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Mourning Johnston Drummond and Kabinger. Black Kangaroo Paw, Macropidia fuliginosa, Western Australian Botanical Garden, Perth, Australia | by Rana Pipiens
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Mourning Johnston Drummond and Kabinger. Black Kangaroo Paw, Macropidia fuliginosa, Western Australian Botanical Garden, Perth, Australia

Curtis's Botanical Magazine, that wonderful source of botanical information presented in marvellous style, gives a description in 1847 of 'Anigozanthos fuliginosa'. It is already then remarked that this Black Kangaroo Paw is quite different from the other kinds of Anigozanthos (and later it received its own particular name: Macropidia fuliginosa, Sooty Bigfoot, I would say...).

Curtis's quotes from a recent letter received by the London Journal of Botany from James Drummond (1786/7-1863), the official botanist of the Swan River Colony (today called Perth):

 

'By a ship now about to sail, I send two fine species of Anigozanthos, collected by my son (since killed by the natives), in the vicinity of the Moore River... The dark-flowering one, of which but two specimens have ever been found in bloom, is a real mourning flower; the upper portions of its stem, and lower portion of the corolla being covered, as it were, with black velvet...'

 

Indeed, 'killed by the natives'... What that phrase might have meant to people in Britain at the time?!

But the story is a far more particular one than Drummond the elder's suggestion. His son Johnston (1820-1845) followed closely in the footsteps of his father. Already as a lad he was collecting and selling specimens and seeds of Australian plants. And he became an untiring explorer. On a trip with James to the Moore River (north of Perth), Johnston had found our plant in 1842. On their expeditions the Drummonds were accompanied by native helpers. One of these was one Kabinger and his (extended) family group. The Drummond sons were used to sleeping with native women, and this led to tragedy in 1845. On a short expedition, Johnston had been spending nights with Kabinger's wife. Kabinger - who'd earlier been accused of cattle-rustling - one night crept up on Johnston and killed him with his glass-tipped spears. A few weeks later, he was tracked down by one of Johnston's brothers, and shot dead...

Small wonder, then, that James Drummond for a while lost his appetite in collecting and botanising. His pain can be read in that excerpt above from his letter. A pain so great that he apparently had to make a general statement about the danger of 'natives'...

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Taken on July 18, 2010