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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To commemorate the centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace’s death, we have a new small display in the Wolfson Rare Books Room prepared by this year’s Library and Archive Graduate Trainees. Showcasing material held in Kew’s collections, the display charts the long relationship between the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, providing a view of this distinguished and hard working self-taught naturalist.
Portrait of Wallace from Kew's Art collections
Alfred Russel Wallace was born 8th January 1823, and eventually become apprenticed to his brother as a surveyor. Whist working as a drawing master at the Collegiate School in Leicester, he befriended noted entomologist Henry Walter Bates . They later exchanged letters, discussing the works of travelling naturalists, and developing a desire to make their own journey of exploration.
Deciding on the Amazon as a destination and carrying a letter of introduction from William Hooker, Wallace and Bates set out to explore the area. After parting ways with Bates in 1849, Wallace’s expedition from 1848-1852 allowed him to amass a large collection of material, assisted at times by botanist Richard Spruce. A shipwreck whilst on the return journey home destroyed all of it, save a few small items. Upon his return, Wallace spent two years recovering from the ordeal before leaving for another expedition to the Malay Archipelago. While there, he independently came up with the idea of natural selection, providing a mechanism for evolution, giving him an equal standing with the other author of the theory, Charles Darwin.
To mark the centenary of his death in 1913, we have created a display to detail the connection between Kew and Alfred Russel Wallace. The collection Kew holds of Wallace material, covering a period of 65 years, spans the leadership of four of Kew’s earliest directors. Wallace was a constant visitor to the Gardens and even corresponded with Kew for help in developing his own garden, once he had settled back in England. Whilst on his expeditions, Wallace sent many botanical specimens to Kew, including some from the Amazon, which were dispatched prior to Wallace’s return to England.
Kew's display, showing one of the fern specimens collected in Borneo
We hope you can find the time to come visit us in the Library and have a look at our display, which is on until the 20 May 2013. The display includes rare letters and publications, photographs, plant artefacts and specimens, including one of the few surviving Amazon specimens. The Library is based in the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives building on Kew Green. Entry is free and we are open Monday-Friday, 09.00-17.00. Afterwards, should you wish to know more, Kew holds a number of his publications and 135 letters from Wallace to Kew in its Library and Archive collections. The letters were sent along with many botanical specimens, which are now held in the Herbarium. Some objects are also held in Kew’s Economic Botany collections.
Some of the publications in the display
This display joins many others as part of the Wallace100 events being run this year in association with a number of other organisations. An events calendar can be found on the Natural History Museum’s Wallace page.
Letter, portraits and publications in the display
- Marc -
- Read the blog post by Kew's palm expert, Bill Baker, on Wallace to find out more about a culinary connection between botanists past and present
- For further information on Wallace, visit the Alfred Russel Wallace website
- To discover further Wallace-related events, visit the Natural History Museum's Wallace100 pages
- For further information about Kew's LAA collections, or the display, email us at email@example.com
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The First 'Friends of Kew': The global friendships that built Kew Gardens
Joseph Hooker, Director of Kew (left), and eminent American botanist Asa Gray (sat on the ground) on a plant hunting expedition in the Rocky Mountains in 1877
Join the Archivists and Digitisers at Kew Gardens to hear stories of the great friendships that developed between botanists, explorers and the Directors of Kew, as told through their diaries and correspondence. You will be able to see original documents up to 200 years old relating to such figures as Charles Darwin, Joseph Banks and Alfred Russel Wallace. The events will also include a behind the scenes tour of the Archives and a chance to see some of our treasures.
Dates are as follows:
14 May 14.30-16.00 – fully booked!
16 May 18.30-20.00
18 May 11.00-12.30
This event is free, but places are limited and booking is essential. To book a place, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lorna Cahill -
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Plant collector George Forrest, one of the first explorers of China's then remote south-western province of Yunnan (and friend). [Courtesy of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh]
Charlotte's last blog about the digitisation of letters from the remarkable plant collector and explorer David Douglas, held here at Kew in the Directors' Correspondence (DC) collection, reminded me of a number of great accounts we've uncovered relating to botanists and their dogs! I imagine such pets were invaluable in warding off wild animals, helpful in collecting game and provided very welcome companionship in what could at times be a lonely profession.
A faithful friend
The relationship between David Douglas and his little terrier Billy is especially touching. In a fantastically detailed letter from the Columbia River, dated 9 Apr 1833, Douglas lists all his personal effects as he sets out to cross Mackenzie's track at Fraser River. Alongside fifty pounds of biscuit, 12 pairs of moccasins (!), and a pair of deer skin trousers, he takes his
"most faithful, and now, to judge from his long grey beard, venerable friend who has guarded me throughout all my journies [sic], and whom, should I live to return I mean certainly to pension off, on four penny worth of cat's meat per day!" [Archive Ref: DC61 f.110]
Tragically, whilst spending the winter of 1833 in Hawaii, Douglas fell into a cattle pit and was crushed to death by a trapped bull. Meredith Gairdner, a young surgeon with the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver, had become friends with Douglas. Gairdner wrote to Kew's then Director Sir William Jackson Hooker that Douglas' body
"was only discovered on the suspicions of the islanders being excited in consequence of seeing his little dog Billy sitting alone on his coat which he had put off in order to be free of encumbrance. By this catastrophe science has lost one of his most zealous notaries, & with regard to myself I have to look back upon the hours spent in his society as among my happiest since leaving England." [Archive Ref: DC62 f.82]
Touchingly, Billy actually made it all the way back to England from Hawaii to the care of a clerk in the British Foreign Office.
