By Robert Young, Special Collections Librarian
On 29 January 1855, Andrew Garrett, a thirty-one-year-old self-trained naturalist living in Hilo, Hawaii, wrote a letter to Louis Agassiz-- who was soliciting contributions of zoological specimens for Harvard-- which begins,
Sir, My hearing, in this remote part of the globe, of your love of the Natural Sciences, particularly Ichthyology, has induced me to send you these rude drawings of some of the fishes that are found about our group of islands. If they will be of any service to you, I will continue to make sketches of every kind that are found in the neighboring sea and forward them on to you. So that in the event of your observing any new species, or, such as you would like specimens of, you can enform me and I will send them to you in some of the home-ward bound Whale-Ships.1
Garrett proposed to send specimens of any kind in exchange for either specimens of shells (his foremost interest) or copies of books such as Augustus A. Gould’s malacological works and David Storer’s Fishes of Massachusetts (1839).
A year and a half later, in September 1856, Garrett received a reply, with James M. Barnard, a shell-collecting Boston businessman and patron of Agassiz’s, writing on the professor’s behalf that Garrett was welcome to become a zoological collector for Harvard. Garrett would receive $400 annually from Barnard, covering his living and collecting expenses, most of which went toward travel and the hiring of assistants.
Agassiz was happy with Garrett’s work, praising his drawings and descriptions in a letter to Barnard written circa autumn 1857, “They will be invaluable material to clear up the Natural History of the Pacific Ocean but I would warn [Garrett] not to be hasty in publishing them.”2 More important were the specimens received, with Agassiz again acknowledging his agent in Hawaii in the MCZ annual report for 1861, “The total number of specimens of Fishes received, amounts to five thousand, comprising one thousand different species, the most important of which are those from the Kings Mills and the Society Islands, collected by Mr. Garret[t]. . . .”
Garrett’s work on behalf of the MCZ ended in about 1863, when complications partly caused by the Civil War ended James Barnard’s payments to him. Garrett would go on to collect for the Godeffroy Museum, which published his most important work--the magnificent fish drawings in Fische der Südsee (Hamburg, 1873-1910), edited by Albert C.L.G. Günther.
1Letter in the MCZ Archives.
2Letter in the Andrew Garrett collection of the Bishop Museum Library, Honolulu, quoted in W. Stephen Thomas, “A Biography of Andrew Garrett, Early Naturalist of Polynesia,” The Nautilus, v. 93 (1) (January 10, 1979), p. 19.