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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Wallich and Indian Natural History
On 6 and 7 December Kew, the British Library and the Centre for Art and Humanities Research (CAHR) at the Natural History Museum, are holding a joint conference in celebration of the 'Wallich and Indian Natural History' project, funded by the World Collections Programme.The three institutions have joined forces to reunite, online, many of their collections relating to the Danish Botanist Nathaniel Wallich and this resource will soon be available to the public.
Pastel portrait of Nathaniel Wallich, RBG Kew Library reference MO 024 (Photographed by Emma Le Cornu, copyright RBG Kew)
The Directors’ Correspondence digitisation team are looking forward to attending the conference. We have become familiar with Wallich through the digitisation of over 170 of his letters for our own project. This was no easy task: Wallich’s handwriting was very difficult to read! However, Wallich seemed to us a likeable and interesting character: a devoted family man, who openly displayed his anguish at the loss of a young child; a good colleague who enjoyed collaborating, corresponding and working with others; and a very opinionated man, with a dry sense of humour, who did not suffer fools gladly.
On leave from Calcutta
One significant series of letters in the DC covers the period 1829 to 1832. In March 1828 Wallich was granted a leave of absence from his post in Calcutta to recover his health and arrange the distribution of the East India Company's Herbarium. Wallich based himself in London and it was during this time that he published his most important work: Plantae Asiaticae Rariores. He met and collaborated with fellow botanists in London, and wrote to Sir William Jackson Hooker, then Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow.
Illustration of Coelogyne Wallichiana from Volume 1 of Wallich's Plantae Asiaticae Rariores. Image courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden. http://www.botanicus.org
Flattery gets you everywhere
Wallich was determined to prolong his stay in England. This may have been due to his health and personal circumstances, but it is also clear from his correspondence that it would afford him the best opportunity to finish the Plantae Asiaticae Rariores. However, it was not easy to persuade his employers, the East India Company (EIC), to extend his leave. In one of Wallich’s letters he provides evidence to show that Lord Ellenborough, the President of the Board of Control, wanted the Company to get rid of Wallich and his salary altogether [archive ref: DC 52/92].
Faced with such opposition, Wallich decided that flattery would be the best course of action. He implored Hooker to give all credit for the receipt of the Indian plant specimens to the Court of Directors, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the EIC, as it was their "splendid munificence" [archive ref: DC 52/57a] that allowed Wallich to bring the specimens to England. Wallich goes so far as to say that in any publication regarding the specimens, his name should be left out "as much as possible in order that the honor & credit [bestowed on the Directors] may be more satisfactory to them" [archive ref: DC 52/56].
The tactic paid off. An extension of Wallich's leave of absence was granted at the beginning of 1831 on the assurance that he would complete both the distribution and publication of his Plantae Asiaticae Rariores by 1 Apr 1832. His relief and excitement at the news was obvious:
Wallich expresses his delight at having his leave in England extended [archive ref: DC 52/94].
Wallich returns to Calcutta
Wallich left England to return to Calcutta in October 1832. In his last letter to Hooker before sailing for India his anguish at having to leave is manifest:
"my distress is beyond all utterance – it is almost beyond endurance, and my nerves are deserting me. I am shaken to the very centre – can I possibly recover from all this? But the die is cast – must go ... Once more farewell – dear Hooker – write often to me – oh forget me not – my sole consolation will be to hear from all those dear beings I leave behind me.” [archive ref: DC 53/152]
Wallich's DC letters are available to view on the JSTOR plant science website. These digital resources, together with the collections available on the Wallich and Indian Natural History website, will bring Wallich back to life and allow generations of researchers to make the acquaintance of this interesting man and most revered botanist.
