Further Dodo History

The Dodo and Discovery of this Bird

Early Dodo Pictures

Further Dodo History

Extinction of the Dodo and the Bird in Modern History

Get more interesting bird information and facts at The Wonder of Birds

Continued from Early Dodo Pictures.

The first recorded evidence of someone from England having seen a living Dodo in its natural wild habitat was in 1628 when Emanuel Altham detailled his observation in 2 letters which he wrote from mauritius on the dame day to his brother in England.  These letters were given prominence in the 19th Century by Doctor J.B. Wilmot (Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1874, pages 447 to 449).   According to 19th Century zoologist Alfred Newton, he (Newton) was informed that on the death of Dr. Wilmot these interesting papers (which, had they been Wilmot's own property, Wilmot would have willingly made over to some public library) were burnt. Newton had, however, taken the precaution to have them accurately transcribed while they were entrusted to his keeping.  In one of the letters, Altham writes " "You shall receue...a strange fowle: which I had at the Iland Mauritius called by ye portingalls a Do Do: which for the rareness thereof I hope wil be welcome to you."  In the other letter the sentences concerning the Dodo are substantialy the same, but the words "if it liue" (probably meaning if the Dodo lives through the journey)  are added.  No further details are known of whether the Dodo which Altham sent did indeed survive or what happened to it.

Sir Thomas Herbert, whose writings of his Travels spanned numerous editions, sailed in the same fleet as Altham.  Although the year of Altham's visit to Mauritius has often been quoted as 1627, it is evident that he could not have reached the island until 1629.  The 1638 edition of his Travels provides his most detailled description of the Dodo, including an illustration and the following interesting paragraph:

"The Dodo comes first to a description: here, and in Dygarrois [this appears to be a mistake of some sorts and should be Rodriguez] (and no where else, that ever I could see or heare of) is generated the Dodo (a Portuguize name it is, and has reference to her simpleness), a Bird which for shape and rareness might be call'd a Phoenix (wer't in Arabia:)"
Athough Herbert was not particularly excellent at the study of the origin and history of words, especially when he could see similarities to Cymric words, his assertion that the name of the Dodo referred to the bird's simpleness, which was confirmed by Altham, can not be ignored.

This Portuguese origin of the bird's name therefore appears to be correct, thus placing a possible doubt on Professor Schlegel's indications  of the Dodo's name.   It is highly likely that the Portuguese were the very first to have given a name to this bird, and that they, or people knowledgeable in their language, piloted the Dutch.  Thus it is reasonable to assume that the name of Walghvogel which was the first name that the Dutch used, would give way to the Portuguese's initial name of Dodo.   As the meaning of Dodo would not have been known to the Dutch, they would have converted it into a word which  was understandable to them (a practice quite common to sailors of the day) .  Dodares would then easily suggest itself (see also Albatross and Booby).

Going forward through time, we arrive next at an intruiging testimony in a diary kept by Thomas Crossfield of Queen's College, Oxford, between the years 1626 and 1640.  In 1624 he records that a Mr Gosling "bestowed the Dodar (a blacke Indian bird) vpon ye Anatomy school", although no further information of this particular Dodo was contained in the diary.

Around the year 1638, Sir Hamon Lestrange wrote that whilst walking the streets of london he spotted a hanging cloth canvas picture of a strange bird.  On entering to see what the picture represented, he saw, being kept in  chamber, a large bird which was "somewhat bigger than the largest turkey cock, and so legged and footed, but shorter and thicker".  Lestrange states that it was called a Dodo by the keeper, who showed those who visited how the bird swallowed "large peble stones...some as bigge as nutmegs; and though I remember not how farr the keeper was questioned therein, yet I am confident that afterwards she cast them all againe".

Claude Morisot published in 1651 an Account of the voyage of François Cauche, who stated that in the year 1638 he had spent 16 days in  "l'isle de Saincte Apollonie", this being Mauritius.  The account, hoever, was considered to be not particularly accurate by Etienne de Flacourt (born 1607, died 1660).  Cauche recorded that he saw in Mauritius birds who were larger than swans, and describes these so that it is clear that these were Dodos.  Possibly the most important of his statements, if it is accurate, is that "il a un cry comme l'oison", indicating that the birds had a cry like a gosling.  He stated that the Dodos would lay a large, single white egg on an accumulation of grass in forest areas.

