Gave His Life for Science
1834 On this day, about a month before his 35th birthday, the Scottish plant explorer David Douglas and his little Scottish terrier named Billy arrived at the northern tip of Hawaii.
After landing, David met up with a man named Ned Gurney.
And I know it's hard to imagine, but Gurney actually made his living by trapping feral cattle in large pits. As a young man, Gurney had been convicted of stealing and had been shipped to Australia. But, somehow, he had made his way to Hawaii. It was on this day in 1834 that Gurney's path crossed with Douglas.
That morning, Gurney told authorities that he had breakfast with Douglas, gave him directions, and sent him on his way.
Tragically, by noon, Douglas's body, along with an angry bull, was found in one of the pits. And sadly, Douglas's dog Billy, who traveled with him on almost all of his expeditions, was sitting there, above the pit, all alone by his master's pack.
Today we realize that how Douglas ended up in the pit remains a mystery. We will never know for sure what happened. But, we do know that Douglas was responsible for the identification of over 200 new plant species in North America, including the famous Douglas-fir. Despite his lack of formal training, Douglas sent more plants back to Europe than any other botanist of his time.
There is a memorial to Douglas in Honolulu which says:
"Here lies Master David Douglas - an indefatigable traveler. He was sent out by the Royal Horticultural Society of London and gave his life for science."
And on the second bronze tablet there is a quote by Virgil:
"Even here the tear of pity springs,
And hearts are touched by human things."