Library, Art and Archives blog
Welcome to Kew's Library Art and Archives blog. Here you will find information about Kew's collections, services and fascinating work which is taking place within the section and also meet the Library, Art and Archive staff who will provide regular updates with news from projects they are involved in, treasures they have discovered and exciting new developments planned for the future. Donate now - Help Kew look after its art and heritage
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Digitising Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker's groundbreaking expedition to India and the Himalayas (1847-51) kept him away from home for over three years. The letters he wrote during that time are being digitised and will be made available online from next year as part of the Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project.
Travelling in unexplored lands and scouring remote wildernesses for plant treasures, Hooker seems to have been in his element. Indeed, in his letters he says he will not be satisfied until he has travelled the whole world:
"I wish to see the Andes & every other part of the world as much as I should no more be satisfied as a traveller by Borneo than I was by the Antarct[ic] Exped[ition]. or am by the Himal." [JDH/1/10/175-179]
Christmas away from home
But how might he have felt about being away from friends and family when his first the festive season away, Christmas 1847, rolled around? Well, his mother might have been a little put out to hear that her son was having such a jolly time during the first months of his journey to India that he was not thinking about his family at all. In fact he forgot about Christmas altogether as he confessed in a letter to her from Ceylon [Sri Lanka]:
"Our Chaplain was an excellent one, & performed the service & preached well; he startled me by the announcement of the following Saturday being xmas; for I had latterly kept no count of the weeks and months." [JDH/1/10/25-28]
Extract of a letter from Hooker to his mother, 4 January 1848
No doubt Hooker was overtaken by the thrill of setting out on a new expedition, mind fixed on the exciting adventures ahead - and new plants to be found.
He does allow that his loved ones might spare a festive thought for him, though. To his fiancée Frances Henslow he wrote on the assumption that she was missing him too much to enjoy Christmas:
"I dare say you thought of us on Christmas day & so we all did of England & English friends... I wished Lady D[alhousie]. many Happier Christmases, & flattered myself that I was not far wrong in wishing you the same. " [JDH/1/10/29-31]
A not so merry Christmas on the high seas
Hooker certainly wasn't a happy traveller that first Christmas away in 1847, which was spent uncomfortably on board the steam frigate Moozuffer:
"You I hope were more comfortable than we; for to add to the many discomforts of the present voyage... we had adverse winds & a rolling sea....[we] have to pig it out in the ship's armoury, a dirty place, next to the Engine, intolerably hot & smothered with Coal dust. We lie on mattresses on the deck; & it is all we can do to turn out tidy for meals in the cabin" [JDH//10/29-31]
Example of a 19th century steam frigate
The Christmas fare on board ship wasn't up to his standards either:
"Of Roast Beef we have none; but the more easily compassed Plum pudding was present."
In fact Hooker really wasn't a fan of Indian food at all. In a letter to his friend, the botanist and one time Director of Calcutta Botanic Garden, Nathaniel Wallich he wrote:
"In only one thing I am deceived by all you Indians in England; & that is the cookery -- which is in every respect villainous & atrocious. Your stews, pillafs, & curries I abhor & eschew, et hoc genus omne. Wines are invariably bad, ascending in scale of inferiority with the quality & price."[JDH/1/10/82-83]
The heart of a traveller
I may be in danger of painting Joseph as just some crotchety, complaining old humbug, but mostly he was an enthusiastic traveller. He was certainly willing to endure any hardship to collect plants, braving the monsoons, treacherous cane bridges, rock slides and dense uncharted jungles, lack of provisions and altitude sickness to accumulate his extraordinary collections:
"I have been here three days & again I am out of food... I had not the day a morsel of bread or meat only Tea & a case carrots... We went 2 miles through the densest scrub... rounded another cliff in the bed of the river which was up to our middle & the current very strong... A mile further we could stand out no longer... The rocks & cliffs were impracticable, the snow beds too slippery, & the icy torrents we crossed every few yards bitterly cold... The ground covered with beautiful spring flowers... These explorations are very hard work, but I get such lots of plants that they are always abundantly profitable & I am in rare health." [JDH/1/10/175-179]
Hooker's sketch of a cane bridge and Mount Tukcham, improved by Fitch, Hooker's Himalayan Journals
The ideal Christmas present?
I wish you all a very adventurous Christmas. Do come back in the New Year when Joseph Hooker's Indian correspondence will be launched online.
In the meantime, if you want to know more about Joseph Hooker - or are looking for the perfect stocking filler! - Kew publishes a sumptuous illustrated book about his life and travels, Joseph Hooker: Botanical Trailblazer, available to buy online.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about the Joseph Hooker Correspondence project, please contact me at email@example.com.
