Botanical drawings had begun to be seen as allowing more subjective interpretations of a botanical specimen to infiltrate its representation. Lorraine Dalston and Peter Galison have argued for the documentation of Victorian science being a site where accuracy was celebrated and ‘Nature spoke for herself’, with conventional morality dictating that scientists restrain themselves from interpretation.[17] They chart the emergence of a new conception of objectivity and subjectivity in the mid-nineteenth century which is reflected in scientific image-making.

Photography was central to the establishment of the Colonial Museum in keeping with British precedents. The small booklet which Joseph Hooker sent to Hector entitled Hints on the Formation of Local Museums (1863) by Robert Hardwicke, Treasurer of the Wimbledon Museum Committee London, includes a recommendation for a photographic studio even in a small museum.[18] Photographs and photographic literature are documented in the earliest records of the Colonial Museum, and a photographic apparatus was taken on expedition for the Otago Geological Survey in 1863. In his second Annual Report for the Colonial Museum, Hector lists the acquisition of photographs of casts from dies of the New Zealand Exhibition medal gifted by Alfred Eccles on behalf of the exhibition commissioners.[19]

Hector’s catalogue of the Colonial Museum’s Library from 1890 includes Volumes 12 to 20 (1860-1873) of the British Journal of Photography. A receipt dated 4 October 1862 shows that Hector purchased photographic apparatus from the photographer Joseph Perry in Dunedin,[20] and Buchanan lists photographic chemicals amongst the equipment taken to Fiordland. Buchanan’s albums show he was adept enough with the camera to make photographic copies of his own paintings when the latter went on exhibition in the New Zealand Exhibition in Dunedin in 1865.[21] These examples point to an endorsement of photography’s role in the documentation, and copying of existing images. Secondary to drawing for scientific purposes, wet collodion process photography, though difficult to practice in the field, could be used to give an impression of a particular landscape. Given that the whole area of southwest Fiordland was described on maps as ‘terra incognita’ prior to Hector’s expedition, the camera was a valuable tool in making first recordings of a place, although no photographic prints from this journey survive.

In Wellington, outdoor landscape photography was promoted within the Philosophical Society circles. It was accepted practice by the late 1860s, with the Ross doublet plate camera being the type recommended by William Thomas Locke Travers in his ‘Notes on the Practice of Outdoor Photography’ in the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute in 1871[22]. The Colonial Museum lists 12 of Travers’ photographs of New Zealand scenery acquired in 1868 and a further 26 in 1869. The 1871 Annual Report proudly lists the acquisition of a letter from Archer, the British inventor of the wet plate collodion process.[23]

The Government Printing Office established a photolithographic branch for printing maps, plans, drawings and photographs in 1873, recruiting Herbert Deveril (1840-1911) from Melbourne as the officer in charge.[24] However, Buchanan’s illustrations for the Transactions continued to be drawn rather than photographed.  Buchanan often did the printing himself (annotating the prints with ‘J.B. del. et lith.’) or oversaw the work by the Lithographic Branch of the Lands and Survey Department. Scientific photographs could be used in museum displays however, and in intercolonial exhibitions, and also sold to the public or circulated amongst other members of the scientific fraternity locally and internationally. A carte-de-visite made in a Dunedin photographer’s studio at the time of the New Zealand Exhibition in 1865 shows Buchanan standing in profile, unfurling what at first appears to be a large scroll, but in fact is the articulated skeleton of the recently discovered Dinornis, or moa, which Director Julius von Haast had put on display in the Canterbury Museum.[25] Another photograph, gridded in pencil, was used to create a lithograph to illustrate Hector’s publication on  the extinct native goose, Cnemiornis calcitrans in the Transactions in 1873.[26]

Mechanical drawing aids were commonly used by Buchanan it would seem. Returning from London, Hector wrote to Mantell that he had obtained a large spectrograph which he was shipping to the Colonial Museum: ‘I want you to give [it] to Buchanan as I think it will be of use to him. It is a great improvement on the camera lucida’.[27] A portable device with a beam-splitting prism on the end of an adjustable stand which was often used in conjunction with a microscope, the camera lucida allowed an artist to look down into the edge of the prism to view both the subject and their hand at the same time. The camera lucida (which could be used in daylight as opposed to the camera obscura which needed a darkened room to project a light image) was patented in 1807 by William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828).[28] Glass spectrographs, developed later in the nineteenth century, used reflections to create virtual images for tracing.

