Urbain Jean Faurie: French Missionary and Botanist Extraordinaire (and the continued efforts of Natural History Museum, London)
This post is another in a long line of tributes/blatant copies of the great work going on at the erstwhile GPI partner Natural History Museum, London (BM) on the Plant Collectors’ Database. This information is almost verbatim what the great team at London did and so we should consider this post really a testament to their tireless work. My take on the subject is the collector’s work in Asia, predominantly in China and Japan, but also with some incredible work in Korea. So with that preface we move on to the post.
Background: Asia, the late 19th-early 20th centuries, and missionary work
As it was almost everywhere, the late 19th-early 20th centuries was a time of turbulent change. The climax of colonialism, the clash of civilizations made possible by technology and trade, and advancements in many fields made the time a period of great upheaval. This was a particularly acute phenomena in Northeast Asia as China, Korea, and Japan responded to the furnace of modernity with slightly different responses. All tried to modernize to some degree. China and Korea were not as ‘successful’ in this capacity as Japan. Japan modernized so quickly and efficiently they were soon keen to adopt the Western powers’ predilection towards colonial acquistions. Korea fell formally in 1910, but a de facto colonialism was in place well before that.
It was in this upheaval of change, acquisition, shifting power balances, and modernization attempts that religion penetrated Northeast Asia. Truth be told, it predates much of this late 19th century activity, but the world of Urbain Jean Faurie was one where missionaries rode on the coattails of commerce and colonialism into Asia. Some were avid historians who recorded observations of these so-called dying cultures, some did their utmost to preserve the culture itself in the face of modernity, and some chose to record and scientifically document the natural world around them. Faurie falls into this later category. And record he did.
On a side note, missionary work was never the safest business one could undertake in Asia at the time. There were many executions, purges, natural calamities, and even illnesses that overcame these missionaries. Recorded in great detail and again.
If you want background on the subject from the time itself complete with the biases of the time, be sure to check out these free articles.
- Henderson, C. R. (1913). Social Significance of Christianity in Modern Asia. The Biblical World , Vol. 42, No. 3 (Sep., 1913), pp. 140-145.
- Henderson, C. R. (1913). Social Significance of Christianity in Modern Asia. II. The Biblical World , Vol. 42, No. 4 (Oct., 1913), pp. 200-203
I am taking this directly from the Collector entry from JSTOR Plant Science from the team at Natural History Museum, London so I will quote it verbatim:
French missionary and botanist. Père Urbain Faurie was born at Dunières. He joined the Society of Foreign Missionaries in 1869 and after being ordained priest in 1873 went to work in Japan, arriving in Niigata in 1874. Nine years on he was to be found at Hakodate on Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, which he explored from the Straits of Tsugaru to Aomori in 1897. In the preceding years he had also collected plants in northern and central Honshu and on Kyushu, and visited the northern Ryukyu islands and southern Korea. After his time in Hokkaido he moved to Formosa (Taiwan), where he spent the rest of his days. His collection of several hundred thousand herbarium specimens was deposited in Paris, with duplicates at the University of Kyoto, the British Museum, Kew and elsewhere. Faurie died at Taihoku, Formosa. Many plant species are named in his honour, such as the alpine poppy Papaver fauriei (Fedde) Fedde ex Miyabe & Tatew. and the alder Alnus fauriei H.Lév. & Vaniot.
So, Faurie travels from Niigita to Hokkaido to Korea to Formosa (Taiwan), all relatively far off the trodden missionary track at the time. Along the way, he explores (on foot) these vast lands and collect plants along the way (and attends to his priestly duties, presumably). During this time, he collected several hundred thousand specimens (see below for an example). Quoting from the following source (which the Faurie Collector record also refers to), we see the impact of these collections.
- P. Barnes, 2001, “Japan’s botanical sunrise“, Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 18(1): 117-131
Faurie’s collections have subsequently been studied by many botanists: Maximowicz, and later Franchet and Savatier, cite some of his Niigata collections. A number of specialists studied particular groups such as ferns, sedges and trees as well as specific genera. It is not surprising to find his name attached to many different genera. In gardens we may see the alder, Alnus fauriei, the alpine poppy Papaver fauriei, Fauria (Nephrophyllidium) crista-galli, or Rhododendron brachycarpum subsp.fauriei; he is also remembered in a species of lady fern (Athyrium), a saxifrage, an ornamental pear,Ligularia fauriei, a veronica and several other genera.
On JSTOR Plant Science, we have approximately 2500 specimens collected by Faurie throughout China, Japan, and Korea in some of the most far-flung places one could imagine.