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James William Helenus trail: a British naturalist in nineteenth-century Amazonia

Romero Sa, Magali (1996) James William Helenus trail: a British naturalist in nineteenth-century Amazonia. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



In 1873, the British naturalist James William Helenus Trail (1851-1919) participated in the first authorized foreign commercial expedition to the Brazilian Amazon region. The exploratory mission was promoted by the "Amazon Steam Navigation Company", a British company which intended to exploit its lands in the valley of the Amazon River. Trail was commissioned to evaluate the potential of the area for timber exploitation, and to indicate additional profitable natural resources. Trail spent 17 months surveying the Amazon River and tributaries, having explored an area which extends westwards from the city of Belem to the Brazilian border with Peru. The effective logistic support provided by the Company allowed him to collect botanical and zoological material in areas not visited before by other naturalists. Trail’s collections, particularly those of plants and insects, were much praised by the various specialists who studied them and who, as a tribute to Trail, named 34 new taxa after him. When in Amazonia, Trail met the Brazilian botanist Barbosa Rodrigues, who called his attention to the diversity of Amazonian palms. Inspired by Rodrigues, Trail developed a keen interest in palm taxonomy, having described 20 new species from the copious material he collected in the region. Trail's new taxa, however, generated protests from Barbosa Rodrigues, who claimed for himself the authorship of some of the species. Trail's trip to Amazonia boosted his career in natural history, and established early in his life his reputation among the British scientific community His Amazonian collections - which include, among others groups, nearly 1,800 plant and 2,100 insect species -, together with his field observations, represent a most relevant, though largely overlooked, contribution to the historical process of the knowledge of the natural history of the region.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:1996
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:24 Oct 2012 15:11

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