- Helen -
- Browse the Nathaniel Wallich and Indian Natural History collections
- Read letters from RBG Kew's Directors' Correspondence archive at JSTOR Plant Science
- Find out about Kew's Library, Art & Archives
- Search Kew's Library Catalogue
- Find out about the Archive Awareness Campaign
2 comments on 'Meet Nathaniel Wallich through his digital archive'
Hello, I’m Debora the new Library Graduate Trainee at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for 2011/12. I have been working here for just over two months now and I’m going to tell you a little about myself and then about what I do at Kew.
For the past year I have been volunteering in two Libraries to gain library experience. The RHS Lindley Library at Wisley where I was the first library intern, and the library at the Watts Gallery, Compton. Whilst I was volunteering at the Watts Gallery I was involved with their project to set up and catalogue the Christopher Wood Library, specialising in books on nineteenth century artists which was created as part of the gallery's extensive refurbishment.
Why I wanted the role at Kew
I became aware of Kew's Library Graduate Trainee post through the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Graduate Trainee Directory. The position appealed to me because of the emphasis on cataloguing to a AACR2 and MARC standard. As I had done some cataloguing before, but not to this level, it also compliments my previous experience in less academic environments. My role as the Library Graduate Trainee involves cataloguing the new books that arrive for the Library, and then moving them through the new book display into the library collection. I also work regular shifts on the Enquiry Desk, helping to answer reader’s queries and retrieving the books they request.
A book display I produced
What I'm learning
I have not found my lack of a science background a disadvantage. As part of my training, I have recently attended a one day botany course which has helped me to a greater understanding of plant structure. It was a fascinating course which included an explanation of how plants and insects are often vital to each other’s life cycles. This has enabled me to assign call numbers and subject headings more accurately.
During my introduction to cataloguing I have been amazed at the range of books that form the Kew collection. Books range from the discusson of Lycophytes in Louisiana to garden design. One of my favourite books that I have catalogued so far has been 'Jouets de plantes, Histories et secrets de fabrications' by Christine Armengaud, which features toys made out of different kinds of plants.
An interesting book I catalogued that demonstrates the ways in which plants can be used to produce toys
During my first few weeks at Kew I have had an introduction into the different areas of the Library alongside the new Archives Trainee, Stephanie. Everyone has been so helpful and patient and I am loooking forward to a really enjoyable and informative year.
- Debora -
- Read about the Graduate Traineeships in the Library & Archives at Kew
- Find out more about Kew's Library, Art & Archives
- Search Kew's Library Catalogue
- Find out more about the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)
0 comments on 'Introducing our new Library Graduate Trainee'
The International Dunhuang Project
Recently, the Directors' Correspondence team decamped to the British Library to see some of the material they hold on the Danish botanist Nathaniel Wallich, which has been digitised as part of a collaborative project with RBG Kew and other institutions. Watch out for more news and blogs on the Wallich and Indian Natural History project coming soon.
We were also lucky enough to visit the International Dunhuang Project: a collaborative project digitising manuscripts and artefacts from Dunhuang and other sites on the Silk Road. This well established project has partners in China, Japan, Germany, Korea, Russia, France, USA, Sweden, India, Ireland and the UK allowing related but widely dispersed historical documents, photographs and relics, and treasures of all kinds to be brought together into a single digital collection of over 322,000 images and still growing!
Bundles of manuscript rolls from the walled-up temple library, Dunhuang. Digitised by the International Dunhuang Project. © The British Library.
Sir Marc Aurel Stein
At the beginning of the 20th century archaeologists began to excavate numerous sites along the Silk Road that had long been buried under the desert sands. One such archaeologist was Aurel Stein (1862 to 1943). His most famous acquisitions came from the 'Library Cave' at Dunhuang, and include the Diamond Sutra, the world's oldest dated printed book (A.D. 868). The British Library's Stein collection contains over 45,000 manuscripts as well as paintings and photographs taken by Stein on his travels all over central Asia.
Photograph taken by Stein in March 1908 of him and his researchers (and his dog Dash II) at Ulugh-mazar, China. Digitised by the International Dunhuang Project. © The British Library.