Cauche called these birds "Oiseaux de Nazaret", a name which he states was given because these birds were found on a place called Nazareth Island, which apparently was located to the North of Mauritius (it was stated by other writers later that this island does not exist or is, at most a reef.  This so-called island may be what is now known as Nazareth bank, or possibly Tromelin island, although I have been unable to research this in any great depth).  It is more likely that "Oiseau de Nazaret" was a corruption of "oiseau de nausée" (bird of nausea) - the original French name for the dodo, this being a literal translation from the original Dutch name of walghvogel.

Published in 1656, the Musaeum Tradescantianum: or, a Collection of Rarities. Preserved at South-Lambeth near London by John Tradescant contained an entry under "Whole Birds" of  a "Dodar from the island Mauritius; it is not able to flie being so big".  This is likely to have been the  Dodo (or its embalmed body) which Lestrange saw in the shop in London in 1838.  This particular bird can be traced through Willughby, Lhwyd, and Hyde, until it was obtained by the Ashmolean collection in 1684 or possibly before that year.   Instructions were given to destroy this specimen in 1755, due to its terrible state, and it was therefore burnt to destruction.  The right foot and head were kept, however, and remain at the Asmolean Museum in Oxford, England to this day (as at 2006).  These small remains still have some soft tissue, and have since been used in attempts to collect dodo DNA samples.

Another specimen, detailled in the 1665 2nd edition of Robert Hubert's publication of "A catalogue of many natural rarities with great industry, cost, and thirty years travel in foraign countries [etc.]", which detailed a collection made by Hubert (also known as Forbes), which could be viewed at a place called the Music-house, at the Mitre in London.  It is thought that the 'Mitre' was located at the north-west end of St. Paul's, where later there stood a house known by the sign of the "Goose and Gridiron".  In the calatogue, Hubert makes the following note concerning the "legge of a Dodo, a great heavy bird that cannot fly; it is a Bird of the Mauricius Island".  It is believed that this leg later became the property of the  Royal Society of Great Britain.  A foot of a Dodo was indeed mentioned in Grew's listing, published in 1681, of the Royal Society's collection.  This is a skeletal left foot, without any skin and subsequently came into the ownership of the British Museum, where it is still held as at the year 2006.  It is of a different size to the foot kept at the Ashmolean in Oxford, which would indicate with certainty that the two feet belong to separate Dodos.

A significant find of Dodo bones, was discovered in 2005 at the Mare Aux Songes.  These finds are approximately 2000 to 3000 years old, and as at 2006 it is hoped that a complete skeleton may be found amongst this discovery.  Before this 2005 find, apart for a few odd bones scattered throughout various museum, the only other significant physical remnant of the Dodo, apart from those already mentioned, was what Olearius in 1666 described in the Gottorffisches Kunst Kammer as the head of a Walghvogel.  Around 1726 this head was moved to the Musuem of Copenhagen, and in 1843 under the direction of the Zoologist, Professor Johannes Theodor Reinhardt in 1843, scientists first came to understand the similarities between the Dodo and other birds.  Reinhardt established the Dodo's likeness to pigeons, and the Dodo, although extinct, is now recognised as being part of the same order of birds as the pigeon, this being the Columbiformes order.  The pigeon or dove is the Columbidae family within this Columbiformes order, whereas the Dodo is (or was when alive) a different branch of this order, being the part of the raphidae family, and specifically being the Raphus genus.   In 2002, the analysis of Dodo DNA confirmed its phylogenetic position.

Andrew Kitchener, biologist with the Royal Museum off Scotland, recently created two natural-sized reproductions of the dodo, one being in the museum of Edinburgh, the other in the museum of Oxford. Based on real skeletons, they represent a bird thinner and nimbler than that of the painting of Savery. In 1991, the reconstructions of Kitchener were confirmed when diagrams drawn in 1601 by Wolphart Harmanszoon were rediscovered in The Hague.

Previous...Early Dodo Pictures. Next...Extinction of the Dodo and the Bird in Modern History.

Home to the Wonder of Birds

This page ©TheWonderofBirds.com