The Dodo and the Solitaire
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The Dodo and the Solitaire

A Natural History

Jolyon C. Parish

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The Dodo and the Solitaire

A Natural History

Jolyon C. Parish

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About This Book

This account of two extinct bird species offers "an amazing amount of history, references, facts, maps, and illustrations" ( Library Journal ). The Dodo and the Solitaire is the most comprehensive book to date about these two famously extinct birds. It contains all the known contemporary accounts and illustrations of the dodo and solitaire, covering their history after extinction and discussing their ecology, classification, phylogenetic placement, and evolution. Both birds were large and flightless and lived on inhabited islands some five hundred miles east of Madagascar. The first recorded descriptions of the dodo were provided by Dutch sailors who encountered them in 1598—and within a century, the dodo was extinct. So quickly did the bird disappear that there is insufficient evidence to form an entirely accurate picture of its appearance and ecology, and the absence has led to much speculation. This extraordinary book pieces together the story of these two lost species from the fragments that have been left behind. "An up-to-date and comprehensive review of everything we know about the dodo and solitaire." — Journal of Verterbrate Paleontology

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Written Accounts of the Dodo


First Encounters: Van Neck's Account
The first eyewitnesses of the dodo to record its appearance were the Dutch-men and Zeelanders of the fleet of Admiral Jacob Cornelisz van Neck. These were part of the second expedition to the East Indies, the Tweede Schipvaart. The fleet consisted of eight ships: the flagship Mauritius (with Van Neck on board), the Amsterdam (with Vice-Admiral Wybrand van Warwijck on board), the Hollant, the Overijssel, the Gelderland, the Zeelandt, the Utrecht, and the yacht Vrieslandt. The eight ships departed from Texel in the Netherlands on May 1, 1598. During a storm near the Cape of Good Hope on August 8 the fleet was split up; the Amsterdam, the Gelderland, the Zeelandt, the Utrecht and the Vrieslandt headed for Mauritius, then known as Ilha do Cerne, whilst the others sailed to Île Sainte-Marie off the coast of Madagascar. Van Warwijck became commander of his small fleet, and Jacob van Heemskerk vice-commander. Having sighted land at around one o'clock in the afternoon on September 17, the Dutch approached; they were uncertain as to whether it was the Ilha do Cerne or Rodrigues.
Van Warwijck's five ships were at the island from September 18 until October 2. They anchored off the southeast coast and sent men ashore to search for food and fresh water. This was their first landfall since departing from the Netherlands. After the initial excursion a second was made - by a sloop from the Amsterdam and one from the Gelderland; they found a good harbor (Mahébourg Bay), which they named Warwijck Bay. Fresh water was found and toward evening the men came back with eight or nine large birds: dodos (see below; Hamel [1848] noted that these could not have been herons, as the latter could not be easily captured [Anon. 1601a]) and many small birds, which they had caught by hand.
The following morning, September 19, the ships sailed into Warwijck Bay and sailors went ashore again to collect food, including dodos and other birds. The officers of the Amsterdam, the Utrecht, the Zeelandt and the Vrieslandt thought that the island was Rodrigues, whereas those of the Gelderland correctly considered it to be Ilha do Cerne (Den Hengst 2003). The island was renamed Mauritius in honor of Stadhouder Maurits van Nassau. September 20 was the Amsterdam kermis or fair (see below) and a service of thanksgiving was held (Van Wissen 1995). Later that day, first one half of the crew, and then the other, went ashore (see Jolinck's description below). On September 21 a council held on board the Amsterdam decided that there should be further excursions inland; there were eight expeditions in total (Moree 1998).1
There were expeditions inland on September 22–24 and 26–29 (led by Wouter Willekens with 10 men; the latter expedition went 17 miles along the shore to the western part of Warwijck Harbor) and on September 23–25 (led by Rochus Pietersz with 10 men). There were two excursions to the northeastern part of the harbor, led by Jolinck: September 23–27 (with Hans Bouwer and Jacob Pietersz) and September 28-October 1 (with Frank van der Does). On September 26 and 28 Van Warwijck sent expeditions to the islands in the harbor, including Île de la Passe (Moree 1998).
They found the island to be fertile and uninhabited, despite several inland forays - a paradise with fresh water, easily caught birds and useful plants:
we iudged by the tamenesse of the birds and fowles, that it must bee an vnfrequented place, by reason that men might take them plentifully with their hands. (Anon. 1601c, fol. 5v)