Photography, for Buchanan, was a useful tool for the prosecution of science it seems, but was secondary to drawing – with or without the use of drawing machines – as a test of observation.  He wrote to Georgina Hetley (1832-1898), who had visited him in retirement in Dunedin during the preparation of the plates for her Native Flowers of New Zealand, published in London in three parts, 1887-1889, exhorting her to ‘draw first, then use your photograph for the work on the stone’.[29] His view seems to have been that photography should not usurp the place of the scientific illustrator – it was as ‘Draughtsman to the Colonial Museum and Geological Survey’ that he was employed, after all.

Buchanan’s letter to Georgina Hetley suggests that he saw photography as having limited application in botanical work, and his archive shows that he continued to emphasise drawing, often using a microscope, to identify differences especially in flowering plants. As a Glaswegian, perhaps he knew of the famous incident from 1839 when William Henry Fox Talbot had sent examples of botanical photographs to William Jackson Hooker[30] proposing that they collaborate on a volume of native plants, illustrated with ‘photogenic drawings’.[31] Hooker dismissed the proposal, commenting ‘Your beautiful Campanula hederacea was very pretty as to general effect but it did not express the swelling of the flower, nor the calyx, nor the veins of the leaves distinctly.’[32]  Even Talbot’s own uncle, William Thomas Fox-Strangeways, an amateur botanist, was concerned that photographs only showed the plain surface of ferns, and did not ‘express the fructification or venation’.[33]

It is reasonable to assume that Buchanan had some experience with both making photographs and using them in the production of illustration before leaving Scotland in 1851, but his introduction to the relatively new process of lithography does not seem to have occurred until after he reached New Zealand.  When lithography was first used in the Scottish textile industry in 1834, Buchanan would have been 15 years old and still serving his apprenticeship as a pattern designer at a calico printing works.  This new method of flat printing for cloth would eventually render block cutting obsolete in textile manufacture in Britain and must have been used in Glasgow prior to 1851. His inexperience with the process is recorded when he was preparing the drawings for the first volume of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute in December 1868. His colleague, the scientist Richard Gore sent the first lithographic proofs to the Museum’s Director, James Hector with a note to say that these were Buchanan’s first attempts with the crayon.  It is remarkable then that, if he was self-taught in lithography, only ten years later he would be proficient enough with the process to adapt it to incorporate printing directly from the plant specimens themselves.  The Indigenous Grasses would go on to win Buchanan a third order of merit certificate at the Melbourne Exhibition in 1880-81 in recognition of his ability with lithographic processes. Clearly Hector admired Buchanan’s facility with nature printing, sending printer’s proofs of the plates to Hooker in London for his comment.[34] However Hooker failed to appreciate the technical skill, and responded: ‘What you want is a properly organised Bot. Garden like the Australian, Indian, Ceylon, Mauritius, the Cape, Trinidad, Jamaica, Guiana & Hong Kong – all these colonies are immeasurably ahead of you in this respect.  Meanwhile your money is wasted on futile books on Grasses, the object of which it is difficult to conceive – dried specimens of the useful kinds would be cheaper to prepare & better suited to the wants of the ignorant.’[35]

Buchanan’s technique for the nature printing of The Indigenous Grasses is his own adaptation of the European process, possibly because of the difficulty of procuring zinc and lead for the intaglio process.  There was even some delay in the preparation of the plates initially, ‘owing’, according to Hector, ‘to the want of proper lithographic stones and other appliances which could not be procured in the Colony’.[36] In order to make his nature prints, Buchanan first pressed and dried the representative specimens of each type of grass then coated the grass with grease before pressing it to the surface of a smooth plate of limestone.  As is customary in the lithographic process, the limestone plate was then moistened and inked with Buchanan adding details by hand.  The greasy imprint of each grass specimen accepted the ink but repelled the water with those parts of the stone that the grass had not touched accepting water and consequently repelling the ink.  The resultant image was printed on paper through a press, to create a black image on a white background.  A second printing stone provided the tinted background of the published plate.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa holds a complete set of specimens used in the production of Buchanan’s book, as well as his drawings of the floral parts.  Hector makes it clear in the Preface to the Manual that Buchanan was charged with collecting the grasses for the book himself, and that where the collectors were other botanists they had been acknowledged.  Buchanan is clearly indebted to Alexander McKay for gatherings on the Mount Arthur Plateau and H.H. Travers of Wellington is frequently cited as a collector for the Tararua Range and for Nelson Province, but for the most part, the grasses are Buchanan’s own discoveries.  This results in them now having the unusual dual status of being both type specimens and worked materials.  Remains of the printer’s ink can be seen on most of them and they are mounted in a ‘guard boo’[37] referred to as ‘Buchanan’s printer’s set’.  The pages bear the same titles as the plates and are in the order of the plates but there was no obligation on Buchanan’s part to ensure that the specimens and the illustrations corresponded in every positional detail, as the specimens could only be mounted after the nature-printing procedures had been completed.  His obligation seems to have been to ensure that the plants he used in nature printing became the specimens mounted in the guard book.