- Introducing the Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project
- Find out more about Joseph Hooker
- Search Kew's online archive catalogue
- Celebrate Christmas at Kew
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Kew's paper conservators Emma Le Cornu and Eleanor Hasler had to think big when treating a linocut of the Pagoda by Edward Bawden. Here they explain how this damaged artwork was returned to its former glory in the conservation studio.
The pagoda print
Accustomed to conserving and re-housing smaller items on paper, Emma and I were pleased to work on something large scale when Edward Bawden’s 'The Pagoda, Kew Gardens' was brought to the studio for treatment. The print is a large colour linocut and is one of a series of fifty that Bawden produced in 1963.
The print of the Pagoda before treatment
Edward Bawden (1903-1989) created numerous striking illustrations, designs and paintings throughout his career, many of which were reproduced in posters, prints and book covers. He had a strong interest in both gardening and architecture and, consequently, an affiliation with Kew developed, with Bawden often using the Gardens for subject matter. In 1936 he was commissioned to design a London Underground poster for Kew Gardens. He used the relief printing technique of linocut to create the image.
'Kew Gardens' by Edward Bawden 1936 (Credit: the Estate of Edward Bawden)
Why the print had deteriorated
It is his large scale linocuts that Bawden is most famous for, especially his later prints, including 'The Pagoda, Kew Gardens'. By applying very thick layers of printing ink, he could create bold, opaque blocks of colour to create striking and inventive images.
It was these thick areas of printing ink, however, that caused problems for the Pagoda print here in the Library, Art and Archives. Previously housed in a lightweight wooden frame, the unmounted print was attached to the top edge of the backing board. When the inappropriate hinging tape finally gave way, the print sagged and was pressed up against the Perspex. Due to the very slow-drying nature of the oils in printing inks, the media on the print was still tacky and so adhered to the Perspex, causing ink and paper loss in the image area.
Conserving the print
Prior to the print being brought into the studio, some of the ink had been removed from the Perspex using liquid nitrogen. This chilled the ink enough to remove it from the Perspex and then it was re-adhered to the print. When Emma and I received the print, large losses in the media were still evident and the paper was still distorted and damaged from being crumpled in the frame. The paper was also discoloured, mainly at the edges, which indicated the support was acidic and would benefit from having the overall pH raised.
As we are usually able to wash artworks in the sink in the conservation studio, we had to adapt our techniques for this large print. In order to remove the soluble acidity in the paper we humidified and then washed the print, using blotting paper to draw the water through the paper. By adding an alkali to the wash water we raised the pH of the paper and also removed a surprising amount of discolouration. The print immediately looked brighter, with a greater degree of contrast between the ink and paper.
The distorted thick ink layers meant that the print would not lie flat so we decided to line the back of it with a thinner Japanese paper which would serve two purposes:
- the damaged paper would benefit from the added support of an overall lining
- the print would be gently pulled flat as the lining dried
The print dried slowly in a chamber so that tensions remained even
Using a karibari board
The humidified print, with lining paper adhered onto the back, was smoothed out onto a board and then the edges of the lining paper were pasted down at the edges so that as the print dried, tensions were kept even and the artwork was remained flat.
This method of flattening and drying artworks is traditionally used for the lining of Japanese scrolls, the drying board itself is called a karibari board. Where there were losses in the media, we decided to in-paint so that the image would be continuous. We tested a number of different options for in-painting as we not only had to match the colour of the missing ink but also characteristics such as opacity and sheen as well.
Colour matching and in-painting the areas of loss.
The Inspiring Kew exhibition
The print is now mounted onto conservation grade board and is ready to be framed and displayed in the upcoming exhibition ‘Inspiring Kew’ at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art in 2014. It will be displayed along with another of Bawden’s prints, ‘Kew Palace’, also in the Illustrations Collection, to show how Bawden was enthused by his much loved visits to the Gardens.
Make your own lino print
Transport for London have created a microsite where you can find out more about Edward Bawden, about the technique of linoprinting, and design your own Kew Gardens Poster!
- Emma and Eleanor -
- Explore the view from the top of the Pagoda
- Take a look at Kew’s latest video, celebrating National Tree Week 2013, featuring the Pagoda.
- Learn more about Eward Bawden on the Tate website
- Current exhbitions at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
- Explore the Illustrations Collection in the Library, Art & Archives
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The idea behind the reindeer
In 1907 a medical missionary to Newfoundland and Labrador, Wilfred Grenfell, introduced 300 Lapland reindeer and three herder families to the north coast of Canada. Until then, the people of Labrador were reliant on harp seals for food and savage dogs for draught animals. The rapid extermination of harp seals had left little food available and the draught dogs were so savage they had been known to kill Inuits and whole flocks of sheep.
