The letters of botanist Joseph Hooker are now online

By: Virginia Mills - 21/01/2014


Virginia Mills describes our new online collection of Joseph Hooker's Correspondence in which you can explore Hooker's letters from India and the high Himalayas, and look at some of his expedition collections and the plant-hunting paraphernalia held here at Kew.

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The Joseph Hooker correspondence project

You may have seen my previous blogs about the Joseph Hooker Correspondence project, teasing you with some of the great content to be found in the historic letters from Joseph Hooker's pioneering expedition to India and the Himalayas.

Now you can explore Hooker's Indian letters, in full, online, at the Joseph Hooker collection website.

 Joseph Dalton Hooker correspondence project

In the letters, Hooker writes about the challenges of plant collecting at altitude and in terra nova, and shares his opinions on everything from new kinds of tea to his imprisonment by the Rajah of Sikkim. His letters range from anecdotes about riding elephants to observations on his friend Darwin's fledgling 'species theory' and his own ground-breaking investigations into plant distribution.

In Kew's Library, Art, Archive and Herbarium collections not only do we have Hooker's letters we also hold personal items (including Hooker's own, well-used dissecting microscope!) and Hooker's scientific collections: from specimens and drawings of his famed rhododendrons, to plant products and artefacts collected on his expeditions. On the Correspondence Project website you can get a glimpse of some of these behind the scenes collections in our image galleries.

For example, this Tibetan tea pot which Joseph brought back from his expedition and which is now part of the Economic Botany Collection. 

Joseph Hooker's TIbetan Teapot

Joseph Hooker's TIbetan Teapot 

On the tea theme, here's a tit-bit from one of the letters which reveals what Hooker thought of some tea from one of the new Indian plantations:

'We had some "first chop" Kemaon [sic] Tea at Campbells the other morning & [it was] the most excusable stuff I ever tasted, as bad as "Senna" -- & yet this an indubitable sample & not a promiscuous purchase. Do not say however that I said this -- as a few words would ruin the project.' JDH_1_10_159-161

Tea cultivation in the Kumaon Hills was to explode over the next decades and become a significant commercial enterprise for the British Empire, so it's just as well Hooker didn't let his distaste become widely known. 

Joseph Hooker publications from Kew

There are loads more artefacts to see on the Correspondence website plus Kew publishes a sumptuously illustrated book, Joseph Hooker: botanical trailblazer, which features many of the items from our online image galleries plus even more material from the behind the scenes collections at Kew. It is available to buy from the Kew shop - perfect for those who prefer the on-paper experience.

And if handling a book is how you like to do your reading, they don't come any better or more tactile than The Plant Hunters. Featuring Joseph Hooker alongside other famous plant hunters, it's full of intriguing envelopes and hidden pockets containing beautiful facsimile documents from the Kew archive.  

The Plant Hunters interactive book from Kew, available on itunes

Fans of the ipad, you are not forgotten, there is also an interactive version of the The Plant Hunters book, available on the ibookstore, which includes audio readings from Hooker's travel journal - such as his entry describing a visit to an opium factory!

With Joseph Hooker available on so many platforms there really is no reason not to find out more about this fascinating pillar of Kew’s past.

-Ginny- 


 

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