These same grasses now have the special status of holotypes, which is the term given to the type which establishes the name of a species or infraspecific taxon, or else they have the status of lectotype, a specimen designated as the nomenclatural type in the absence of a holotype.  At the time of Buchanan’s creation of this guardbook, holotypes were not described as such nor as ‘type specimens’.  Now they are considered taonga or treasures by the Museum of New Zealand which holds them.  This is because for each of his newly defined taxa, Buchanan’s specimens, illustrations, distribution data, and commentaries established the standard example of the newly described species.

Science was advanced by Buchanan achieving the greatest possible verisimilitude in the illustrations, yet there is exaggeration and ornamentation in his rendering, suggesting that artistic interpretation also played a role.  The book was envisaged as a practical manual for farmers as much as a scientific record for botanists.  In Hector’s preface it is explained that the book was originally planned to include ‘an essay on the grasses and forage plants likely to prove useful in New Zealand’ and that this essay would be chosen from those submitted to a competition for which prizes would be awarded.  However, it had been pointed out to George Grey, who made this suggestion, that until an illustrated work on grasses was published ‘many would be precluded from joining in the competition’ because they would be unable to accurately identify many grass species.

To this end of accurate identification, Hector instructed Buchanan not only to find out how he could adapt the technique of nature printing to illustrate the grasses natural size but also to prepare enlarged drawings of floral parts using microscope dissections.  Buchanan was also asked to use his own skills as a descriptive botanist to prepare a brief text to accompany each plate.  Fifty endemic, 18 other indigenous, and 9 naturalised species appear in the publication, some of them under two names.  As well as recording and describing indigenous species new to science the plates in the book made images of the grasses available to new colonists, particularly sheep and cattle farmers, who could then select appropriate ones to encourage or cultivate for pasture.  With its high production values, and enthusiasm for the new species discovered, the Imperial Quarto edition, with 64 plates, and the smaller Royal Octavo edition gave colonists ready information on the characteristics of the fifty species of grass described, but according to later commentators Henry Connor and Elizabeth Edgar, he ‘over-dramatized their possible future utilisation’.[38]  Although plates from the book are now broken up and sold separately by dealers for framing and display, Buchanan’s prints of grasses were never meant to be considered as objects for aesthetic contemplation.

The production of The Indigenous Grasses resulted in Buchanan making a lasting contribution to science, then, but what implications does the volume have for the understanding of the development of the art of scientific illustration in the nineteenth century?  Given that John Buchanan was already prized as a scientific illustrator by his employers at the Colonial Museum, why was he required to use the technique of nature printing for the Indigenous Grasses, and does this compromise or enhance his reputation as an artist?

The choice of nature printing can be seen to relate to the establishment of ‘objectivity’ as the core principle of scientific research by the middle of the nineteenth century.  Nature printing integrated several earlier ideals of artistic practice, among them the notion of ‘truth to nature’.  Nineteenth century scientists were searching for an imaging technique which would overcome the limits posed by the subjectivity of the artist, and by the construction of ideal types for botanical illustrations.

Ironically, due to their precision and the values of authenticity and uniqueness which they embody, Buchanan’s images in the Indigenous Grasses have now moved from science to art.  Yet ultimately nature prints – and their successor technology, photography – underscore the importance of the artist as an active intermediary.  Buchanan had no affection for the nature printing technique, and never returned to it again in a career of scientific illustration that lasted until 1885. In his work in botanical illustration he relished the opportunity to include whatever parts of a plant were deemed important by the particular audience he envisaged.

