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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The Illustrations Team care for Kew’s collection of over 200,000 botanical illustrations. This world class resource includes the work of 18th century masters such as Georg Dionysius Ehret, 19th century illustrators, such as the prolific Walter Hood Fitch, and contemporary artists contributing to current publications.
The team also have responsibility for Kew’s historical images, its portrait collection of eminent botanists, and its many art and artefacts – including the ingenious folding chair reputedly used by Sir Joseph Banks aboard the Endeavour, and collection of wax orchids beautifully crafted by the 19th century artist Edith Blackman.
Tulip ‘Baquet Rigaux optimus’, by Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770)
Marilyn, Illustrations Curator, manages the section of staff, and is assisted by Lynn, Assistant Curator, Julia and Marie, Illustrations Assistants, and Trishya, Library and Illustrations Assistant. The team is also fortunate to receive help from its volunteers, who play a crucial role in assisting with the many tasks required to maintain the illustrations and identify material, in order to respond to the numerous enquiries generated by this resource.
The section deals with a wide range of queries – from botanists studying an illustration for identification purposes, to authors and artists researching a particular illustrator or plant. Some illustrations are the first cited reference for a named plant, and serve as type illustrations in much the same way as the type specimens in Kew’s Herbarium. We all feel privileged in our work and never know what treasures we will uncover when researching the next enquiry!
Appointments can be made to access the illustrations collection, for those with a genuine research need; members of the public can see examples on exhibition in Kew’s Shirley Sherwood Gallery, which opened in 2008. The gallery provides a fantastic showcase for Kew’s artworks as well as the many beautiful illustrations which form the private collection amassed by Dr. Sherwood.
Kew’s illustrations collection continues to grow with purchases made through its modest acquisitions budget and through bequests and the sponsorship of artworks.
If you have any queries about the illustrations collection please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Julia -
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The Directors' Correspondence team really enjoyed the recent tropical flower and orchid displays as part of this year's Tropical Extravaganza and thought it might be appropriate to highlight the correspondence of an avid orchid hunter we came across in the Asian Directors' Correspondence. It's quite unusual for us to find very large items in the collection, but at the start of a volume we uncovered a highly detailed hand drawn map. To allow us to photograph the map without damaging it a member of our preservation team carefully unfolded, flattened and carried out repairs along the fragile creases. A little research revealed that the map was from a Mr C.S.P. Parish.
Detail of a map by Parish of a collecting trip c.1859. The hand drawn map depicts an area of Burma from Beloo Gyoon (Bilugyun) Island in the West to the 'Shan Country' in the East. Geological and botanical features have been added. DC Vol. 56 .f1. (Image: RBG Kew)
Charles Samuel Pollock Parish was born in Calcutta, India in 1822. Educated at Oxford University, with a Bachelor of Arts he entered into the ministry and in 1852 was sent to Moulmein, (now Mawlamyaing), Burma. Initially Parish sent plants to his correspondents in England for identification, particularly to Kew's first Director Sir William Jackson Hooker and another well known botanist, John Lindley. In his correspondence Parish initially demonstrates a great interest in ferns and mosses, which he eagerly collected and examined. Whilst out hunting for mosses he came across a new orchid which Lindley named Porpax parishii in his honour, and so began Parish's lifelong interest in this family of plants. At one point he tells Hooker that he has over 100 orchid species growing in his compound.
Charles Samuel Pollock Parish (1822 - 1897) (Image: RBG Kew)
Parish made an annual tour to Tavoy and Mergui and explored many 'terra incognita' with a gentleman named Major Tickell, a keen ornithologist. Several of Parish's letters provide detailed accounts of collecting trips and the difficulties he encountered from inaccessible limestone rocks, using elephants as orchid bearers and being permitted very little leave from his official duties for his botanising. In one unhappy instance he records the loss of seven cases of plants on board a steamer in the Ganges. The cases contained seeds and drawings representing everything he had collected on his trips to the Shan states and Tavoy district. Many of these species he believed he would never find again. On another occasion he records the sad loss of one of his knowledgeable and faithful collectors who died on a recent trip to the jungle. The collector set a fire to drive a wild pig out of its lair, but the flames engulfed the tree that he had climbed to get out of the way.
In spite of setbacks Parish made a host of new plant discoveries including Cymbidium tigrinum, found in the Tenasserim Mountains. Species of Coelogyne, Habenaria, and Vanda are named in commemoration of him, as well as Parishia, a nonorchidaceous genus from Malaya. We also have a number of Parish's plant specimens in Kew's herbarium including c.45 type specimens.