Letters from Stein in the Directors' Correspondence
Inspired by our trip to the British Library we looked up Stein within our very own DC collection and found a rather more modest two documents, which we thought were interesting none the less.
The letters from Stein in the DC collection date from October 1903 and concern ancient cereals which Stein found preserved within the ruins of ancient dwellings at Khotan, buried under drift sand in the Taklamakan desert. He explains that documents from the same site have allowed him to determine that the ancient city was ruined at about A.D. 269. Stein is interested to know whether the historic cereals are materially different from those grown in the area in the 20th century. Stein's labourers, from the nearest Oasis towns, had no difficulty in recognizing all but one of the cereals. This one was however familiar to one of Stein's party from the Kangra district in India, who identified it as a root used as a condiment. The fact that there was an Indian man within Stein's own party who recognised this condiment, apparently from an Indian plant, which Stein was digging up in China over 1500 years later, is just one small but striking illustration of how far reaching was the trade that once brought exotic commodities along the Silk Road.
Extract taken from a descriptive list enumerating the ancient cereal grains found by Stein and sent to Kew for identification. Annotations on the right hand side show that the experts at Kew identified one of the cereals as Panicum miliaceum, a form of millet still grown for livestock feed today. © RBG, Kew
Stein also enquired of Kew whether there was any truth to the stories that wheat had been grown from ancient seeds found in Egyptian tombs. If you are interested in finding out whether these enduring stories are fact or legend you can read the answer given by Kew's experts at the Millennium Seed Bank: how long can seeds live?
- Virginia -
- Read other letters from RBG Kew's Directors' Correspondence archive at JSTOR Plant Science.
- Learn more about the Director's Correspondence Project and its funders the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- See more of the amazing manuscripts and artefacts from the Silk Road digitised by the International Dunhuang Project.
0 comments on 'Digging through the Directors' Correspondence: Letters from the Archaeologist M. Aurel Stein'
Marianne North and Joseph Hooker – a gallery for the nation
November sees the opening of Joseph Hooker: Naturalist, Traveller and More at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art in the centenary year of his death. Hooker’s life is celebrated in this new exhibition which highlights his career as a botanist and plant hunter alongside his family and personal connections. Amongst his notable acquaintances was Marianne North, who spent many years travelling to exotic and remote parts of the world painting the flora and fauna she encountered. Throughout her journeys Marianne remained in contact with Kew, a place she used to visit with her father and where Sir William Hooker first introduced her to specimens she could study. In turn she depicted a number of plants that were previously unclassified, some of which now carry her name, notably the Nepenthes northiana which was unknown to western science until she painted it during her visit to Borneo and Java in 1876. In her diary Recollections of a Happy Life Marianne explains:
"I painted a portrait of the largest (pitcher plant), and my picture afterwards induced Mr. Veitch to send a traveller to seek the seeds, from which he raised plants and Sir Joseph Hooker named the species Nepenthes Northiana."
Pen and ink portrait of Sir Joseph Hooker by T. Blake Wirgman (1886)
It was her longstanding acquaintance with Kew and Sir Joseph Hooker which enabled her to "leave something behind which will add to the pleasure of others" in the form of a gallery to display her donated works. On 11 August 1879 she says:
"... having missed a train at Shrewsbury one day and having some hours to spare, I wrote off to Sir Joseph Hooker and asked him if he would like me to give them to Kew Gardens, and to build a gallery to put them in, with a guardian's house. I wished to combine this gallery with a rest-house and a place where refreshments could be had tea, coffee, etc."
A busy Marianne North Gallery
Her gallery opened to the public in 1882 and although Marianne didn’t get the tea and coffee she had wished for, she did receive a letter personally signed by Queen Victoria acknowledging her generosity and ‘gift for the nation.’
