My business name, Barnacle Goose Paperworks, derived from my fascination with the story of the Barnacle Goose Tree, which I first read about in my work with rare natural history books at the Australian Museum Research Library in Sydney. I came across strange illustrations of trees with unusual fruit, usually overhanging water of some kind, on which swam ducks or geese. It wasn't too hard to find information on this phenomenon and I soon discovered that a fascinating story unfolded.
During medieval times it was noticed that the Arctic bird, the Barnacle Goose, arrived annually on migration in England and Scotland at about the same time much timber was washed ashore, the timber being heavily populated with goose barnacles. A legend arose, which continued from the 12th to the 17th centuries, that the geese had actually hatched from the barnacles.
Here Conrad Lycosthenes [1518-1567], in his volume Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon, quæ præter naturæ ordinem, motum, et operationem, et in superioribus & his inferioribus mundi regionibus, ab exordio mundi usque ad hæc nostra tempora, acciderunt … Basil, 1557
illustrates barnacles growing on a tree (alongside some other wonders of nature which I'll write about another time). I'm sorry my illustrations aren't great but you can just see the geese in the water at the foot of the tree. This amazing book is a chronical of the known world, describing unnatural, strange and portentuous happenings. Beginning with the Garden of Eden the narrative follows chronologically to the year of publication, 1557. The book is illustrated with 1540 woodcuts, depicting comets, floods, fire, monsters, and pestilence of horrible proportions.
Just to put the Lycosthenes illustration into perspective, this is the full double page spread showing the terror and wonder of the seas. It always gives me a touch of satisfaction that the rather innocent barnacle goose tree made it into such an amazing depiction of wonders.
In this more complicated illustration Ulysse Aldrovandi clearly demonstrates the life cycle of the Barnacle Goose, not only showing the tree but the progression of the shellfish to the fully fledged goose. Illustrations such as this continued in the literature for centuries as did many other fanciful stories which sat quite comfortably alongside stories of actual fact.
At one time the Irish clergy were guilty of eating the flesh of the geese during their fasting periods on the grounds that the birds were not flesh, but having originated in the sea could be safely eaten as fish. The Church hierarchy was quick to put a stop to that. And the Dutch, thinking the English and Irish were very gullible, were quick to decry the whole story, insisting that geese hatched from eggs like other birds.
A real mixed bag
1 day ago