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?
For those of you that are familiar with how archives work, you will be aware that collections are constantly growing, as new documents and items come in. As well as being a place to store records from the past, new records and other items appropriate for archival collection are also constantly being produced. You never know, that e-mail that you sent the other day might just end up in an archive in the future!
Part of the Monica Cole collection
How items arrive in the archive
Here at Kew there are several ways that items come into our archival collections. We have a records management programme which ensures that once working papers are no longer of current business use, they are transferred into the Archives if they are of historical interest. This process enables us to capture key Kew records for prosperity, including the details of our new buildings, lists of Kew staff and scientific research.
In addition to these official Kew records we also collect papers related to botany in general, such as the papers of eminent botanists. We are fortunate in that the majority of these documents are donated to us either by the botanists themselves, or by their families. Occasionally papers also come up for sale at auction or via rare book sellers. In these cases we sometimes have to raise funds to enable us to bid for them.
Jack Hawkes papers, including photos from the plant collecting expedition to Peru in 1939
A snapshot of our accessions in 2009
In 2009 we accessioned 23 collections into our Kew official papers, 35 new collections into our personal papers, several hundred registered files and hundreds of items of ephemera into our Kewensia collection. The official papers included 155 Kew posters, oral history recordings, maps and postcards. Last year was also a particularly good one for the donation of personal papers. Here's a list of some of the highlights:
- around 100 collecting notebooks of Professor Jack Hawkes (1915-2007) and images from his plant collecting expeditions to Latin America and the Far East,
- 25 boxes of papers of Gerald Wickens (1927-) the baobab tree expert,
- 23 files of Frank Pagnamenta’s (1909-2009) research on the aiton family,
- 20 new boxes of Monica Cole (1922-1994) papers (to add to the 164 boxes that we already hold),
- the Cumberlege Thai Orchid Archive (1959-1965),
- 12 boxes of the papers and books of Reginald Rose-Innes (1915-), the eminent grassland ecologist.
Members of the Archives team will be blogging about some of the more fascinating aspects of these collections shortly.
Help Kew's archive grow
At the end of each year we submit details of our archive accessions to the National Register of Archives. You can browse the NRA website to find out more about our recent acquisitions.
We are always interested to hear from people who might be willing to donate original material such as letters, diaries and collecting notebooks related to botany or the history of the Gardens. If you think that you may have something like this, please do get in touch and help our archives grow!
- Kiri -
If you would like to donate something to the Archives, please contact Kiri at email@example.com
- See our website for further details on the Archives and how to view them
- Read about records management in the public sector
- Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog - 'Hawkes papers find a home away from home'
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Our Assistant Archivist Michèle recently blogged about love in the archives to coincide with Valentine's Day. This got the Director's Correspondence team talking about the theme in our collection. However, it was not love we ended up noting, but the loneliness experienced by some botanical collectors as they ventured into sparsely populated and inaccessible areas in South America, the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean in search of plant wonders. During their travels they often ventured truly off the beaten track.
In the 19th century, botanical stations were established on many of the West Indies islands. A significant proportion of our correspondence concerns these outposts, which functioned variously as plant nurseries, experimental plots, exchange posts and educational tools. When seeking new employees, the Directors of these stations or the local Government would write to senior staff at Kew for advice listing the sort of qualities they desired in an employee. Many such letters express the desirability of a married man!
In 1890 William Fawcett, Director of Public Gardens and Plantations in Jamaica, writing to Daniel Morris then Assistant Director of Kew, remarks upon the loneliness of the Cinchona botanic station. He already had to repost one gentleman owing to isolation and was now looking to employ a man who has 'plenty of occupation of his own in the evenings' (DC 210, f.255).
Robert Hermann Schomburgk (1804 - 1865) was an explorer and naturalist celebrated for his surveying work especially in British Guiana . He was knighted by Queen Victoria and worked in various official capacities, including a posting as the British consul to Santo Domingo.
From there we have a detailed and moving letter from Schomburgk in 1850 to William Jackson Hooker, then Director of Kew (DC 70, f.290). He feels that he now stands 'alone growing old, and have no person with whom to exchange my ideas, whom[?] to cherish'. He has frequently thought that he 'threw one chance away, and this was when you [Hooker] put the two Misses W. under my protection: the elder of whom, I thought pretty and most amiable'.
