Jean-Jacques Dussumier and Aldabra
Pat Matyot (2009) has raised interesting but delicate questions in connection with the
lectotype of Testudo dussumieri Gray, 1831. Did Dussumier really travel to Aldabra,
and therefore is this specimen really an Aldabra tortoise? First, we could extend the
questions such as ‘is the present Aldabra the same island as that so named in the
18–19th centuries?’ (see e.g. Devaux 2006, p. 30, about the Aldabra map by Picault
& Grossin, reproduced by Günther (1877), which actually shows the present
Farquhar), or even ‘did Dussumier really exist?’ Laissus, his only known biographer,
begins his notice with the words ‘La vie de Jean-Jacques Dussumier n’est que très
imparfaitement connue et seulement dans ses épisodes principaux’ [‘Jean-Jacques
Dussumier’s life is very imperfectly known and then only during his main episodes’]
(Laissus, 1973, p. 387).
Next, it must be emphasised that at the time of Dussumier’s travels, Aldabra was
already well known for its tortoises, and these tortoises were regularly brought to
(inter alia) La Réunion island – sailors did not wait until the formal possession of
Aldabra in 1892 – as reported in the local newspaper La Feuille hebdomadaire de
Bourbon, for instance n(628 (12.01.1831): ‘Belles tortues d’Aldabra à vendre à des
prix modérés. S’adresser rue du Barachois . . .’ [‘Beautiful Aldabra tortoises for sale
at moderate prices. Address rue du Barachois . . .’] (Bour, 1981, p. 122). If Dussumier
did not really go to Aldabra, he could have intercepted a ship with a load of tortoises
close to the island, or even bought some genuine specimens on Réunion or elsewhere.
But could we really prove that Dussumier never landed on Aldabra?
We hardly understand the comments by Matyot about the correctness or
completeness of Dussumier’s collecting data. Dussumier himself wrote in 1830: ‘Pour
tous [fish specimens] j’ai eu soin de tenir un registre, où j’ai inscrit, au numéro
correspondant à celui que porte chaque individu, les couleurs qu’il avait au moment
où il a été pêché, et j’y ai joint les renseignements que j’ai pu me procurer, après en
avoir vérifié l’exactitude’ [‘For all [fish specimens] I have been careful to keep a
register where I have noted, against the number corresponding to that carried by each
individual, the colours it possessed at the time it was caught, and I have added such
bits of information as I have been able to get, having checked their accuracy’]
(Laissus, 1973, p. 392). Such care was highly appreciated by the exacting Cuvier, andMatyot’s comments outlining that ‘Gray was tempting men to steal and sell him their
specimens’ are irrelevant. In the present case, Gray just saw (in 1829) the specimen in
the Leiden Museum, and at that time he had no connection with either the Paris
Museum or its associated sellers ‘on the sly’ or with Dussumier himself. On the other
hand, as he did with other observed specimens, Gray approximately copied and then
published in 1831 the data written on the tag, in this case Dussumiere [sic] as collector
and Aldebra [sic] as locality, and we see no reason to doubt their accuracy. As
pointed out by Matyot himself, fifty years later Hubrecht (1881), at that time curator
of fishes at the Leiden Museum, repeated the same data. The specimen had been
labelled by Hermann Schlegel, also a former curator, who later described the Round
Island Boa (Schlegel, 1837) and dedicated it to its collector, Dussumier, ‘voyageur
infatigable et ami éclairé des sciences’ (‘tireless traveller and enlightened friend of
Finally, Matyot (2009, p. 353) mixed up two distinct young specimens collected by
Dussumier, one true (granitic) Seychelles tortoise, seen by Duméril & Bibron, still
in the Paris Museum (MNHN 1942; Bour, 2006) and the Aldabra tortoise, seen by
Gray, still in the Leiden Museum (RMNH 3231). Dussumier, himself, clearly
separated them, on morphological as well as on geographical bases, but it is likely
that Matyot never saw either one.
Bour, R. 1981. Histoire de la Tortue terrestre de Bourbon. Bulletin de l’Académie de La
Réunion, 25: 97–147.
Bour, R. 2006. An unnamed tortoise from the Seychelles Islands. Emys, 13 (3): 24–30.
Devaux, B. 2006. La tortue géante des Seychelles, une survivante. Chelonii, 5: 2–126.
Günther, A.C.L.G. 1877. The gigantic Land Tortoises (living and extinct) in the collection of the
British Museum, London. i–vi, 1–96, pl. 1–54. British Museum, London.
Laissus, Y. 1973. Note sur les voyages de Jean-Jacques Dussumier (1792–1883). Annales de la
Société des Sciences Naturelles de Charente-Maritime, 5 (5–9): 387–406.
Schlegel, H. 1837. Essai sur la physionomie des serpens. Partie Générale: xxviii, 251 pp., Partie
Descriptive: 606, xvi pp. La Haye (J. Kips, J. H.Z. & W.P. van Stockum)