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A spot of cricket in the Directors' Correspondence archive

Katherine Harrington
21 July 2010

Read about a letter from K. S. Ranjitsinhji in the Asian Directors' Correspondence archive. Ranji was an Indian King and is also regarded as one of the best cricket batsmen of the Empire.

The Directors' Correspondence team, based in the HLAA (Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives), have just started the digitisation of Kew's collection of Asian correspondence. Our project over the next two and a half years is to summarise and scan approximately 12,000 letters dating from the turn of the nineteenth century through to the 1930s.

We are really looking forward to uncovering more tales of botanical discovery and exploration from eminent naturalists and plant collectors in Asia such as William Munro, Henry John Elwes and Frank Kingdon-Ward.

We also enjoy coming across letters from noteworthy persons who are not necessarily famous as botanists or naturalists. On that note, and as we are soon to see England play Pakistan in the Test Series, we were very pleased to find in our first volume of Asian correspondence, a letter from the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, K. S. Ranjitsinhji, known as Ranji to his friends. 

The England versus Australia team, Trent Bridge, 1899. Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, K. S. Ranjitsinhji, is second from left in the middle row. (Photo from Wiki Commons)

Ranji was an Indian King and is also regarded as one of the best cricket batsmen of the Empire. He took up the sport during his studies at Cambridge, played county cricket for Sussex, and became one of England's best known test cricketers.

Following his sporting retirement, Ranji returned to Jamnagar in the Indian state of Gujarat to become Maharaja. From here he wrote in 1909 to Sir David Prain, then Director of Kew, asking for advice regarding the planting of 'gum' or Eucalyptus globulus trees to alleviate the problem of malaria.

Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium which is transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water and Ranji reported that there was a lot of standing water in his district.  Eucalyptus trees are fast growing and are sometimes used to drain swamps. By removing the stagnant water the breeding grounds for the mosquitoes would be significantly reduced. Ranji also asked Sir Prain if other trees would have the same effect and wondered if perhaps willow might be planted in the shallow water, suggesting in fact Salix alba, the willow from which the cricket bat is made!

Extract of a letter from K.S. Ranjitsinhji to Sir David Prain from Kathiawad, India, 1909 (DC Vol. 160 f.189)

Malaria continues to be a significant health problem in tropical and subtropical areas with 250 million cases and nearly one million deaths resulting from infection every year. Now there are several anti malarial drugs available and transmission is reduced and prevented using mosquito nets and insect repellents. 

We'll be keeping you updated with more of our finds from the DC in coming weeks so do come back to check out the blog.

- Kat -

Further information

We don't yet have an online catalogue for the archive, but details of many of our catalogued collections are avaliable through the National Archives Catalogue.

  • All of Kew's Latin American Director's Correspondence is avaliable to view online for those with access to the JSTOR Global Plants initative.
  • Learn about the history of Cinchona bark as a treatment for malaria.
  • Did you know Ranji has a cricket competition named in his honour?
  • Find out about Harry Potter's Whomping willow at Kew.

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Comments

3 June 2014
Comment: 
Hi Anne, thank you very much for your enquiry. I'm so glad you found this resource of interest! Our archives team will be in touch via email and will be very happy to provide you with a copy of Ranji's original letter. Kind regards, Kat.
2 June 2014
Comment: 
I am the author of a biography (Ranji: Maharajah of Connemara (2002) of the famous cricketer Ranjitsinhji. I am presently preparing a revised edition of the book and was intrigued with your extract from Prince Ranji's letter to the director of Kew (DC Vol.160 f.189). I wonder if it is possible for me to get a copy of the full letter. I will be happy to refund any expense involved. Much thanks Anne Chambers
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