Johann Reinhold (Jan Rajnold) Forster & Johann Georg Adam (Jan Jerzy Adam) Forster
Johann Reinhold Forster (22 October 1729 – 9 December 1798) was a Reformed (Calvinist) pastor and naturalist of partially Scottish descent who made contributions to the early ornithology of Europe and North America. He is best known as the naturalist on James Cook’s second voyage, where he was accompanied by his son Georg Forster. These expeditions promoted the career of Johann Reinhold Forster and the findings became the bedrock of colonial professionalism and helped set the stage for the future development of anthropology and ethnology. They also laid the framework for general concern about the impact that alteration of the physical environment for European economic expansion would have on exotic societies.
The Forster’s family originated in the Lords Forrester in Scotland from where his great-grandfather had emigrated after losing most of his property during the rule of Oliver Cromwell along with many other Scots. Forster himself was born in the city of Dirschau (now )Tczew, in the province of Royal Prussia, in the Crown of Poland and claimed to be of Polish citizenship.
He studied languages and natural history at the Joachimsthal Gymnasium in Berlin, theology at the University of Halle, afterwards serving as a Protestant pastor in Mokry Dwór (Nassenhuben) Pomeranian Voivodship.
Johann Reinhold Forster married his cousin Justina Elisabeth Nikolai (1726-1804) on 26 February 1754 at the village of Mokry Dwór near Gdańsk. At the village of Wiślina they had several children; Johann Georg Adam (1754-1794), Carl Reinhold Thomas (1756), Virginia Louise (1757), Antonia Elisabeth Susanna (1758), Wilhelmina Concordia (1760-1820), Carl Anthon (1763) and Barbara Kristina Regina (1765).
In 1765 he accepted an offer made to him by the Russian government to inspect and report upon the new colonies founded on the banks of the Volga, in the province of Saratov. His irritable temper soon involved him in difficulties with the Russian government, and in the following year he went with Georg (the eldest of eight children, seven of which survived childhood) to England and became teacher of natural history at Warrington, Lancashire.
He spent three years teaching at the Dissenting Warrington Academy, succeeding Joseph Priestley. Compelled by his violent temper to resign this appointment, Forster then moved with his son to London, where they earned a precarious living by doing translations. In 1771, he published A Catalogue of the Animals of North America, which listed the region’s mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, arachnids, and crustaceans.
When Joseph Banks withdrew at the last moment as naturalist on Cook’s second voyage, Forster and his son were appointed to fill the vacant position. In July 1772 they set sail on the Resolution, returning to England in July 1775. During a stop in Cape Town, Forster engaged Anders Sparrman to act as his assistant.
Johann Reinhold and George discovered nearly 120 plants and 40 bird species in Dusky Sound, Fiordland, and Queen Charlotte Sound in the Marlborough Sounds. A plaque was erected at Manapouri waterfront in December 2017 to mark the 145th Anniversary of the voyage.
In mid-March 1773 Cook decided to head for Dusky Bay (now Dusky Sound) in the South Island of New Zealand where the ship rested until 30 April. The Resolution reached the rendezvous at Queen Charlotte Sound on 17 May. From June to October, the Adventure and Resolution explored the southern Pacific, reaching Tahiti on 15 August. After calling at Tonga in the Friendly Islands the ships returned to New Zealand but were separated by a storm on 22 October. This time the rendezvous at Queen Charlotte Sound was missed – Resolution departed on 26 November, four days before Adventure arrived. Cook had left a message buried in the sand setting out his plan to explore the South Pacific and return to New Zealand.
Cook continued to explore the Antarctic, heading south into the summer sea ice, icebergs and fog until he could go no further because of the solid sea ice. The vessel was then launched north to complete a huge arc in the Pacific Ocean, reaching latitudes just below the Equator then New Guinea. He had landed at the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu before returning to Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand. On 10 November 1774 the expedition sailed east over the Pacific and sighted the western end of the Strait of Magellan on 17 December.
Both the Forsters kept detailed diaries of everything they saw on the voyage, and made extensive collections of both natural history specimens and artefacts. Based on his father’s journals, Georg published “A Voyage Round the World in 1777”. Reinhold Forster published Observations Made during a Voyage round the World (1778). However the income from the book was insufficient to clear his debts, and the bulk of Georg’s drawings from the voyage had to be sold to Joseph Banks. During the next few years Forster undertook a variety of writing work, including a German translation of Thomas Pennant’s Arctic Zoology.
In November 1779 Forster was appointed Professor of Natural history and Mineralogy at the University of Halle, and director of the Botanische Garten der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, where he remained until his death. His Descriptiones animalium, completed within a month of returning to England with Cook, was eventually edited by Hinrich Lichtenstein and published in 1844.
Forster’s contributions to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1772–73) on zoology, ornithology, and ichthyology established him as one of the earliest authorities on North American zoology.
Second voyage of James Cook from Wikipedia.
Polish History New Zealand, The Conundrum of Nationality by Barbara Scrivens.
Compiled by Ewa Rozecki-Pollard & Paul Klemick (2023)