Thespesia populnea, commonly known as the Portia Tree, is a species of flowering plant in the mallow family, Malvaceae.
The above watercolour was painted by the artist Sydney Parkinson while in Tahiti, during Captain Cook’s first voyage round the world.
Parkinson soon encountered problems working in such a hot climate, as the naturalist Joseph Banks described, writing in his journal on this day in 1769.
“The flies have been so troublesome ever since we have been ashore that we can scarce get any business done for them; they eat the painters colours off the paper as fast as they can be laid on, and if a fish is to be drawn there is more trouble in keeping them off it than in the drawing itself.
“Many expedients have been thought of, none succeed better than a mosquito net which covers table chair painter and drawings, but even that is not sufficent, a fly trap was nesscessary to set within this to atract the vermin from eating the colours. For that purpose yesterday tarr and molasses was mixt together but did not succeed. The plate smeard with it was left on the outside of the tent to clean.”
Neither Banks nor Parkinson could have anticipated the next problem, however.
“One of the Indians observing this took an opportunity when he thought that no one observd him to take some of this mixture up into his hand, I saw and was curious to know for what use it was intended, the gentleman had a large sore upon his backside to which this clammy liniament was applyd but with what success I never took the pains to enquire.”