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
Did you find what you were looking for?
There can be few things more terrifying than a tiger attack and when faced with such a situation, you would surely thank your lucky stars if you lived to tell the tale. A European assistant working at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Calcutta [Kolkata] in 1879, named Adolph Biermann, experienced just such an encounter and the incident is described in two separate letters in the Directors' Correspondence.
Tiger on the loose!
The first letter is from Sir George King to Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, and he gives his first-hand account of how the tiger escaped from the personal menagerie of the former King of Oudh[Awadh], in which he saw it swim across the river and enter the Gardens. He himself went unnoticed but approximately 15 minutes later the tiger encountered the unfortunate Biermann. At the time of King's writing, Biermann was recovering from the attack but it was acknowledged that he had narrowly escaped with his life. It is worth noting that King relates the news of the incident in the context of his lately being very busy due to a lack of helping hands!
Sir George King, Superintendent of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Calcutta
The attack is also related by George Alexander Gammie in a letter to a Mr Smith. Gammie seems somewhat more sympathetic than King, stating Biermann to be 'most unfortunate' and having had 'a very narrow shave of his life'. He also goes into rather more gruesome detail about the attack itself, describing the way in which a fair part of Biermann's scalp was torn off and the skull underneath exposed, amongst other injuries. Gammie goes on to say that Biermann was leaving for Europe on sick leave a little later in the year.
An excerpt from Gammie's letter describing the attack
It is always interesting to see how an event is recounted from different perspectives, and these letters serve as an example of one of the reasons the Directors' Correspondence Digitisation project is such a fascinating one. I have only been working as part of the team since March, but have already come across some very interesting material in amongst the specimen despatch notes and requests for seeds and suchlike. Such items highlight the importance of these letters from a historical perspective, as well as a botanical one. This unfortunate encounter between a naturalist and a tiger is one such example; giving an insight, however subtle, into the priorities and viewpoints of the authors as they depict the same subject matter in different ways.
Stripes in the news
A further account of the attack can be found in a local newspaper report of the time, which goes into great detail with regards to the nature of the tiger's escape, its movements and encounters with other people, the efforts to contain and destroy it and its subsequent death by the gun of a Mr Wace. The tiger, one of two that escaped and referred to in the article as 'Stripes', also attacked others before being shot, including one hunter who was not expected to survive his injuries. The reporter claims the escape was the result of 'a keeper having incautiously left the door of their cage open while cleaning it'. Of course one can speculate on the wisdom of personally keeping a wild animal such as a tiger as something of a pet! The article's narrative is fairly dramatic and suspenseful and provides another angle on the incident in addition to the anecdotal evidence of the letters.
Sir Henry Nicholas Ridley, first Scientific Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, also had a captive tiger, pictured above. Her name was Janet.
Biermann himself, though he survived, did not live to tell the tale of his encounter for very long, as he contracted cholera and died the following year. But thanks to this archive material, we have some very interesting evidence of a quite unexpected and very unfortunate event.
0 comments on 'Gardeners and tigers and scares, oh my!'
Historic Royal Connections
Kew’s royal connections extend back to the early 18th century when King George II and his son Prince Frederick began to develop two separate estates which were later joined to create the Royal Botanic Gardens we know today.
Kew and the Queen
Since her coronation, Her Majesty the Queen has visited the gardens on many occasions for both public and private events. She helped Kew to celebrate its bicentenary in 1959 by planting a walnut tree (Juglans regia), and Kew Palace hosted her 80th birthday celebration in 2006.
Queen Elizabeth celebrating Kew’s bicentenary in 1959
Her other visits have included opening the Queen’s Garden and a new Herbarium wing containing the Library in 1969. In 1982, she reopened the Temperate House, which had been under restoration for five years, and visited the Marianne North Gallery. In 2004, in recognition of Kew’s UNESCO World Heritage status, the Queen unveiled a plaque in the Nash Conservatory.
The Queen signing the Director’s Visitor Book in 1982
The Queen’s Beasts
Have you ever wondered why ten stone beasts stand guarding the Palm House? They are actually replicas of the heraldic figures representing the Queen’s ancestors which were placed outside Westminster Abbey on the day of her coronation. They help to reinforce Kew’s royal identity.
The Queen’s Beasts
So as part of your Jubilee celebrations, why not visit the Library Reading Room from the 31 May to learn more about the Queen’s relationship with Kew and to see some of the fascinating books, archives and illustrations that are on display.
- Deborah and Stephanie -
0 comments on 'Jubilee celebrations'
On Monday 14 May 2012 we were the excited recipients of the sculptures by David Nash, which are to be on display in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art as part of David Nash at Kew: A Natural Gallery which opens at Kew on 9 June 2012.