As well as providing detailed accounts of his plant collecting Parish's correspondence also contains more light hearted remarks on the botanical works of the day. For instance he enjoyed reading an account of the Durian fruit given in a paper by Alfred Russell Wallace but feels that a record should also be given by somebody who dislikes the fruit: Parish is repulsed by its smell, said to resemble rotting onions or turpentine, and notes that if hung in a closed painted room for a day, then any dirt can easily be removed from the walls afterwards!
Parish was a talented painter and illustrator and often transmitted sketches to Hooker to aid the identification of his specimens. In 1871 Parish came to England with a large collection of his drawings and presented these to Kew and they are part of our Library, Art and Archives collection today. In 1878 Parish retired and returned to Somerset, England, continuing his interest in orchids and botany in general. He died quietly in his sleep in 1897, at the age of seventy-five.
A watercolour sketch of the orchid Drymoda picta observed at Moulmein, November 1869, from Parish's 'Drawings (coloured) of Orchidaceae (executed chiefly at Moulmein between the years 1856 and 1874)' (Image: RBG Kew)
- Katherine -
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Recalling one of his expeditions in ‘Travels of Malaya’, written in 1912, Henry Ridley writes that:
“I camped once for ten days in the forests… a few hundred yards away was a track so covered with fresh footmarks of elephant rhinoceroses, tapir deer pig and tiger that it was impossible to put down a stick without touching one of these.” (HNR/4/24)
"Janet" the tiger, an image found amongst Ridley's papers in the Archives (Image: RBG Kew)
This passage shines a light into a different side of the collections held at the archives here at Kew, showcasing the extraordinary wonder of the natural world encountered by plant hunters, beyond the botany! ‘Travels in Malaya’ (HNR/4/24) provides a unique insight, which allows us to see the world through the eyes of the intrepid explorer and botanist at the turn of the twentieth century. Michele recently posted a blog post about the plant hunters of Kew, in which she highlighted the courageous and devoted nature of these individuals who endured extended periods of time in lonely and physically challenging environments.
Ridley, Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1888-1911, spent a great deal of time exploring the surrounding territories. During his travels, it seems that he took a great interest in wildlife. Even at home he showed a keen interest in the animal kingdom. It is said that “until he became bedridden he was a never-failing observer of the birds in Kew Gardens.” (ODNB)
Image of Ridley feeding a tapir (Image: RBG Kew)
We are fortunate that as well as being a ‘versatile and entertaining conversationalist’, Ridley enjoyed and had a talent for expressing his reminiscences to others. Another animal encounter, this time with tigers, is duly recorded in his notes and begins:
‘I will now give some account of the most superb and beautiful mammal in the world, the great cat known as the tiger...’ (HNR/4/24)
Ridley's Travels of Malaya, HNR/4/24 (Image: RBG Kew)
Ridley’s ensuing description of the tigers in the Malay Peninsula are just one of many poignant accounts found in his papers, particularly in light of the plight of the many wild and now endangered species in the world’s forests today. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who last year celebrated the ‘Year of the Tiger’ with a campaign to save the endangered species, threatened by poaching and deforestation. The comparison between what Ridley saw in Malaya and what one might see today after a night camping in the forest may be quite striking!
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To mark the completion of the conservation of the Marianne North Gallery and all the paintings, and timed to coincide with the special event marking this on 29 March 2011, the Library, Art & Archives’ new display shows a different side to Marianne North from the more familiar one on view in the Gallery.
The Gallery is Marianne North’s chief legacy and, in our display, you can see the 1879 letter in which she proposed the building of it to Sir Joseph Hooker, as well as her own plan of the lay-out of the paintings. We also have a couple of letters, one to her maid Annie on the occasion of Annie’s marriage, and the other to a friend, Dr Allman, describing her efforts to get to a good position on top of a rock from which to paint – this letter comes with a little illustration of Marianne perched on this rock!
Inside the restored Marianne North Gallery (Image: RBG Kew)
Kew is lucky enough to have paintings in addition to the ones selected for the Gallery, and you can see five of these in our display. They are more like holiday snaps of the local sights: she painted temples and other buildings and often, as can be seen in the Gallery pictures, animals. We have two featuring elephants; in one scene a herd are taking a dip in a river, which may be Lucknow: “I saw some odd things in Lucknow; one of the oddest, twenty elephants taking their bath, each with his attendant scrubber. I tried to paint this” (Recollections, vol. 2, p.24). The other painting shows the following scene: “[In Bhaunagar] then we paid a visit to the famous elephant which had been brought up with a goat, and could not bear to see anyone touch his friend or even her two kids. He pawed the ground, threw up his trunk, and roared with rage till she was free again, then stroked her with his trunk, and pushed the hay and green stuff towards her, allowing the little kids to walk over his feet” (Recollections, vol. 2, p. 80). Marianne had already had a closer encounter with an elephant. At Hardwar, “an elephant was put at my command; but one ride was enough. I did not enjoy his slow, slouching walk and high-over-every-bodyishness” (Recollections, vol. 1, p. 349).
