Pierre Médard Diard

Portrait of Pierre Médard  Diard

Pierre-Médard Diard (19 March 1794, Saint-Laurent-en-Gâtines - 16 Feb 1863, Sumatra or Jakarta, Indonesia) was a French naturalist and explorer who studied zoology and anatomy under Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), and traveled to the East Indies in 1817, age 23, spending most of his natural life in Asia, where he became fast friend of Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. He visited Angkor as early as 1824, and was credited by some (in particular Francois Garnier) for being the first European "rediscoverer" of the Khmer temples in the 19th century, yet his writings on that journey have been lost.

After serving in the French army in 1813-4, Diard moved from medicine to natural sciences studies, and left for Calcutta and Chandernagore to collect anaimals and plants for the Paris Museum of Natural History with Alfred Duvaucel (1793-1824), Cuvier's stepson -- he was the son of Anne Marie Duvaucel (nee Anne Marie Sophie Coquet du Trazai, 1764-1849), who had married Cuvier in 1804, and Louis-Philippe Duvaucel. In June 1818, they sent their first consignment to Paris, containing a skeleton of a Ganges river dolphin, a head of a Tibetan ox, various species of little known birds, some mineral samples and a drawing of a tapir from Sumatra that they had studied in Hastings menagerie and, in later consignments, a live Cashmere goat, crested pheasants and numerous birds.

Stamford Raffles, who was about to sail to Singapore for the East India Company (EIC), hired the two young French naturalists who were on board the Indiana in January 1819 when Raffles and William Farquhar made landfall in Singapore. After six months of exploring and collecting the area, including Aceh, the lune de miel came to an abrupt end: "On 7 March 1819, Raffles wrote to the Frenchmen, informing them that they would not actually own anything they had collected. His letter read: “Your researches to be confined to Sumatra and the smaller Islands in its immediate vicinity. The draftsmen, &c. engaged by you to be entertained at the charge of Government, who will also defray all incidental and necessary expenses to which you may be subjected in the prosecution of your researches, on condition that such researches are made for and on account of the Honourable The East India Company, and that your collections &c. are considered as their property. An estimate to be framed of your monthly expenses for such establishment, &c. in which a fixed sum will be paid to you to cover all charges of every description… With reference to your present establishment, and the expenses you must necessarily be subjected to, a fixed monthly allowance of five hundred ducats is considered adequate to cover all your disbursements…” [cf. Danièle Weiler’s chapter on Diard and Duvaucel in Voyageurs, Explorateurs et Scientifiques: The French and Natural History in Singapore, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, 2019.]

In his "Descriptive Catalogue of a Zoological Collection, made on account of the Honourable East India Company, in the Island of Sumatra and its Vicinity, under the Direction of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Lieufenant-Gbvernor of Fort Marlborough" (in Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, XIII, section 12, London, 1822), Raffles gave his version of the incident without naming Diard and Duvaucel: "I esteemed myself fortunate in obtaining the assistance of Dr. Joseph Arnold, a gentleman already advantageously known to the scientific world. Unhappily he fell an early sacrifice to his zeal in the cause, and his loss cannot be more regretted in a public view, than it is lamented by those who were best able to appreciate his amiable disjjosition and private virtues. He lived, however, long enough to lay the foundation of an extensive plan of research. I was subsequently induced to engage the services of two French
gentlemen, who appeared qualified to assist in the collection and preservation of the zoological specimens, and to furnish such anatomical details as might require observation in recent subjects, it being stipulated that on the payment of the monthly sum of 500 dollars, the whole of their collections and observations should be the exclusive property of the East India Company. On these terms I intrusted to them the charge of the collection, and used all my influence to bring into it whatever was interesting in zoology. A year had scarcely elapsed when circumstances rendered it necessary to discontinue this arrangement. They advanced pretensions diametrically opposed to the
spirit and letter of their engagement, and altogether inconsistent with what I had a right to expect from them, or they from me. Thus situated, I had no alternative but to undertake an immediate description of the collection myself, or to allow the result of all my endeavours and exertions to be carried to a foreign country. I should observe, that the papers delivered to me as containing all their observations, were for the most part so speculative and deficient in the kind of information required, that I could make no use of them myself, nor give them to the world under the sanction of my authority. I have therefore returned them, and left these gentlemen at liberty to publish or amend them as they think proper. They are young men not deficient in zeal, and though misled for the moment by private and national views, will, I doubt not, profit by the means I have afforded them, and eventually contribute to our further knowledge of the zoology of these islands." (pp 239-40)

While Duvaucel sailed back to India in 1821 -- where he perished in Madras in 1824, probably mauled by a tiger --, Diard set off that same year to Batavia [Java], where he collected some 95 mammal species, 126 bird species, and about 100 snake species, then moved to Borneo, and Cochinchina. In 1826, he traveled and collected in the areas of Banjarmasin, Pontianak and Sungei Barito. In 1829, he joined the Natural History Commission of the Dutch Indies and was appointed its head in 1832, until 1848, with some of the collected specimens sent to the Coenraad Jacob Temminck at Leiden.

Pierre-Médard Diard is commemorated in the scientific names of several animals, including the Bornean clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa diardi, first described by Georges Cuvier in 1823 [and promoted to species Neofelis nebulosa diardi in 2007 ; the short-nosed fruit bat Pachysoma diardii described by Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in 1828; the cicada Carineta diardi first described by Félix Édouard Guérin-Méneville in 1829; the black-bellied malkoha, Phaenicophaeus diardi, first described by René Primevère Lesson in 1830; Diard's trogon, Harpactes diardii, first described by Coenraad Jacob Temminck in 1832; the beetle Coilodera diardi or Macronota diardi, first described by Hippolyte Louis Gory and Achille Rémy Percheron in 1833; the rat Rattus diardii (tanezumi rat), described by Jentink in 1880; the ray-finned fish Sewellia diardi, first described by Roberts in 1998...