Darwin & Cheeseman
It was a fascination with orchids that connected the great Charles Darwin with the Auckland Museum’s own great director, Thomas Frederick Cheeseman (FLS, FZS, FNZI — 1845 -1923), Auckland Institute and Museum botanist and sole Curator for nearly 50 years. Before he became the director Cheeseman was making a name for himself studying orchids. When he was 22 years old he sent a local orchid to Joseph Hooker at Kew that was later named after him: Corysanthes cheesemanii.
Thomas Cheeseman sent Darwin (1809–1882) a greatly admired copy of his paper on the pollination of the New Zealand orchid, Pterostylis alobula. Darwin was so impressed with the scholarship he included it in the second edition of his book The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects and sent Cheeseman an inscribed copy, which is now held by the Museum.This letter on 9 September 1873, typical of the scientific discourse of the time, concerns the way in which an orchid is pollinated:
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
ps; I tried Cypripedium with a minute bee & saw the whole process, as you did with your orchid.
Letter from Joseph Hooker, Director of Kew Gardens, London
Between 1867 and 1910 Cheeseman received 37 letters from Joseph Hooker (1817-1911), the Director of Kew Gardens, London. This first letter by Hooker, written on 22 October 1867, was responding to Cheeseman sending him an orchid (Corysanthes):
My Dear Sir
I received your letter of Aug 9th this day, I have the pleasure of informing you that the little orchid you sent me is quite new of that you are quite right in referring it to the genus Corysanthes, of which it is a remarkable little species.
… I think that the Corysanthes should bear your name of Cheesemani if you do not object.
Cheeseman, T.F. Papers, 1867 - 1923. Auckland War Memorial Museum, MS 58.
Thomas Cheeseman, Auckland Institute and Museum botanist and sole Curator for nearly 50 years (1874-1923)
Darwin writes to Cheeseman
Audio Clip (1:03)
In this letter on 9 September 1873 Darwin is responding to Cheeseman’s published observation of how a New Zealand orchid (Pterostylis alobula) is insect pollinated.