A Marianne North painting now returned to the Gallery following Conservation work (no.19) (Image: RBG Kew)
"A perfect home in the country"
Our display also includes two paintings of Alderley, the home in Gloucestershire she rented from 1886 for the last five years of her life – “a perfect home in the country ... and a garden to make after my own fashion”. She took particular pleasure in creating the garden, for which she received plants from, among others, Kew (“all sorts of foreign rarities” according to her sister Catherine) but the commoner plants seemed to delight her the most: “No life is so charming as a country one in England, and no flowers are sweeter or more lovely than the primroses, cowslips, bluebells, and violets which grow in abundance all round me here” (Recollections, vol. 2, p. 330, 333).
You are welcome to visit the Reading Room to see the Marianne North display, please just let us know if you are coming by email: email@example.com, telephone: +44 (0)20 8332 5414 or by writing to Library, Art & Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, TW9 3AE.
- Fiona -
- See details of Michelle Payne's new book on Marianne North
- Read Marianne North's Autobiography online
- Discover how you can play a part in safeguarding the future of the Marianne North paintings
- Check out the full Library contact details and visitor information
- Search the Kew Library Catalogue online
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This month, the Directors' Correspondence team has been reading through the letters of Richard Oldham (1837-1864), a gardener sent out by RBG Kew as a botanical collector in China and Japan. The collection includes a copy of Oldham's contract which required him to stay on board ships designated by Sir William Jackson Hooker. From the letters it is clear that this agreement did not end well, and Oldham was in fact the last full-time botanical collector to be employed by RBG Kew in this way – but was he the idle and wayward botanist that Hooker presumed him to be?
Section of a copy of Oldham's agreement with RBG Kew, signed by himself and Sir William Jackson Hooker
Oldham's letters have given us a great insight into the trials and tribulations he encountered during his time in Japan; transport problems, bad weather, financial troubles and illness all hindered his collecting to some degree. Unfortunately his slow progress led Hooker to accuse him of being idle, perhaps expecting Oldham to take after his predecessor Charles Wilford, who was dismissed after he stopped sending specimens back from Japan.
The problems of a plant collector
Oldham encountered many transport problems, at one point waiting four months to board his next ship and missing an opportunity to collect in Yokohama as a result. His plight was taken up by Henry Fletcher Hance, the British Vice Consul in Whampoa, who wrote to Hooker saying: "I cannot but think that his being bound to a ship ... has taken away much of his time, & that he would have done better could he stay for a whole season at one place". His travels were also fraught with danger owing to the political unrest in Japan at the time. He describes how it was not safe for him to visit Tokyo [then called Yedo] after a "vile and murderous" attack had recently taken place on the British Legation there.
Financial problems also added to Oldham's woes and he repeatedly complains about the high cost of living and unfavourable exchange rates in Japan. He tries to claim for expenses such as equipment, boats, specimen purchases and doctor's bills but stresses that he pays for wine and beer out of his own salary and that if he did not drink occasionally he would be "entirely unfit for further exertion". Unfortunately, in a strongly worded response, Hooker shows no sympathy and instead reprimands Oldham for not sending the necessary proof of expenditures in order to settle his accounts. On top of all this, Oldham suffered from sea sickness which affected much of his collecting while on board the ships. He also complains of neuralgia, rheumatic pains and of contracting smallpox in Amoy, which led to one of his collections being spoiled. Oldham eventually succumbed to dysentery and died at the age of 27.
The type specimen of Scolopia oldhamii collected from Taiwan by Richard Oldham in 1864 (Image: RBG Kew)
Shortly before he died, Oldham decided to leave the ship he was on and travel to Taiwan [then called Formosa] to further his collections. Hooker, however, took this as a resignation of Oldham's duties from RBG Kew and refused to fund him further, thinking that he intended to profit from the collections. Despite these many hindrances, Oldham sent back over 13,000 dried specimens from Japan and Taiwan and several species, such as Gypsophila oldhamiana and Scolopia oldhamii, are named after him. Other letters in the DC collection attest to his diligence and enthusiasm for his work - indicating that Hooker may have unfairly judged the last botanical collector.
Oldham's letters are currently being digitised as part of the DC digitisation project and will be available to view to subscribers on the JSTOR Plant Science website in the future.
- Learn more about the Directors' Correspondence digitisation project
- Subscribers can view more of the Director's Correspondence content online at JSTOR Plant Science
- See more of Oldham's plant specimens by searching the Herbarium catalogue
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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
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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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