The sculptures will be exhibited in the Gallery alongside some of his two dimensional works and films associated with the sculptures themselves, while more of his sculptures will be placed within the wider Gardens, including some situated in the Temperate House.
The sculptures started arriving at the gallery at 9.30am after they were brought down from David Nash’s studio in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales
The sculptures needed to be transported to the Gallery using machinery
The sculptures were all individually wrapped and transported through the gardens on forklift trucks and tractors. Many of David Nash’s two dimensional works for the Gallery had arrived the week before, so for the first time we began to see the sculptures alongside the new drawings that Nash has completed during his time at Kew so far.
The two dimensional works were already in the gallery so the space was ready to receive the sculptures
It took until lunchtime for all the sculptures to come into the Gallery. They were brought in one by one on bases or inside frames using trolleys. The reception area was filled with about half a dozen sculptures while some were taken straight into the space.
The Gallery reception area
They were then placed inside the Gallery and unwrapped by Nash and the team. Some of the 2D works were also being unwrapped alongside the sculptures and the relationship between the drawings and sculptures began to emerge.
The 'Two Ubus' being raised to an upright position
David Nash placing the 'Two Ubus' so the cross as the top
The works by David Nash being exhibited in the Gallery all vary in size and shape, with a couple of sculptures comprising more than one element. All the works are of wood, and untreated, apart from a small number which have been burnt to achieve a blackened appearance, a characteristic feature of much of Nash’s work.
'Incised Pyramid Sphere and Cube' seen through 'Two Ubus'
The Gallery reception area will display 'Family Tree' and 'Palm Egg'
The final placing of the sculptures and the hanging of the two dimensional work took a few more days, along with the installation of the two films that will be running in the gallery. It has been an exciting but very different few days in the Gallery with plenty to do working alongside David Nash and the team.
David Nash at Kew: A Natural Gallery will open on 9 June 2012 at Kew Gardens. In the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, David Nash’s work will be displayed alongside the exhibition Portraits of Leaves and Fungi – paintings from the Shirley Sherwood Collection until April 2013.
- Joanne -
- David Nash at Kew: A Natural Gallery
- Portraits of Leaves and Fungi - paintings from the Shirley Sherwood Collection
- Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
0 comments on 'David Nash sculptures arrive in the Gallery'
As part of my traineeship in the archives here at Kew, I have been learning how to catalogue the archive’s collections to internationally recognised standards. Cataloguing collections makes them more accessible to users, because we have a detailed record of what each collection contains. I’ve really enjoyed the chance to get to know some of Kew’s collections better, which allows me to provide a more informed service for readers. Recently I have catalogued the papers of two botanists – William Price and Arthur Pearson. Read on to find out more about these two individuals, and about some of the challenges I faced when cataloguing their papers.
William Price papers
William Robert Price (1886-1975) studied Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge. He went on to work in the Herbarium at Kew. Here he met Henry John Elwes, and the two of them travelled to Formosa (now Taiwan) in 1912 to collect plant specimens for the Herbarium.
Price's photo of Kew's Herbarium (archive ref: PRI/2/2)
Price’s papers consist of a diary and collecting lists relating to his Formosa trip, and two autobiographical works about his life and career. These autobiographies contain pictures of the Herbarium at Kew as it was in Price’s day, as well as photographs of the places he visited on his travels. Price really was an excellent and amusing story teller, and his works are a joy to read. I particularly enjoyed his anecdotes about his work in the Herbarium and the individuals he worked with. The story of how Price came to work in the Herbarium at Kew is told with particular humour:
'I presented myself one day in November 1909 at Mr. Hill’s (then the Assistant Director of Kew) office, with an urgent request to him : “Can I be an Assistant at the Herbarium?”. His answer was: “No”, and I went home very cross. But I persisted and returned with the same request and received the same answer, returning home crosser! However, either because Mr. Hill couldn’t think of any other way of getting rid of me, or because he was a kind man... I received soon after a charming letter... offering me the job of Temporary Assistant at £1 a week.'
Arthur Pearson papers
One of Pearson's notebooks listing the fungal forays of the British Mycological Society (PEA/2/1)
Arthur Anselm Pearson (1874-1954) was an amateur, but highly respected, mycologist (someone who studies fungi) who was actively involved with the British Mycological Society and attended many of their forays (trips to collect and record fungi). The British Mycological Society still exists today, and I found their website very useful whilst cataloguing Pearson’s papers. It helped me to learn more about mycology (a topic I was previously unfamiliar with!) and the society that was such an important part of Pearson’s life. I also talked to mycologist colleagues at Kew to help me understand the content of Pearson’s correspondence and mycological notes. Hopefully these papers will prove useful to anybody interested in the history of fungal recording and the British Mycological Society.
Can you help? A bit of a mystery...