Grenfell wanted to help the people of Labrador and believed by importing reindeer, a sustainable source of meat, milk, clothes and bedding could be provided. The reindeer could also be used as draught animals, meaning people no longer had to rely on the vicious dogs.
Woman in formal dress sitting near a reindeer herd [1909?] (The Rooms Provincial Archives Division, VA 118-40.4, International Grenfell Association photograph collection)
Sir William MacGregor
After meeting Grenfell, the Governor of Newfoundland, Sir William MacGregor, became very interested in this idea and started his own botanical research into the availability of lichens and mosses in the area as a basis for reindeer food. He went on several collecting trips around Labrador (mainly to Anse Sablon and the Chidley peninsula) as well as receiving various collections from members of Grenfell's mission.
Having been friends with Kew's third director, Sir William Thiselton-Dyer, he decided to send these collections on to Sir David Prain, Thiselton-Dyer's successor. Kew Gardens was heavily involved in the determination of these specimens and concluded that at least four species found in Labrador would serve as a food supply for reindeer. As these lichens were common in the area, it was estimated that there was enough food to support over 3 million reindeer.
There are several letters in the Directors' Correspondence from MacGregor, referring to these specimens and to Kew's involvement in the Reindeer experiment. MacGregor also sent a press cutting from Newfoundland's Evening Herald, regarding the lichen and moss specimens which had been sent to Kew. Kew Gardens was, and still is, considered the highest authority for botanical matters.
"What I most desire to know is the value of the mosses & lichens in that district as food for the Reindeer. It would be of vast advantage to Labrador to have that animal introduced & bred there" (Archive ref: DC 201 f.67); Press cutting (Archive ref: DC 201 f.68).
At first, the experiment appeared to be successful and was widely pubilcised, for example in this article in the New York Times. However, the Lapp herders were finding the climate too cold and one family left after just the first year. The others soon followed and the herding was left to locally trained men. By the fourth year, the herd had increased to 1,000 reindeer but had begun to face increased poaching and abandonment by the locally trained herders.
Ten years into the experiment, the herd was drastically reduced and the remaining reindeer were shipped away to Millertown. Grenfell still regarded the experiment as a success but, unknown to him, the reindeer carried a parasite. Although there is no direct evidence that the reindeers passed this parasite on, it affects caribou in Newfoundland up until this day and this is the only place in the world where caribou are known to carry the parasite.
Reindeer swimming in a lake (From the International Greenfell Association Lantern Slides Collection, credit: the Maritime History Archive)
There are so many interesting stories and insights into the past to be found in Kew's archive of letters. By digitising them they can be accessed by people all over the world. See what you can find among the Directors' Correspondence by searching under 'Free Text' on the JSTOR Global Plants website.
- Jess -
- Browse the Directors' Correspondence online at JSTOR Global Plants
- For advice on using the JSTOR Global Plants website, see the blog post Celebrating the launch of JSTOR Global Plants
- Find out more about the Directors' Correspondence Digitisation Project
- For the latest news from the DC project follow us on twitter @KewDC
- More about Wilfred Grenfell on Wikipedia
- More about Sir William MacGregor on Wikipedia
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Explore your archive
This week sees the launch of the nationwide Explore Your Archive campaign, complete with colourful poster!
Poster for the Explore Your Archive campaign
John Smith’s list of gardeners at Kew
Across the country many archive services are hosting special events and talks to promote the treasures they hold and encourage the public to discover their past. I am going to take this opportunity to write about one of my favourite items in our Archive collections – John Smith’s List of Gardeners at Kew.
This small, unassuming volume was created by John Smith, Curator of the Gardens from 1841 to 1864, to record the hiring (and firing) of gardening staff. He includes details about the particular skills, knowledge and character of the men under his employment, and often notes where they moved on to after leaving Kew. These added details mean that we can gain real insight into the men who worked at Kew as well as the way John Smith liked to manage his gardeners.
John Smith, curator of Kew Gardens, 1841-1864
Sometimes the notes Smith has made are quite intriguing. Here he writes of the gardener George Bond that he is ‘a good and industrious workman but wants sence [sic], does very sily [sic] actions as regards his private affairs. He I fear will not succeed as a Gardener'.
John Smith's notes about George Bond
Smith seems to value the men who aim to ‘improve’ themselves while at Kew, and even offered prizes for the gardeners with the best private collections of plants. Charles Baxter received one of these prizes ‘having collected and named about 400 species’. Unfortunately, we know the ultimate fate of Baxter, as Smith recorded that he died during an expedition up the Niger river.