As an artist he worked to convey a generic three-dimensional structure by a deft use of the placement of parts including twisted leaves, colour, and shadows, suppressing the defects of the individual specimen and emphasizing the generic.  His nature prints are flat and impoverished by comparison. The simulacrum that is the botanical drawing carries more conviction, and is more ‘real’, than an impression of the thing itself, in terms of its value as a complete picture. The problem with both photography and nature printing for botanical purposes was that these technologies reproduced the specifics of an individual plant rather than showing the generalities of the type which would allow any specimen to be recognised by comparison. To a botanist working in the 1860s, only a rendered drawing could characterise a species properly, ensuring that skilled draughtsmen such as John Buchanan would be assured of continuing governmental employment.

[1] Linda Tyler has been the Director of the Centre for Art Studies at the University of Auckland since 2006. Previously, she was Curator of Pictorial Collections at the Hocken Library at the University of Otago for eight years, where she became interested in the artist and botanist John Buchanan.

[2] Herbert Boucher Dobbie, New Zealand Ferns: 148 Varieties (Auckland, H. Dobbie, 1880).

[3] Christopher Dresser, “Society of Arts, March 25th 1857. A New System of Nature Printing”, The Engineer, 3 April, 1857: 264.  See also Printing Patents: Abridgements of Patent Specifications Relating to Printing 1617-1857 (London, 1859), 511-512 (22 December 1855, No.2904).

[4] Helen Hewson, Australia: 300 Years of Botanical Illustration (Canberra: CSIRO Publishing, 2001), 23.

[5] F.M. Bailey, An Illustrated Monograph of the Grasses of Queensland : issued by the Board appointed by the government of Queensland in 1875 to inquire into the causes and the various diseases affecting livestock and plants,  electrotyped by K.T. Staiger (Brisbane: Warwick & Sapsford, 1879). On the cover of the copy in Special Collections at Otago University’s Library is handwritten: “Presentation copy to J. Buchanan from Queensland 1880. Inside front cover is presentation bookplate: “Presented to the Library of the Museum of the University of Otago by Peter Buchanan Esq. of Sydney, in memory of his brother John Buchanan F.L.S. who died 18th October 1898.”

[6] Volume 1 was reprinted, with some additions, by the Government Printer in 1875. The Transactions were originally printed by private contractors, but the work was taken over in 1888 by the Government Printer. See W.A. Glue, History of the Government Printing Office (Wellington: R.E. Owen, Government Printer, 1966), 83.

[7] Nancy M. Adams. ‘Buchanan, John’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012, URL:

[8] Nancy M. Adams, “John Buchanan FLS: Botanist and Artist”, Tuhinga 13 (2002): 71-115.

[9] A two-day symposium aimed at reconciling these two aspects was convened by the author with David Galloway at the University of Otago 29-30 November 2012.

[10] John Tagg, The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 5.

[11] Peter Robertson, “Photography and the Geological Survey of Canada”, Archivist 19.3 (1991): 11-13.

[12] Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher, “Flowers: World and Word”, in Ocean Flowers: Impressions from Nature (New York: New York Drawing Center / Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).

[13] Naomi Hume, “The Nature Print and Photography in the 1850s”, History of Photography, Volume 35, no.1, February 2011, p.44.

[14] James Hector, “Preface”, in John Buchanan, The Indigenous Grasses of New Zealand (Wellington: George Didsbury, Government Printer, 1880), iii.

[15] John Buchanan, Manual of the Indigenous Grasses of New Zealand (Wellington: Colonial Museum and Geological Survey, 1880). In June of 1878 the first of three fascicles of 20 plates was published in Imperial Quarto size. In the preface, the Colonial Museum’s director, James Hector, explained that since the request had been for the grasses to be nature-printed and thus natural size, it had been ‘necessary to publish the work in a large size which is both inconvenient and expensive’.  In the Museum’s Annual Report, Hector commented that the production was making good progress, ‘considering the difficulties to be contended with in bringing out such an extensive and laborious work.  Parts I and II, comprising twenty-one folio plates were issued last year, and Parts III and IV are now ready for the binder.  The letterpress of the remainder of the work is now in the printer’s hands, but some months will be required to complete the plates.’ Fourteenth Annual Report of the Colonial Museum and Laboratory (Wellington: George Didsbury, Government Printer, 1879), 8. It would be another two years before the work was complete, with the second of 23 plates appeared in June 1879, and the third of 21 plates in 1880.  Despite Hector’s impatience with the process, the length of time it took to illustrate all 87 species of grasses allowed inclusion of new species that were discovered during the volume’s preparation.  The consolidated Imperial Quarto edition with an imprint that stated that it had been published by command finally appeared in 1880 as The Indigenous Grasses of New Zealand priced at a costly 3 guineas.  Later that same year, a smaller more user-friendly version in Royal Octavo was published as the Manual of the Indigenous Grasses of New Zealand. The Manual consists of all the plates in the Imperial Quarto edition together with a newly set letterpress and sold for a more affordable 7s 6d.

