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Cunningham's Funny Numbers

All information below was generously provided to us by Tony Orchard:
Two more snippets for your scratch pad, discovered by me in the Kew
archives last year:
Letter from Robert Heward to George Bentham, 9 Dec 1840, regarding Allan
Cunninghams New Zealand collections of 1838:
"the numbers refer to his paper in the Annals of Natural History [ie to
Cunningham's NZ Flora].  With this you will receive a set of Cunninghams New
Zealand plants collected on his last expedition to that island
Letter Heward to Bentham, 8 Feb 1842 [refers to Mimosaceae, particularly
Acacia, and covers Australian material particularly]
 "The running numbers at the top of the tickets merely refer to a rough list that I made for my own convenience 
when I looked out the Acaciae from other portions of the herbarium.  Cunninghams number and year of collection (when attainable) are on the left hand lower corner of
the ticket (thus 167/1818)."
The above of course only strictly apply to material now
stamped Herbarium Benthamianum, but I would guess they are more generally

Subject: RE: Allan Cunningham's funny numbers [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

Dear Ms Weech

The numbering system for Cunningham is very complex, and I am not surprised that you are having difficulty it. The reasons are multifarious. I can give you a partial answer now, and will get you some more data once I have a chance to check things at home.

Cunningham's numbers were added retrospectively to collections by him, just before he despatched material to Kew. So, if in 1823 he had 230 collections to send, he numbered them 1 to 230, prepared a list, and sent them off to Aiton. In 1825 if he had accumulated another 172 collections, he numbered them 1 to 172, prepared a list, and sent them off to Aiton. Therefore the lower numbers (in this case 1-172) will be duplicated, and only make sense in combination with a date. Often the date is missing. I am trying to compile a list of numbers vs date vs taxon name which should eventually help tighten the data, but this is still some years off.

After his death his remaining collections were bequeathed to Robert Heward, who tidied up the labels and distributed them to various institutions, but with the major set going to Kew. It was Heward who adopted the 'fractional' system, with Cunningham's collecting number and date often combined, in the form 30th March 243/1823, where 243 is the 'collecting number' and 30 March 1823 is the collection date. The combination of collecting number and date is a unique identifier of a single collection. If you have sheets where the same number is associated with different dates, then you have a mixed sheet, with each number+date combination being a different collection, usually from a different locality. It is not unusual for several different collections to be mounted on the same sheet in K. The localities may be cryptic. Cunningham used initials to note localities. Some of these are: L.R. = Lachlan River; M.R. = Macquarie River (both of these mainly from the first Oxley expedition in April-Sept 1817); E.C.T. = East Coast Tropics (i.e. the NE coast of Queensland); N.W.C. = North West Coast, and several others that escape me just at present.

New Zealand collections present extra complications. Both Allan Cunningham (twice, Aug-Dec 1826 & Apr-Dec 1838) and Richard Cunningham (once, 1833-34)) visited the North Island of New Zealand. Watch the labels carefully to tell the difference between A.Cunningham and R. Cunningham - they quite often look similar, and the labels were sometimes written by Heward, so you can't rely on hand writing.

There is another complication with NZ specimens. Heward applied his own numbering system to these when sorting them out after Cunningham's death. Heward's number is usually at the top of the labels and can be disregarded.

I hope that helps a little, but each sheet needs to be considered on its merits. I presume you are scanning the sheets as you go. If you want to alert me to these as they are done I can look at them and check your data against the image on-line to double check the interpretation if that would be hepful. I am happy to do this anyway as I am gathering information on surviving sheets, and it would help my project to know what you have found.

Another point - I am hoping to get to Kew for 2-3 months early next year (tentatively March-May), and would be happy to look at any problems for you at that time, if you want to accumulate sheets. In particular I would be glad to see any NZ Cunningham material - when I was in Kew last year I concentrated mainly on Australian material. I will try to dig out a list of what Cunningham claimed to have collected in NZ to give you a targetted list of taxa, if that would be helpful.

I will get back to you in a week or so with more information.

Best wishes

Tony Orchard

Subject: Allan Cunningham's funny numbers

Dear Dr. Orchard,

After I mentioned some difficulties we were having databasing some of Allan Cunningham's specimens for the Global Plants Initiative (GPI) project here at Kew, Dick Brummit suggested I contacted you as he said you are writing a book on Cunningham! and he kindly gave me your email and suggested I copied Dr. George in too as, he said, you are both very helpful.

We are currently databasing some Oxalis specimens collected by Cunningham in New Zealand and some of them appear to have several numbers written in different handwriting. Some of the numbers are in the 500's and the other set are in the 200's. On other occasions I have seen specimens where he writes a number with a line and a date underneath. Sometimes one number appears several times on a sheet with several different dates under it! We were therefore wondering if you could shed some light on what his numbering system was like! Did he collect things and then number the taxa rather than the separate collections? What does it mean when different dates appear under the same number? Did he return to collect at the same place at different dates and give these collections the same numbers? Or are the later dates determination dates? Did he assign herbarium numbers as well as collection numbers?

Here are some examples of the information on some of the labels we have come across:


No 588 Oxalis divergens A.Cunn.

A. Cunningham 1833

A. Cunningham 1838

No 585 Oxalis cataracta [cataractae] A.Cunn.

A. Cunningham 108


A. Cunningham 1834

The latter was on sheet with:


Oxalis catarracta [cataractae] A.Cunn.

A. Cunningham 108


Any pointers you could give us to demystify Cunningham's numbering system would be very much appreciated as we are finding more and more of his specimens!

Yours sincerely,

Marie-Hélène Weech

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