Andrew Garrett, Early Naturalist of Polynesia

Andrew Garrett, Early Naturalist of Polynesia

American explorer, naturalist and artist Andrew Garrett (1823-1887) collected and studied Pacific Ocean region mollusks, fish, corals, echinoderms and other invertebrates, also describing and drawing watercolors of many fishes and shells. This exhibit showcases a selection of Garrett's drawings and manuscript specimen sheets held by the Museum of Comparative Zoology Archives in the Ernst Mayr Library's Special Collections.

Slide show of 14 images, which can be navigated with the right and left arrows.

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Undated carte-de-visite portrait of Andrew Garrett, photographer unknown. The envelope in which it was enclosed has the following ink inscription in a contemporary hand: "Andrew Garrett Esq., Papiti, Tahiti, Care of W H Kelley, U.S. Vice Consul at Tahiti"

Andrew Garrett's watercolors were of specimens that he found in locales such as Hawaii, Fiji, the Gilbert Islands, Samoa, and the Society and Marshall Islands.

In 1851, Garrett collected twenty cases of shells on his voyages to locales such as Honolulu, the Marianas, China, the Philippines and Australia. After disembarking from his vessel in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, he sold the collection of shells as well as bird skins, fish and crustacea to a shell store on State Street, Boston.

When Garrett arrived in Hawaii in 1852, he was an enthusiastic shell collector with no scientific training. He became acquainted with several amateur naturalists there who helped educate him and increase his zoological expertise.

Collections for Louis Agassiz (1856-early 1870s)

● On 29 January 1855, Garrett in Hilo, Hawaii, had written to Harvard professor Louis Agassiz (who would found the Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1859), offering his services as a specimen collector (slide 1). It would take sixteen months for Garrett to receive a reply in the affirmative from Agassiz's friend James M. Barnard, a Boston merchant and shell collector who would oversee the arrangement with Garrett. In Garrett's letter to Agassiz, he mentioned that he would be willing to accept books in exchange for specimens. One in particular was David H. Storer's Report on the fishes of Massachusetts (Boston, 1839).

● From 1856 to the early 1870s, Garrett collected specimens for and sent drawings and specimen-description sheets to Agassiz (slides 2-14). Garrett received a stipend of $400 per year, which covered his expenses for travel, food, and the hiring of assistants.

● In Louis Agassiz's 1860 MCZ annual report, his account of the thousands of Pacific fish specimens received specified that the most important "were from the Kingsmill and Society Islands, collected by Mr. Garrett."

Other Drawings and Collections (1856-1875)

● In late 1856 and early 1857 on board the whaleship Lydia bound for the Society and Marquesas Islands, Garrett drew fish watercolors for its captain, John W. Leonard. Those watercolors were handed down to Capt. Leonard's descendants and later purchased by Garrett biographer W. Stephen Thomas.

● In the late 1850s and early 1860s, Garrett served as the principal shell collector for surveyor and conchologist William Harper Pease, who mentored Garrett in research methods. While Garrett learned a great deal from Pease, it has been said that Pease exploited Garrett, taking credit for some of his work.

● From 1873 to 1875, Garrett collected specimens for the Hamburg (Germany) Godeffroy zoological and anthropological museum, which published 470 of Garrett's fish drawings (180 plates) in three volumes (1873-1910), edited by Dr. Albert C. L. G. Gunther. The set can be viewed in the Biodiversity Heritage Library.


● When Garrett returned from the Society Islands to Honolulu circa July 1863, the Rev. Samuel C. Damon wrote about Garrett's accomplishments, "The extent of his collections may be indicated by the fact he has used three hundred gallons of alcohol in preserving the specimens. He has collected 400 different species of fishes. Each one of these is beautifully painted from life ... The number of these specimens which were forwarded from the Society Islands would not fall below ten thousand."

● In the 1880s towards the end of his life, Garrett, reflecting on the scientific work of Captain James Cook's colleagues in the Society Islands such as Hugh Cuming, wrote, "During the years 1860-1863 I made a much more thorough exploration (of land shells) than any of my predecessors, and by searching in nearly every valley of the group, discovered 50 new species..."

Exhibit narrative text derived from W. Stephen Thomas's "A Biography of Andrew Garrett, early naturalist of Polynesia" (The Nautilus, vol. 93 (1), January 10, 1979).