John Smith's notes about Charles Baxter
Researching family history
We regularly receive enquiries from people researching their family history who discover that their ancestor was a gardener at Kew. As this is the only record we have of the gardeners at this early period, I always keep my fingers crossed that I will find their name in John Smith’s list, and be able to tell their great-grandchildren a bit more about them. Although sometimes they might be quite shocked by what they discover!
Swedish gardener Knut Forsberg worked at Kew for only a year before being discharged for ‘improper conduct viz stopping away from his duty and insulting the Foreman and Curator’. Of course, we only hear the curator’s side of the story, but it would appear the two men did not end on the best of terms. Smith adds that Forsberg ‘threatened voilence [sic] on me’ and signs his name against it for good measure.
John Smith's notes about Knut Forsberg
There are thousands of archive services across the UK and Ireland and each one is unique. Whatever you are interested in; there will be an archive that contains untold stories to inspire you.
- Lorna -
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Hi, I’m Miriam, the new Archives Graduate Trainee at Kew. Before starting here, I completed an undergraduate degree in History & Anthropology at Goldsmiths College. I also worked and volunteered at a few different archives alongside my studies in order to gain experience in the sector.
These included doing a university work placement at the London Metropolitan Archives, completing a cataloguing project at the British Red Cross archive, working on a digitisation project at the Women’s Library, and sorting materials at the Lesbian and Gay News Media Archive. I’m really enjoying my new role so far, and I love learning all about the history of Kew.
Photo of me in the Archive Store
During my recent Kew induction tour I was intrigued to find out that in 1913 suffragettes attacked the orchid house at Kew, and then, twelve days later, burnt down the tea pavilion. I was keen to learn more about these events and so I delved into the archives to find some answers.
Damage to Orchid House 'slight'
On the 8 February 1913, a night stoker on his usual round of checks at 4am discovered that some panes of glass in the Orchid House had been smashed, and some of the plants destroyed. The perpetrators were never discovered, but ‘Votes for Women’ leaflets had been left at the scene. Interestingly, in a report of the damage, Kew's Director, Sir David Prain, confesses that:
“The damage done is trifling compared with what it might have been, but I trust that this fact may be carefully concealed from the public and especially from the newspapers lest its publications provoke another attempt.” ( RGBK Metropolitan Police Correspondence 1845-1920, ff.150-151)
As a result, newspapers reporting the attacks seem to overstate the extent of the damage:
RGBK Metropolitan Police Correspondence 1845-1920, ff.157-161
Some individuals also wrote to Kew's Director, having read of the attacks in the newspapers, and 'helpfully' provided suggestions on how to deal with the suffragettes. For example, Mr John C. Willis of Jardim Botanico, Rio de Janeiro, suggests bringing back the ducking stool!
DC217 folio 150
While Mr W. Popplewell-Bloxam of Kensington asks, “Is there not a blood-sucking orchid which after attracting its victims renders them [insensible] by an exhalation + then fastens its tentacles on their blood vessels!!”
DC 159 folio 6
Suffragettes defiant over Tea Pavilion arson
Twelve days after the Orchid House attack, the Tea Pavilion at Kew was burnt down.
This time, two women were caught fleeing the scene. At trial, Olive Wharry and Lillian Lenton were found guilty of the arson and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Kew holds no records about the women themselves, or their reasons for targeting Kew, but hints to their motive can be found in the Old Bailey court proceedings, during which Wharry said that she believed the pavilion belonged to the government.
While in court, Wharry also stated that morally she was not guilty, and would not submit to punishment. Once behind bars, the pair immediately went on hunger strike and Wharry's prison scrapbook - held at the British Library - reveals that she went 32 days without eating before being released.
During my time at Kew I look forward to discovering many other stories about the history of the organisation. If you would like to find out more, why not visit the Library, Art and Archives Reading Room?
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Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
Kew's Library, Art and Archives contains many millions of items within its collections. Find out about the diverse teams who look after these collections and make them accessible.
- Archives team
- Directors' Correspondence Digitisation team
- Exhibitions & Galleries team
- Library Information Services team
- Preservation team
Suffragettes at Kew: Fascinating stuff. Love the old headlines. . by: Neil
History of art in the Directors' Correspondence: the painting of an iconic Kew image: Hooker is my favourite Fellow, He was a lab bench man and it is fitting that he should also be celeb ... by: Brian S. Hartley FRS
Letters from India: some extracts from Joseph Hooker's historic correspondence.: Hi Judy, thanks for your lovely comment supporting the work of the project. Your great grandfather w ... by: Virginia, RBG Kew archive
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