A variety of new fauna and flora was seen, including “Rabos Forcados” (Fregata ariel), turtledoves (Nesoenas mayeri), green and gray parrots, tortoises, many types of fish, and trees such as ebony and palms. The turtledoves were in such abundance that they caught over 150 in an afternoon.
On October 2 the Dutch sailed from Mauritius (Anon. 1601c). On November 26, the Hollant, the Mauritius, and the Overijssel arrived at Bantam in Java. The Vrieslandt subsequently joined up with Van Neck's fleet, and on December 27, the Amsterdam, the Gelderland, the Vrieslandt, the Zeelandt, and the Utrecht arrived at Engano, Sumatra. The ships met up in the East Indies and exchanged information. On January 12, 1599, the Mauritius, the Hollant, the Overijssel, and the Vrieslandt - under the command of Admiral Van Neck and Vice-admiral Jan Jansz Karel - departed from Bantam. Having visited St. Helena, they arrived back at Texel on July 19. Of these ships only the Vrieslandt had visited Mauritius.
There was much interest in the voyage. Van Neck was responsible for the published accounts, although of course he did not visit Mauritius. A provisional report in Dutch, the Waarachtige Beschryving, was published, probably in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, no extant copy of this is known. However, we do have the English translation (Anon. 1599).
The Waarachtige Beschryving gives the report of the voyage of the ships Mauritius, Hollant, and Overijssel. The identity of its editor is not known, but was probably Cornelis Claesz of Amsterdam. According to Keuning (1940), its author was not on either the Mauritius or the Hollant, and it was probably the journal of Wouter Willekens - who sailed on the Utrecht but returned to Holland on the Vrieslandt as mate, and who took part in excursions inland on Mauritius - that was the source. However, it could be that the author was on the Overijssel (perhaps Symen Jansz Hoen, the ship's captain) and recorded the oral communications of Willekens or others who had been on the Vrieslandt, or had used information from a journal of that vessel. The journal of Jacob Pietersz, who was quartermaster on the Amsterdam but returned as captain of the Vrieslandt, was not used (Keuning 1940).
On August 20, 1599, the journal of Hoen was “behandicht” to Petrus Plancius (Pieter Platevoet, 1552–1622). This is now lost, as are the journals of Pieter Jansz Borre, Pieter Gijsbrechtsz, and Willem Jansz. The journals of Willekens and Pietersz were also handed to Plancius (Keuning 1940).
In the Waarachtige Beschryving, Mauritius was evidently identified as Isola de don Galopes (i.e., Rodrigues) and the dodos were called “walchstocken.” In the English edition (Anon. 1599) we learn that at Warwijck Bay
they tarried 12 daies to refresh themselues, finding in this place great quantity of foules twise as bigge as swans, which they called Walghstocks or Wallowbirdes being very good meat. But finding also aboundance of pidgeons & popiniayes, they disdained any more to eat of those great foules, calling them (as before) Wallowbirds, that is to say, lothsome or fulsome birdes. (Anon. 1599, 16–17)
The description, being only a provisional one, contained some inaccuracies, such as the fact that a dodo was twice as big as a swan. The dodos were named “wallowbirdes”; the dialect word wallow is related to the Middle Dutch walghe and means tasteless, insipid, or sickly (Simpson and Weiner 1989; see chapter 4).
Jakob Friedlieb provided a German translation:
There it [Mauritius] also has birds of the size of two swans, called Walchstöck or Walchvögel, convenient to eat, but [the sailors] were so greedy after the fat and good pigeons and parrots, of which [there were] a large number and they could obtain enough, that they did not desire the large birds, [and] instead they managed with the pigeons and parrots, also ravens, and fish, of which [there was] such an abundance that two [men could catch] as many fish as five ships could need. (Friedlieb 1599, 68)
The brothers De Bry also published a German translation in their Vierder Theil Der Orientalischen Indien (De Bry and De Bry 1600). The Vierder Theil (or fourth part) was finished in February 1600 (Hamel 1848). The brothers De Bry had never been to Mauritius and gathered all the material for their descriptions secondhand. The text was translated from the Dutch by M. Gotthard Arthus of Dantzig and the De Brys added the plates. In the “True description of the last journey that the Dutch made to the East Indies which departed in the spring of the year 1598 and with four ships again luckily arrived home in the month July of the year 1599,” they wrote,
There were also many birds found [on] the same [island] that were as large as two swans and were named VValchstocken or VValckvogels, their flesh is good to eat; however, because [on] the same [island] also a great multitude of pigeons and parrots were available, which were fat and good to eat, our people have not nearly sought after those large birds, but had enough of the fat pigeons, and good-tasting parrots, particularly also many ravens, and [also] as a large multitude of fish was available. That two people in a short time could catch enough for all five ships. (De Bry and De Bry 1600, 114–115)