Community art project - ‘Psyche’
The Marianne North Gallery is enjoyed by visitors and researchers alongside schools and community groups. This summer as part of her role as Community Outreach officer at Kew, Jana Haragalova has been working with a number of groups on a special collaborative art project inspired by Marianne’s life and travels.
Colourful artwork in progress!
Guided by artist Sofie Layton, members from Feltham Arts, the Avenue Club and young people from the Marjory Kinnon School participated in a series of creative workshops. These explored a range of wax batik and screen printing techniques to produce colourful leaves and butterflies which will be combined to create a sculpture evoking the spirit of the Victorian adventurer. Titled the ‘Psyche’, it will be displayed in the entrance of the Marianne North Gallery from November and in the Temperate House in early 2012.
Detail of batik leaves to be used in the sculpture
This project is part of Kew’s Community Outreach & Engagement programme which is made possible by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It complements other sessions including the interactive Travelling Trunk workshops where participants have the opportunity to handle unique Victorian objects and learn about life and travelling in the 19th century as well as ESOL gallery visits. For further information about how to request a gallery workshop or a Community Outreach visit, please contact Jana Haragalova at email@example.com or on 020 8332 5696.
- Joanne and Sian -
- Find out more about the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art and the Joseph Hooker: Naturalist, Traveller and More exhibition
- Learn about Kew's community outreach programme and forthcoming events
- Discover the Marianne North Gallery and the recent conservation project for the paintings
- What's On at Kew - exhibitions
0 comments on 'A gallery for the nation'
Hello, I’m Stephanie, the new Archives Graduate Trainee at Kew. I’ve been working here for about a month now, and one of the most interesting aspects of my job so far has been helping people to research their family history.
Resources for family history research at Kew
Kew’s archive holds a number of resources which the archives team are able to use when dealing with enquiries into family history. Such enquiries usually come from people whose ancestors once worked at Kew. We have records relating to employees at all levels – not just the Directors and famous botanists, but also records of student gardeners, Herbarium staff and members of the Constabulary. Unfortunately we have no staff records for the royal period in Kew’s past, so we can only offer help if the ancestor worked at Kew from the 1840s onwards.
Members of the Kew Guild 1884, a Society that still exists for Kew staff today
We hold a number of useful staff records from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including staff lists from 1883-1993, which make it possible to track an individual’s progress throughout their time at Kew, for example by indicating that they were promoted to a new position. We also have military records, which list the men and women who were called up for service in both World Wars, giving details of what they did and where they were stationed. For certain individuals we may still have their staff files, which often include a copy of their job application, and it’s even possible that we may hold a photograph of a previous employee.
John Smith’s Record Book
One of the earliest and most interesting items used for family history research at Kew is John Smith’s Record Book. This book was compiled by John Smith (1798-1888), Curator of Kew, and lists the names of Kew employees from the 1840s to the 1860s. What is most remarkable about this book is the wonderful selection of comments (not always complimentary!) which Smith provides about many of the individuals listed, which really gives a personal insight into both John Smith and the individuals concerned. To take an example, Smith stated of a certain William Robertson that he was “An excellent man”, going on to say “It is a pity we cannot keep such a man” (p. 208).
The story of George Smith unfolds in John Smith's Record Book
Included in John Smith’s record book is the lamentable tale of George Smith, a Kew gardener apparently wrongly dismissed for stealing plant cuttings, a crime which Princess Mary of Cambridge is said to have later admitted to once she heard that George Smith had lost his position. George Smith was fortunately offered his job back. Sadly, a number of men who signed a “threatening letter” demanding that George be reinstated lost their jobs permanently.
If you believe a relative of yours may have worked at or corresponded with Kew, then do get in touch! If you provide us with their full name and the rough dates they would have been employed at Kew, as well as any further information if you have it, we can let you know if we hold any relevant records. Who knows what you might discover about your ancestors?
- Steph -
4 comments on 'Discovering your family tree at Kew Gardens'
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
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