ISSN 1188-603X

No. CCXIX April 1, 1999 Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2


From: Adolf Ceska []

Dr. Archibald Menzies was the first civil servant botanist in the Pacific Northwest. He joined the Royal Navy long before he got the position of naturalist and stand-in surgeon with with George Vancouver's voyage to the northwest coast of America (1791-1795). The objective of Captain Vancouver's voyage was to explore the Pacific Northwest and lay claim to the land for the British Crown. Menzies had collected plants along the West Coast of North America and at almost all the other places where Vancouver's ships landed (Groves, 1998). Dr. Menzies' case well illustrates the difficulties that botanists have to face if they are employed as civil servants.

It was Sir Joseph Banks, who gave very specific instructions and directions to Dr. Menzies. Banks knew that Menzies task would not be easy, since he himself had known Captain Vancouver from the first Captain Cook's voyage. He warned Menzies (Anderson 1960, p. 46): "How Captain Vancouver will behave to you is more than I can guess, unless I was to judge by his conduct towards me - which was such as I am not used to receive from one in his station. As it would be highly imprudent in him to throw any obstacles in the way of your duty, I trust he will have too much good sense to obstruct it."

Menzies encountered trouble with meal arrangements even before the expedition started (Goodwin 1930, p. 201-202). The final straw in the Vancouver - Menzies relationship was the incident that happened on the last leg of their return journey to England. According to Anderson (1960, p. 210), "Vancouver placed one of Menzies' servants on regular watches working the ship. During a downpour some of the Menzies' plant frames on deck were left uncovered and many of the plants he was taking back to England were damaged or destroyed. Menzies wanted Vancouver to punish the man, whose normal duty it was to look after the frames, but, when the captain found that he was carrying out the orders of the officer of the watch at that time, he took no action. Menzies complained, apparently rather vigorously, and Vancouver placed him under arrest for insolence and contempt, a charge that Menzies later denied."

Vancouver wrote a letter to Evan Nepean of the Admiralty demanding a Court-Martial for Dr. Menzies (Godwin 1930, p. 142):

"Sir, - I am to request you will do me the honor of representing to my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that I am excessively sorry at being driven to the necessity of soliciting that a Court-Martial may be held on Mr. Archibald Menzies, Surgeon of His Majesty's sloop Discovery under my command, and officiating also in the capacity of Botanist, for what I consider as a breach of part of the 19th and 22nd articles of war, at sea, on the 28th of July 1795; having, on that day, behaved to me on the quarter-deck, with great contempt and disrespect, in consequence of my having refused to punish, at his request, a person who had throughout the voyage been considered as his servant. The Insolent and unbecoming behavior of Mr. Menzies on that occasion towards me, and his positive refusal to retract the harsh and improper expressions he made use of, compels me to prefer this charge, and to repeat my request that their Lordships will be pleased, in consequence thereof, to order a Court-Martial."

A month later, Vancouver withdrew his charges after receiving an apology from Menzies, and the order was cancelled.


Anderson, B. 1960.
Surveyor of the sea: the life and voyages of Captain George Vancouver. University of Washington Press, Seattle. 274 p.
Godwin, G. 1930.
Vancouver, a life, 1757-1798. Philip Allan, London. 308 p.
Groves, E.W. 1998.
Archibald Menzies: an early plant collector on the Pacific north and west coast of North America. Menziesia 3(1): 14-15.


From: Pp. 50-51 in: Lord Frederick Spencer Hamilton. c1921. Here, there and everywhere. George H. Doran, NY. xii+332 p.