Plate 3, entitled “How the Dutch found such oversized tortoises on the island Mauritius,” depicts a fanciful rendition of the Dutch on that island. The copper-engraved plate (fig. 1.1), drawn by the brothers De Bry, is based on the accompanying description rather than on illustrations from life - the same was the case for many of their plates. The dodos depicted are actually cassowaries,2 apparently copied either from an engraving by Hans Sibmacher or that in Lodewijcksz (1598) (fig. 1.2), and the tortoises and palm trees are mostly guesswork. The important thing was to promote the East Indian voyages and make a saleable work, even if the images were not entirely accurate. A mention of the dodo is included at the bottom of the plate:
1.2. Top: Hans Sibmacher's cassowary (Hulsius 1598). Bottom: Lodewijcksz's (1598) cassowaries.
In the reported island they found a great abundance of pigeons and parrots, which were so tame, that they were able to heap [up] the same, struck dead with cudgels or Pengeln. Furthermore, they also found other strange birds, which they named Walckvögel, one of which they have also brought with them into Holland.
Of importance here is the note that a dodo was brought back to Holland. It has been speculated that this dodo was therefore probably conveyed from Mauritius on board the Vrieslandt, commanded by Jan Kornelisz May, and was probably the same bird as the Prague dodo (see chapter 5). However, this is unlikely. Hume (2006) stated that the De Brys had access to the journals and the ships' captains and crews. However, the text, at least that relating to the dodo, would appear to be taken from the published accounts, as it is similar to that of Anon. (1599).
The plate itself shows numerous inaccuracies, such as tortoises that are too large and having shells of inaccurate pattern and shape, and “broom-like” palms. The use of cassowaries (which were also reproduced on the title page) and the general inaccuracies of the figure have led several authors to the conclusion that the brothers De Bry were mistaken concerning the importation of a dodo to Holland, and that there was confusion with the cassowary brought back in 1597. Subsequent works also included versions of this engraving, for example Manesson-Mallet (1683; see fig. 1.3).
1.3. Another version of the plate (Manesson-Mallet 1683, fig. xliii.).
The brothers De Bry also published a Latin translation (De Bry and De Bry 1601a). The text was translated from the German by Bilibaldus Strobaeus of Silesia. The Qvarta Pars bears the date August 6, 1601, in the foreword (Oudemans 1917b).
The Rest of the Fleet Returns
The Gelderland and the Zeelandt departed from Bantam on August 19, stopped at St. Helena from December 8 to January 1, 1600, and arrived back on May 19. Finally, the Amsterdam and the Utrecht departed from Bantam on January 21, 1600, stopped at St. Helena from May 17 to 21 and at Ascension from May 30 to 31, and eventually arrived back at Texel in September of that year. Upon their return the crews were able to share their accounts of Mauritius and a more comprehensive report could be published. Only two copies of the 1600 edition, published by Cornelis Claesz (Anon. 1600), remain; these are now in New York (New York Public Library) and Greenwich, London (Caird Library, National Maritime Museum). This edition, which included the first published image of the dodo, was subsequently revised and translated several times. The 1601 Dutch edition was entitled Het tweede Boeck (The second book [Anon. 1601a]).
1.4. Plate 2 from Het tweede Boeck (Anon. 1601a, fol. 7r). The dodo is no. 2.
Use was made of the journals of Van Neck, Van Warwijck, and Jacob van Heemskerk (Van Wissen 1995). The main journal used in the production of the published account was probably that of the Amsterdam, as we have the accounts from the other journals (see below). However, due to discrepancies in the text, it is possible that there were other additional sources used. Keuning (1938–1951) stated that three journals, now lost,...

Table of contents

  1. Cover Page
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright Page
  4. Dedication Page
  5. Contents
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. Introduction: A Melancholy Visage
  8. Note on Translations
  9. Notes on the Text
  10. List of Abbreviations
  11. 1 - Written Accounts of the Dodo
  12. 2 - Written Accounts of the Rodrigues Solitaire
  13. 3 - Contemporary Illustrations
  14. 4 - Secondary Contemporary Sources and Miscellanea
  15. 5 - Anatomical Evidences
  16. 6 - The Natural History of the Dodo and the Solitaire
  17. 7 - Afterword: Memories of Green
  18. Notes
  19. Bibliography
  20. Index
Citation styles for The Dodo and the Solitaire

APA 6 Citation

Parish, J. (2012). The Dodo and the Solitaire ([edition unavailable]). Indiana University Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2012)

Chicago Citation

Parish, Jolyon. (2012) 2012. The Dodo and the Solitaire. [Edition unavailable]. Indiana University Press.

Harvard Citation

Parish, J. (2012) The Dodo and the Solitaire. [edition unavailable]. Indiana University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Parish, Jolyon. The Dodo and the Solitaire. [edition unavailable]. Indiana University Press, 2012. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.