The History of Discus – FIRST DISCOVERY, Part6

C H A P T E R 1

Part 6

Natterer. Bleher's Discus, Chapter 1

Johann Baptist Natterer (1787-1843)

Natterer’s involvement with the collections during the “French years” and repatriations was one reason why in 1816 he was promoted to “supervisory assistant” in the Naturalien-Cabinet, and ultimately was appointed scientific leader of the Brazil expedition in the field. Even so, shortly before the departure of the expedition there was a dispute, as there were moves to replace him with a certain naturalist from Prague, Doctor Johann Christian Mikan k.k. (of the Cabinet of Natural Objects), a professor of botany, a suggestion he opposed vigorously. In the end the expedition party was split into two groups, with each of them leading one part. Both groups had to follow the direct instructions of their respective leader, and in every case consult him with regard to suggestions for excursions and collections to be made.

A set of “Instructions for service for the naturalists Doctor Johann Christian Mikan k.k., Professor of botany from Prague, and Mr. Johann Natterer k.k., Naturalien-Cabinet assistant from Vienna, appointed to the expedition to Brazil” was given to them, and was binding on all the participants.

Inter alia, Rio de Janeiro was to be the starting point for all excursions. Travel plans must be made in advance, and, indeed, include details of accommodation, routes, hazards, duration, details of the return journey, etc. It would appear that no-one at the court of Vienna had very much knowledge about Brazil and the jungle!

Let alone the conditions in that vast country. Only consider, Natterer needed
more than a year just to get from the coast to the Mato Grosso. (Something my mother, along with four children, managed in a month 125 years later, and which today takes only two hours by plane.) I find the section of these instructions, “Notes and comments for the expedition to Brazil”, particularly interesting: for example, they were particularly to “search for half savage aboriginals, long-bearded apes, gold-panning opportunities, etc.” in Cantagalo, rather nearer the coast. Cantagalo is in the state of Rio de Janeiro and was already than a well known Município…

Bleher's Discus. Discus History – FIRST DISCOVERY

When the frigates of the Austrian navy, Austria and Augusta, left Trieste on the 9th of April 1817, it was the first time in the history of Austria that ships had ventured overseas. And there were still serious problems, such as a lack of navigational equipment. The only chronometer in the entire k.k. marine arsenal of Venice was defective, and not until Gibraltar did they obtain a functional one. There was likewise no sextant until the marine commandant fetched one of his own.

Aboard the Austria were Mikan and his wife, Spix, Martius (both latter pictured right), and others, while Natterer and his assistant hunter/conservator Sochor shipped on the Augusta.

See you next Saturday!