[16] Naomi Hume, “The Nature Print and Photography in the 1850s”, History of Photography 35.1 (2011): 44.

[17] Lorraine Dalston and Peter Galison, “The Image of Objectivity”, Representations (Special Issue: Seeing Science), 40 (1992): 81-128, .

[18] Now in the Geological and Nuclear Sciences Library at Avalon, Lower Hutt.

[19] Acquired 19 January 1867. Second Annual Report of the Colonial Museum and Laboratory (Wellington: George Didsbury, Government Printer, 1867), 9.

[20] Hector papers, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Archives. I am indebted to Hector’s biographer, Simon Nathan, for supplying copies of the receipts for photographic chemicals and equipment supplied to Hector and the Otago Geological Survey in the period 1862-63.

[21] In the Buchanan albums, Toitu Otago Settlers’ Museum, Dunedin.

[22] W.T.L. Travers, “Notes on the Practice of Outdoor Photography”, Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 4 (1871): 160-164.

[23] Acquisition 472, 12 May 1871 Autograph letter from Frederick Scott Archer, inventor of the collodion process donated by J.C. Crawford. Sixth Annual Report of Colonial Museum and Laboratory (Government Printer, Wellington, 1871), 9.

[24] “Photo-Lithographic Branch of Government Printing Department (Papers Relating to the Savings Effected by the), Presented to the House of Representatives, Session 1876” Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives, 1876, H-22.

[25] John McGregor, Dunedin fl.1863-1884, Portrait of John Buchanan [1865] Alexander Turnbull Library Photographs Collection, PA2-1079.

[26] James Hector, “Cnemiornis calcitrans Owen showing its affinity to Camellirostrate natafores”, Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 6 (1873). Buchanan’s whole-page lithographed illustration is tipped in between pages 76 and 77.

[27] Hector to Mantell, 17 August 1875, in Simon Nathan and Rowan Burns, eds, A Quick Run Home: Correspondence while James Hector was Overseas in 1875-1876, Geoscience Society of New Zealand miscellaneous publication 133E, (Wellington, GeoScience Society, 2012), 22.

[28] William Hyde Wollaston, “A Method of Examining Refractive and Dispersive Powers, by Prismatic Reflection”, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 92 (1802): 365-380.

[29] Letter, John Buchanan to Georgina Hetley, undated, c.1885, Hetley family papers, private collection, Christchurch.

[30] William Jackson Hooker was Regius Professor of Botany at Glasgow University from 1820 until 1841.

[31] Graham Smith, “Talbot and Botany: The Bertoloni Album”, History of Photography 17.1 (1993): 40.

[32] William Jackson Hooker to William Henry Fox Talbot, 21 Jun 1839, in Larry Schaaf, ed., The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot, Fox Talbot Collection, British Library, London, Document no. 3895,

[33] Smith, “Talbot and Botany “: 42.

[34] Simon Nathan and Rowan Burns, eds, My Dear Hooker, Transcriptions of Letters from James Hector to Joseph Dalton Hooker between 1860 and 1898, GSNZ Miscellaneous Publication 133B, (Wellington, GeoScience Society, 2012), 186.

[35] Hooker to Hector, 24 January 1882. John Yaldwyn, ed, My Dear Hector: Letters from Joseph Dalton Hooker to James Hector 1862-1893, transcribed by Juliet Hobbs. Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa Technical Report 31 (Wellington, Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa, 1998), 172

[36] Hector, “Preface”, in Buchanan, The Indigenous Grasses, iii.

[37] A botanical album with cardboard inserts to space the pages and thereby protect the specimens mounted therein.

[38] Henry Connor and Elizabeth Edgar, “The grasses John Buchanan illustrated in The Indigenous Grasses of New Zealand (1878-1880)”, Tuhinga 13 (2002):  45.