S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Delalande, Mr Pierre-Antoine (zoological collection, plant collection)

Born: 27 March 1787, Versailles, France.
Died: 27 July 1823, Paris, France.
Mr Pierre-Antoine Delalande

Pierre-Antoine Delalande, French naturalist, traveller and taxidermist, was the son of a taxidermist who worked at the Paris Museum of Natural History. He took up the study of natural history at the museum at an early age, but at the same time studied painting under the artist Berr?. In 1808, at the age of 21, he accompanied Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire of the Paris Museum on a scientific mission to Portugal. Five years later he was sent on a collecting trip to the coast of Provance to collect mainly fish and molluscs, and in 1816 he accompanied the French Ambassador, the Duke of Luxembourg, to Brazil, where he collected many natural history specimens.

On 8 August 1818 Delalande, accompanied by his twelve year old nephew, P. Jules Verreaux*, arrived in False Bay to collect for the Paris Museum. During September and October that year he collected numerous plants, sometimes accompanied by Ludwig Krebs*, while preparations were being made for collecting trips into the interior. Unfortunately many of his botanical specimens were lost on their way to Europe.

Delalande and his nephew made three trips inland. Departing on 11 November 1818 he travelled eastwards along the coast for an unknown distance, until forced to return by drought and an advancing Xhosa army. Though the collecting was disappointing, he found a 24 m long stranded whale on the return trip and spent two months dissecting it. The skeleton was the first complete specimen acquired by the Paris Museum. Starting again on 5 July 1819 he travelled northwards as far as the Olifants River, collecting many birds and other species. In the marshlands along the Berg River he killed a hippopotamus, thus providing the Paris Museum with its first skeleton of this animal. His third journey, starting on 2 November 1819, lasted eight months. It took him to Algoa Bay by sea and from there north-eastwards as far as the Keiskama River. He acquired a vast number of insects, birds, and mammals, including a number of species considered to be new to science. During this trip he was thrown off his horse, sustaining injuries from which he never fully recovered. He left the Cape for France on 1 September 1820.

Back in France he read a report on his travels at the Cape to the Acad?mie Royale des Sciences on 16 July 1821. It was published with other papers relating to his work in "Pr?cis d'un voyage au Cap de Bonne Esp?rance..." the next year.

Delalande was a considerate and modest man, and a methodical and conscientious collector. The value of his work derives partly from his detailed examination of specimens, and the recovery of animal skeletons whenever possible. The wide scope and extent of his zoological collections in South Africa are shown by the following numbers of specimens (and species): insects, 10 000 (982); birds, 2205 (280); molluscs, 387 (102); reptiles, 322 (136); fishes, 263 (70); and mammals, 228 (50). He also acquired a number of human skulls of different ethnic groups, and even some complete human skeletons. His plant collection consisted of about 900 dried species, including some new to science, 230 species of seeds, and many bulbs. He also collected over 3000 shells, and some 300 specimens of rocks and minerals. These collections enriched both the Paris Museum and the Jardin des Plantes, but he was none the less largely overshadowed by predecessors such as Sparrman*, Thunberg*, Masson*, and Burchell*.

After his return to France he was awarded the L?gion d' Honneur. He was a member of La Soci?t? linn?enne de Paris, and a correspondent of the Academie des Sciences de Russie. He was commemorated in many species names at the time, in the classes of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, fishes, insects, crustaceans, and molluscs, as well as a sea urchin, spider, fossil fish, fossil ammonite, and plant. However, many of these names have since been suppressed in favour of earlier names.

List of sources:
Barnard, K.H. Delalande's contribution to natural history. Quarterly Bulletin of the South African Library, 1956, Vol. 11(1), pp. 10-13.

Barnard, K.H. Personal names in South African conchology. Cape Town: Conchological Society of Southern Africa, 1965.

Berlioz, J. Les premieres recherches ornithologiques Francaises en Afrique du sud. The Ostrich, 1959, Supplement 3, pp. 300-302.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 3, 1977.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Kilburn, R. & Rippey, E. Sea shells of southern Africa. Johannesburg: Macmillan, 1982.

Varley, D.H. Pierre-Antoine Delalande, naturalist, and his Cape visit, 1818-1820. Quarterly Bulletin of the South African Library, 1956, Vol. 11(1), pp. 6-10.

Compiled by: C. Plug