Unfortunately we do not know the 'Miss W.' to whom Schomburgk refers and he never married. In the same letter Schomburgk remarks that 'these are petty confessions and nothing to do with science at all – nor do I know how they flew into my pen'. However, his confessions offer a candid opinion amongst a collection often formal in tone.
In spite of their often isolated situations and the great distances that separated correspondents from loved ones in Europe it is frequently apparent in the correspondence that it was the love and enthusiasm for their work which spurred gentlemen like Schomburgk on. Colonel Richard Clement Moody, Lieutenant Governor of the Falkland Islands in the 1840s writes to William Jackson Hooker on many occasions mentioning tussock grass. Moody chastises himself for dwelling on the subject but notes that his 'heart is always full when he thinks of it' (DC 70, f.205).
Doubtless the communication with colleagues and friends afforded by steam packets travelling regularly across the Atlantic was also vital in helping overcome isolation. Correspondents eagerly awaited the latest news and publications and just like today, the latest gossip!
- Find out what else our correspondents sent to Kew whilst on their travels.
- Explore Kew's work in the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean
- For more specific information on Kew's archive holdings visit the Archive webpages.
- JSTOR subscribers can view the Directors' Correspondence from Africa and Latin America on the GPI website.
- See our catalogues on The National Archives website
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Hello! This is Craig Brough, Information Services Librarian, with my colleagues Marie Humphries, Lizbeth Gale and Tracy Wells. We are a small team within Kew's Library, Art & Archives. The kind of things that we deal with include:
- requests to use library material and providing responses to general enquiries,
- supplying library material for visitors to enjoy and producing copies of this in both paper and digital form,
- providing guidance to visitors on how to use the Library Catalogue, on what we have in our collections, and also on what is available in other libraries and on the web.
Many people see Kew as being synonymous with horticulture, but it is actually the case that our library collections are richer in material on wild plants in their natural habitats and the explorers who brought them to Europe. We also hold materials related to ethnobotany (the cultural and economic value of plants) and the genetic makeup of plants.
So, if you are visiting another part of the world and are interested in its flora, we may be able to give you an idea of what you might find there. Or, if you discover an interesting object made from plant fibre or wood and wish to know more, we may have this documented. If you are interested in how plants have been used in medicine, we can help here too.
To get in touch, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +44 20 8332 5414.
- Craig -
- For further information about Library, Art & Archives see our webpages
- Search the Kew Library Catalogue online
- Full Library contact details and visitor information
1 comment on 'Making the most of Library Services at Kew'
Hello, I’m Michèle Losse Assistant Archivist at Kew. With Valentines Day around the corner, I thought I'd write about some of the love letters that I've found the Archives. You may have thought that most of the correspondence contained in our Archives relates to botany and plant collecting. I discovered however, that many correspondents also discussed personal matters, such as the subjects of ‘wives’ and ‘marriage’!
(Image: Roger McLassus; this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.)
In times gone by, quite a few ladies accompanied their husbands on expeditions, and they were keen to talk about this in their letters. Mary Livingstone, the wife of missionary and explorer David Livingstone (1813-1873), accompanied him on many of his adventures. In December 1861, during the Zambesi Expedition in South Africa, Livingstone wrote to Sir William Hooker ‘My wife is I believe now on her way out here after a 3 years unexpected separation’ (DC 60, f.179). He had clearly missed her when she had needed to return to England due to ill health. Unfortunately she died of fever the following year, contracted whilst on the expedition.
Another botanist, William Keit from The Natal Botanic Gardens in South Africa, wrote to Sir Joseph Hooker saying that he does not yet have an assistant but that he has ‘treated myself to a wife’ (DC 190 f.791). I'm not sure whether in this instance it is love or necessity which drove him to matrimony!
In 1877, Sir Joseph Hooker left his beloved wife Hyacinth for a trip to America to visit his old friend Asa Gray and to undertake a tour of North America for 11 months. The letters he sent to Hyacinth show how much he enjoyed the trip but also that he missed her: ‘I do long to see you again and stroke your face. I am as anxious to be back as you can be and begin to count the days. I am most anxious to hear of you.’ In another, ‘this is my last letter to you from America, I am pleased to go, for I am wearying to be home and with you’ (Hooker/Gray letters JDH/2/22).