Whilst I was looking through Pearson’s papers I noticed that some of the correspondence was not in fact Pearson’s at all, but comprised letters from various individuals to a man named W. D. Buckley. The content of the letters indicated that Buckley, like Pearson, was a mycologist. Very little is known about W. D. Buckley here at Kew, so if anybody out there has any information at all about his life or career, we would love to hear from you!
- Contact the Archives team
- Search the Archive Catalogue
- Learn more about the Archive Collections of other plant collectors held at Kew
- Come and see us
0 comments on 'Formosa and Mycology... Cataloguing Kew's Archives'
I am a paper conservator based in the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives department, concentrating on items from the Illustrations collection. Among the varied artworks in the collection I recently treated a group of 23 Chinese tree portraits painted in watercolour on Chinese paper. This blog post describes some of the problems I encountered and the methods I used to conserve them.
About Robert Fortune
These watercolours were painted by an unknown artist who was engaged by the 19th century botanist, Robert Fortune, on his last journey to China in the 1850s. The majority depict a conifer with human figures painted at the base of each tree. An inscription inside the front cover of the portfolio explains further:
‘Chinese portraits of conifers all done by a native Chinese artist engaged by Robert Fortune.... The artist stipulated that he would only make the pictures if allowed to put a human figure in each...’
The watercolours came to me housed in a leather covered portfolio. Each watercolour was attached along the top edge to a thicker portfolio page and numbered.
Portfolio before treatment, 765 x 558mm
The condition of the watercolours presented a number of problems. Most evident was the very thin, weak Chinese paperon which they were painted, making them extremely vulnerable to further damage. They were much too fragile to be handled, viewed or exhibited. A few of the watercolours had severe tears caused by poor storage methods and rough handling. The paper had also yellowed very noticeably, most likely due to exposure to light or the degradation of additives in the paper. A small number of the watercolours had also been exposed to damp indicated by severe water staining in the form of dark tide-lines along the edges.
No. 2 ‘Keteleeria fortunei‘ (765 x 558mm) before treatment showing tears across the whole sheet and no. 22 ‘Juniperus chinensis’ (765 x 558mm) before treatment showing water damage along the left edge.
Aims of the treatment
The conservation treatments I was to carry out were primarily aimed at stabilising the condition of the paintings, and preventing their further damage and deterioration. This would entail removing them from their current housing, repairing structural damage, and re-housing them in accessible and safe mountings so that the items could be viewed and exhibited. As paintings which could potentially be exhibited as artworks, their appearance and the integrity of the images also needed to be considered.
Treatment started with the photography and documentation of each watercolour followed by testing of the pigments and inks after which they were removed from the portfolio pages. Tears were repaired from the back using Japanese paper strips and wheat starch paste as an adhesive. Japanese paper is very strong whilst being very lightweight. Wheat starch paste is also strong but is easily reversible and does not discolour with age. The water stains could not be removed as the required treatment would be too harsh for the fragile paper and so they were left as part of the paintings' history.
No. 1 ‘Platycladus orientalis’ (650 x 345mm) before and after treatment viewed with transmitted light, showing tears repaired using thin strips of Japanese paper and wheat starch paste
A very distinctive problem concerns the pigment lead whitewhich quite often darkens on exposure to pollutants in the atmosphere, changing from white to black. Most of the watercolours had been affected in this way, although largely confined to the human figures, especially the faces. After careful consideration it was decided to treat the blackened lead white to re-instate the original image whilst also stabilising it by converting the black compound to a more stable white pigment.
No. 22 ‘Juniperus chinensis’ detail showing blackened lead white, before and after treatment
The watercolours were finally hinged into new window mounts enabling their safe storage in Solander boxes in the Wolfson Rare Books Room and can now easily be put into frames if required for display.
After treatment hinged into new window mounts
It was a pleasure to work on these charming paintings and to overcome the challenges presented by their fragile paper and pigments. The watercolours can now be accessed safely and can be exhibited to be enjoyed by others.
0 comments on 'Conservation of Fortune's Chinese tree portraits'
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
Brocken Spectres and Circular Rainbows: Hello Peggy! It's always nice to hear from the descendents of people who played an important part i ... by: Helen Hartley
Brocken Spectres and Circular Rainbows: I am a direct descendant of Sir Daniel Morris. My paternal grandmother was Ruth Morris, one of three ... by: Peggy Farrington
Discovering David Douglas through the Directors' Correspondence: My husband Ken and I take tours around Mauna Kea, the vast volcano on the island of Hawaii, on Mana ... by: Maile Melrose
- english garden
- around the world
- ground breaking
- for kids
- english heritage
- for friends
- gifts that help
- the UK
- at risk
- for plant lovers
- special interest
- high up
- Kew at home
- garden plants