Before I went to the island, I bought the recently-published (2010) Friends of Maatsuyker Island booklet “Maatsuyker Island”, ISBN 978-0-9808564-3-9, which contains a wealth of information including lists of flora and fauna. Since my project was to draw/paint the flowering native plants, I wanted to study the flora that I was likely to encounter during my visit. I needed to gather as much reference information as possible. With severe weight and volume restrictions on what we could take to the island in the helicopter, there was absolutely no way that I would be able to include the many kilograms of my beloved botany books.
The flora list was invaluable, especially since some of the plants were new to me. Friend Robyn who had previously been caretaker on Maatsuyker Island was kind enough to send me a CD of photos that she had taken of the plants flowering in the months that I would be there – December, January and February. Also, I spoke to other previous caretakers with an interest in botany who sent me lists from their observations. All in all, I was well prepared to know what I could expect to find to paint and draw.
In the lead-up to and during the island visit, there was a sense of urgency about the present – gathering as much information about the native veg as possible, taking photos, finding specimens, tracking their development from bud, through flower, to fruit. Since returning from the island, I have had time to explore the history of the “flora list”. Who were the people that originally developed the lists of plants found on Maatsuyker Island and when? Who were the first people to explore the island and take an interest in its natural history? Keep in mind that with its steep rocky cliffs the island is like an impenetrable fortress. Passing sailors would have thought twice about going ashore to explore.
What did we do before the Internet?!?! I am slowly finding pieces of the puzzle through wonderful resources such as Trove (the National Library of Australia’s archive of online resources including books, images, historic newspapers, maps, and more), the Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (which lists collectors of specimens from Maat), online archives of the Tasmanian Naturalist (the publication of the Tasmanian Field Naturalists Club), Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania. I hope to build on the time line below as time permits (read, when I manage to stop being distracted by fascinating articles I come across relating to Maatsuyker Island and Tasmanian history).
1642 – Maatsuyker Island named by Abel Tasman after Joan Maetsuicker, a member of the Council of India. (From a note in Clive Lord’s paper “The South Coast and Port Davey, Tasmania”, 1927 Royal Society of Tasmania.) Abel Tasman’s voyage was for the purpose of furthering the prosperity of the Dutch East India Company. The inhospitable coastline of this newly “discovered” land, which Tasman named Van Diemen’s Land after the governor of Batavia, offered little.
1773 – Captain Furneaux (part of Captain Cook’s second voyage to the South Seas) named Mewstone (island about 10 km SE of MI). Mewstone was a landmark for early navigators, especially from the west, since Bass Strait was not discovered by Bass and Flinders until 1798-99.
1789 – Cox Bight (on Tas mainland approx 13 km north of MI) named by Captain Cox.
1843 – The Botanical and Horticultural Society of Van Diemen’s Land established.
1888 – After years of ship-wrecks, and protests to the Marine Board from captains who had to delay their voyages when coming upon the south coast at night, Maatsuyker Island was selected as the site for a lighthouse. Maatsuyker is not the southern-most of the treacherous rocky outcrops but other locations, like Mewstone, were unsatisfactory.
1891 – Lighthouse construction was completed. Some lighthouse keepers would probably have had an interest in the flora of the island, but I haven’t found any records yet.
1937, 1938 – Consett Davis, “Preliminary Survey of the Vegetation near New Harbour, South-West Tasmania”, Papers and Proceedings, Royal Society of Tasmania 1940. It has been noted that the veg of Maatsuyker Island is similar but more diverse that that found in similar habitats on mainland Tasmania. An extract from this paper – “Little has been written about the plant ecology of Tasmania, even from the purely descriptive viewpoint, and the south-west parts of the island, accessible only with difficulty, have been almost entirely neglected in the matter of vegetational studies. The paucity of existing information will, it is hoped, excuse the publication of the present rather meagre details of this interesting region…”
1971 – David R. Milledge, from National Parks and Wildlife Service, wrote journal article for Emu (1972 – P167-170) “Birds of Maatsuyker Island, Tasmania” which includes observations about the vegetation.
1971, 1976 – A. M. Moscal and G.C.Bratt – “Towards a Flora of Maatsuyker Is. – Part 1, Introduction and Vascular Plants” published in Tasmanian Naturalist 1977. The first comprehensive list I have found of the flora after visits to the island by Tony Moscal in 1971 and 1976. With kind permission from the Tasmanian Field Naturalists Club, I am appending screenshots of this scanned document here.
1974, 1976 – R. L. Vanderwal archaelogical investigations of Louisa Bay (about 13km north of MI) and MI.
1978 – “Maatsuyker Island – Most Southerly Light”, The Tasmanian Conservation Trust. Contains a section describing the flora, listing some species. An interesting note: “… The recent visit of several amateur botanists have led to the discovery of some different varieties of plants which may prove to be new species on further investigation. These discoveries include apparently undescribed varieties of Blandfordia, Westringia, Hydrocotyle and Scirpus.”