Photo of Frank and Jean Kingdon-Ward
Frank Kingdon-Ward was the last of the great plant hunters in the 20th century. His first marriage to Florinda Norman-Thompson in 1923 had failed after 14 years; Frank was away on expeditions for at least 10 of these years, and Florinda didn’t share his passion for plants or far flung shores. When Frank met Jean McKlin, in 1947, it was love at first sight; she was much younger than him and despite her parents’ opposition, they married. He provided her with the adventure she craved for, and she accompanied him on his expeditions.
Letter from Jean Kingdon-Ward (FKW/1/38)
The Kingdon-Ward collection contains many letters to and from Frank as well as photographs and diaries; these are by no means ‘technical’, they contain a wealth of information and observations as well as many references to Jean which show how fond he was of his new wife ‘my 63rd birthday. Darling Jean had a lovely birthday surprise for me…’ (FKW/1/21). Jean herself gave her husband a moving letter after their return from one of their expeditions in 1948: ‘Thank you so very much sweetheart for a lovely three weeks plant hunting .. I love you with all my heart for ever and ever, oh so much darling..’ (FKW/1/38). Reading this I really felt I was intruding into their personal lives...
- Michèle Losse -
- For further information about the Archives, see our webpages or contact email@example.com
- For details of papers held in Kew's Archives on Joseph Hooker and Frank Kingdon-Ward, and other collections see our lists in The National Archives' Catalogue
- More papers on Frank Kingdon-Ward held at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
- More papers at the Royal Geographical Society, including photographs
- More about Kew's historical links overseas
4 comments on 'Love in the Archives'
Here is another little taste of what we have come across in our work digitising Kew's Directors' Correspondence collection. Robert Blake White is an interesting character who wrote to Kew Gardens c.1868 to 1899. His letters concern such diverse subjects as the collection of native Colombian artefacts, or 'grave goods', to his own forthright opinions on gardening in synch with the phases of the moon.
White went to work in Colombia in South America as an engineer and he writes of his travels throughout the country, the things he saw and the collection of artefacts he made on his way. His letters mention chisels, clay whistles, earthenware musical instruments and pottery goods, which he offers to send to Kew, along with interesting plants he found. Many of the fruits and seeds White collected are in Kew's Economic Botany and Herbarium collections, and some of the artefacts mentioned by White in the Directors' Correspondence were later transferred to the British Museum.
Sketches of some of the antiquities White has seen; two pottery jars and the heads of two gigantic stone figures at San Augustin, Colombia.
Gardening by the Moon
White's letters also reveal that it wasn't just plants and artefacts he picked up in Colombia, he also adopted some of the local ideas about farming and cultivation. A letter White wrote from Palmira in 1896 explains his belief that the moon has a profound effect on both the flora and fauna of the tropics, where the seasons are less distinct. His theory is that plants grow under the influence of the new moon and rest for the remainder of the lunar period. He gives a list of 13 practical rules for lunar planting. White believed all these rules should be followed by horticulturists and arboriculturalists, for example: tree resin should be collected at the new moon for a greater yield and medicinal plants should be harvested after the full moon to benefit from their full potency.
'Gardening by the moon' has a long tradition. The ancient Roman scholar Pliny observed in around AD77 that: "it is a point most religiously observed to insert the graft during the moon's increase" [Naturalis Historia 17.24 trans John Bostock and H.T. Riley]. White's letters to Kew, hundreds of years later, give the very same advice. Some gardeners to this day hold to the practice of lunar planting and farmers' almanacs have an established tradition of using lunar cycles to guide their calendars.
What do you think?
White's botanical practices may seem to be founded purely in tradition but his letters do display an effort to ground his theory with scientific reasoning and he bases it not only on inherited wisdom and superstition but on his own observations during the thirty years he spent in Colombia. Perhaps those of you with green fingers or veggie patches have your own planting traditions? We're interested to hear what you think, so please leave a comment below if you have an opinion on lunar planting, or just tell us about what you get up to in your gardens...
- Ginny -
- See Robert Blake White's letters to Kew Gardens in full and explore what else is in the Directors' Correspondence collection online at JSTOR Global Plants Initiative
- Meet the Directors' Correspondence digitisation team
- For further information about the Kew Archives see our webpages
- Building a global network - Kew in South America
- Explore Kew's Economic Botany collection
- Discover Kew's Herbarium
2 comments on 'Colombian curiosities in the Directors' Correspondence at Kew'
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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
- Directors' Correspondence Digitisation team
- Exhibitions & Galleries team
- Library Information Services team
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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
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