Peradeniya Botanical Gardens [in Colombo, Sri Lanka] rank as the second finest in the world, being only surpassed by those at Buitenzorg in Java. I had the advantage of being shown their beauties by the curator himself, a most learned man, and what is by no means a synonymous term, a very interesting one too. Holding the position he did, it is hardly necessary to insist on his nationality; his accent was still as marked as if he had only left his native Aberdeen a week before. He showed me a tall, graceful tree growing close to the entrance, with smooth, whitish bark, and a family resemblance to a beech. This was the famous ill-famed upas tree of Java, the subject of so many ridiculous legends. The curator told me that the upas (Antiaris toxicaria) was unquestionably intensely poisonous, juice and bark alike. A scratch made on the finger by the bark might have very serious results, and the emanations from a newly lopped-off branch would be strong enough to bring out a rash; equally, any one foolish enough to drink the sap would almost certainly die.

The stories of the tree giving out deadly fumes had no foundation, for the curator had himself sat for three hours under the tree without experiencing any bad effects whatever. All the legends of the upas tree are based on an account of it by a Dr. Foersch in 1783. This mendacious medico declared that no living thing could exist within fifteen miles of the tree. The Peradeniya curator pointed out that Java was a volcanic island, and one valley where the upas flourishes is certainly fatal to all animal life owing to the emanations of carbonic acid gas escaping from fissures in the soil. It was impossible to look at this handsome tree without some respect for its powers of evil, though I doubt if it be more poisonous than the West Indian manchineel. This latter insignificant tree is so virulently toxic that rain-drops from its leaves will raise a blister on the skin.


The first recorded case of chemical war came from about 600 B.C. It happened in Greece, in the war which Amphictyons led against Cirrhaeans. Here is what Pausanias wrote about this event in his "Description of Greece:"

"To Cirrha, the port of Delphi, is a distance by road of sixty furlongs from Delphi. .. The plain all the way from Cirrha is bare, and the people will not plant trees, either because a curse rests on the land, or because they know that the soil is not adapted to grow trees. ... The people of Cirrha sinned against Apollo, and in particular they appropriated some of the god's land. So the Amphictyons resolved to make war on the Cirrhaeans, and they appointed Clisthenes, tyrant of Sicyon, to the command, and fetched Solon from Athens to give them his advice. When they inquired how the victory would go, the Pythian priestess gave them this answer:

Ye shall not take and cast down the towers of this city, Till on my precinct blue-eyed Amphitrite's Wave, plashing o'er the darkling deep, shall break.

Hence Solon persuaded them to consecrate the territory of Cirrha to the god, in order that Apollo's precinct might be bounded by the sea. He devised yet another stratagem against the Cirrhaeans. The water of the Plistus flowed into the city in a canal, and he diverted the water into another channel. But as the besieged still held out, subsisting on water from wells and on rainwater, he flung roots of hellebore into the Plistus, and when he saw that the water was sufficiently charged with the drug he turned it back into the canal. The Cirrhaeans drank so freely of the water that the sentinels on the walls were forced, by incessant diarrhea, to quit their posts. When the Amphictyons took the city they punished the Cirrhaeans on behalf of the god, and Cirrha is still the port of Delphi."


Pausanias's Description of Greece, translated with a commentary by J.G. Frazer. Biblio & Tannen, New York. 1965.
Vol. 1: 557-558. Bk.X, Ch. xxxvii.


The Canadian government has decided to test the Y2K bug in Newfoundland. Although almost everything is usually half an hour later in Newfoundland, the year 2000 will arrive there half an hour sooner than to their closest neighbours. The other Canadian provinces will get enough warning and will be able to learn from the Newfoundland experience how to save themselves. British Columbia and Yukon will have plenty of time to find out how to cope with the Y2K bug. In a leaked provincial goverment memo, however, all computer programmers are being asked to stay sober on the New Year's Eve. Just in case.

BEN is Y2K clean, but to be on a sure side, print out several last issues of BEN and buy few candles. Candles blessed on Candlemas Day will protect you from the Y2K bug better than the ordinary ones.


Sorry, BEN is unable to distribute MELISSA virus. We operate strictly in the old, windowless MS-DOS, and we cannot read attachments. The computer on which BEN is produced still has its original 1981 IBM screen (green letters on a dark background). We have to apologize for not being able to send you the list of interesting web pages that MELISSA distributes as an attachment.


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