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Crossing continents - The next phase of digitisation

Helen Hartley
18 June 2010
Read about the recent changes within the Directors' Correspondence digitisation team and the start of our new project - digitising the Directors' Correspondence collection from Asia.

Directors' Correspondence digitisation team

Latin American achievement

There has been a lot going on in the Directors' Correspondence digitisation team of late. We recently celebrated the end of the digitisation of the Latin American Directors' Correspondence collection, which our team completed within the two year time frame set out for the project. We are, therefore, pleased to announce that the complete collection of Kew's Directors' Correspondence from Latin America is now available to view online via the JSTOR website. A significant achievement!

The team have worked hard over the last two years, not only to digitise the collection, but to raise the profile of the project: writing articles for the staff magazine and, more recently, for the Library, Art & Archives blog. I would like to thank them for their hard work - it has been a privilege to be part of such an enthusiastic team.

Moving on

The end of the digitisation of the Latin American correspondence coincided with a change in the team's environment:  we moved out of two small basement offices, into a larger, lighter and airier room on the ground floor! On a sad note, the end of the project also coincided with us losing a member of our team. Lindsay Rosener decided it was time for her to return to the US.   We were very sorry to lose Lindsay – she is a great person, with an exuberant personality, who contributed greatly to our success and to the lively atmosphere in the office. We wish Lindsay the best of luck with whatever she decides to take on next. 

Embarking on Asia

Our new digitisation officer, Charlotte Rowley, joined us at the end of May and is settling in well.  It's a good time for Charlotte to start, as we have now embarked on the next phase of our project: to digitise the Directors' Correspondence collection from Asia. In the first two volumes of correspondence, we have come across letters written to Kew from India, Indonesia, Mauritius, China, Turkey and the Ukraine! Within these volumes I was intrigued to find letters from correspondents whose names would not seem out of place in a William Boyd novel:  Philip Furley Fyson and William Popplewell Bloxam.

Philip Furley Fyson (1877 – 1947), was a botanist who worked in India and was author of several illustrated volumes on the flora of the South Indian hills. In 1914 he wrote to Kew asking for help in the identification of specimens to be included in his work:  'The Flora of the Nilgiri and Pulney Hill-Tops'.   In his letters, Fyson also refers to Sir Alfred Gibbs Bourne, director of the Indian Institute of Science, and Lady Bourne, the botanical artist whose illustrations were used in the aforementioned Flora. Lady Bourne's letters to Kew are found in the same volume of correspondence.


(Photograph: Philip Furley Fyson (1877 - 1947), Wiki Commons

William Popplewell Bloxam (1860 – 1913) was a chemist who, on behalf of the Government of India, worked on methods of improving the manufacture of natural indigo.   Bloxam wrote to Kew in 1907, from the Clothworkers' Research Laboratory at the University of Leeds, to elicit help in separating  a mixture of dried indigo leaf from Madras (now Chennai) into its constituent parts.   He had managed to obtain an extraordinarily high yield of indigotin  from the sample and was anxious to know which species of Indigofera might be responsible for the result. In fact, it was Bloxam's extraction process that had accounted for the increased yield of indigo and his results showed that the manufacture of indigo in India was running at only 25% efficiency.   Unfortunately, Bloxam's results were not received well in India and the report he published in 1908 on the process of indigo manufacture was largely ignored (see 'Plantation Science: improving natural indigo in colonial India, 1860-1913', by Prakash Kumar in The British Journal for the History of Science, 2007, 40: 537-565).


Illustration: 'Indigofera tinctoria (indigo)' by George Bond (c.1806-1892). Photograph by Paul Little. Copyright ©RBGKew 

We look forward to finding many more such characters within the Asian correspondence and promise to share these with you over the coming months. 

- Helen -


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24 June 2010
Good luck with the new project. I have recently spoken with a number of people working in a variety of disciplines who have found the digitised letters and accompanying data invaluable for their research. I am sure the Asian letters are eagerly awaited.

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