Extract reads: "P.S. Mr D's little dog has been given in charge to Mr Peter Corney of the Hon. H.B. Company's Brig 'Eagle' to be delivered by him to Mr Bandinel." [Archive Ref: DC62 f.67]
A great spot of orange and 'the goodly company'
We've also previously blogged about the fascinating life of Augustine Henry who went to China to work for the Imperial Customs Service in the 1880s and sent thousands of plant specimens back to England, helping to re-ignite interest in the flora of the east. In a letter from Mengtze in 1897, Henry describes exploring with his companion Jack:
"I find when I go with my pony into the woods, that the wild animals seem less frightened; so I get good glimpses occasionally of deer, weasels, small black[?] ones and large flying ones [sic], of partridges, snakes &c. but the other day I was in a deep ravine with the pony and dog left behind on the side of the hill close. I heard loud & angry barking. I clambered up & through the trees soon discerned a great spot of orange – it loomed so large, I thought it must be a tiger. Further up I saw a beautiful leopard taking a quiet look at the pony. Loud I bellowed – no sign of the dog, the leopard skulked off over the hill. Sorrowfully I rode off, making much melancholy reflexion over poor "Jack" the dog. To my astonishment I found him lying waiting for me near the foot of the hill, in an open place[?] where he could look all around. He had been mauled but not severely by claws and teeth, but in some mysterious way had escaped out of the leopard's clutch. They talk about the spots of the leopard being protective: but there is no such brilliant object in nature, as a leopard on the sunny side of a rocky hill... Wallace is right about the happiness of animals. After such a terrible encounter, the dog immediately was in excellent spirits & had quite forgotten his danger. Curiously enough the pony wasn't a bit frightened either." [Archive Ref: DC151 f.710-713]
So far we have digitised over twenty letters from John Ellerton Stocks from the DC collection. Stocks began writing to Kew shortly after joining the Bombay Medical Service. His letters reveal his growing passion for plant collecting and my personal favourite contains a vivid and rather funny account of his 1848 travelling party in Pakistan:
"You know our Indian mode of marching? I think you would have been amused with the sight of mine – for example on leaving Shah Bilawal... "the goodly company". First and foremost my poodle-terrier (fancying himself the guide & most important person of the lot) as happy as dog can be, looking back whenever he has scrambled to the top of a big block of stone and saying "Why don't you folks get on as actively as I do." Then followed the camels in Indian file... The stone-collectors, two plant-collectors, five camel-men... Last came my servant bearing a lantern (mark of his office) and the Guide, a fine handsome Belooche... With these trots a long fleeced[?] long-horned Scinde goat bleating incessantly... a great pest by the way this same impudent goat who used to watch when I was examining plants & slily (sic) eat the specimens out of my hand- besides hunting out the half dried plants – devouring them & munching the paper." [Archive Ref: DC54 f.473]
Kinchin the thief!
I couldn't conclude without a quick mention of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Kew's second Director, who demonstrates a real affection for man's best - and sometimes rather naughty - friends. In a letter from Darjeeling, possibly to one of his sisters, Joseph describes 'Kinchin' his Tibetan mastiff cross as a great thief who one day demolished half a cheese (a very valuable ration) carelessly left within reach.
"Now he is 6 months old, & a fine youth, very well behaved, but sadly addicted to smelling. Whenever he finds a new plant, he points at it, if it is too large for him to bring, till someone comes up to his assistance, or if it be small, he fetches it to me in his mouth." [Archive Ref: JDH/1/10]
A sketch of a 'Tibet' mastiff by Joseph Hooker (left) and the final worked up lithograph, possibly by Walter Hood Fitch (right) [Archive ref: JDH Indian Sketchbook, plate 35]
I'm sure today's plant hunters would appreciate the companionship of a Billy, Jack or Kinchin!
- Kat -
- View correspondence from Forrest, Stocks and Henry to Kew on the JSTOR Plant Science website where David Douglas' correspondence will shortly be available too.
- The JSTOR Plant Science website is a huge repository of plant-based information, with many international contributors including Kew. It combines digitised historical documents, plant specimens, drawings, and published works.
- Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker's Himalayan Journals have been digitised and are available to view online via the Biodiversity Heritage Library
'The Plant Hunters' by Carolyn Fry
Kew has published interactive book for iPad "The Plant Hunters" which is featured as new and noteworthy on the Apple iBookstore.
- Watch the video of 'The Plant Hunters - The Adventures of the World's Greatest Botanical Explorers' on YouTube
- Download 'The Plant Hunters' from the Apple iBookstore
More about the Directors' Correspondence team
- Follow us on twitter @KewDCto keep up to date with our progress in digitising the North American DC collection
- Find out more about the Directors' Correspondence digitisation project
- Get in touch with the team at email@example.com
- Visit Kew's Library & Archive
- See the Douglas Fir at Kew Gardens from our Treetop Walkway
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Today, 19th March 2013, marks the 200th Birthday of David Livingstone (1813-1873), noted explorer of Africa, national hero, and friend to Kew Gardens!
Livingstone and Kew
Livingstone wrote letters and sent plants and seeds to Kew during his journeys across Africa. Below is an excerpt from a list written by Livingstone upon his return to England in 1857, describing various edible plants he encountered on his expedition.
Directors' Correspondence Vol 59, folio 190
“III. Koma a round hard rinded fruit. When the seeds taken out it is the most fashionable snuff box the Makololo have. Before being dried some of it is edible. I never tasted it.”
From 1858 to 1864, Livingstone, along with Dr John Kirk, travelled along the Zambezi River, exploring its tributaries and identifying natural resources. During this expedition, both Kirk and Livingstone corresponded with Kew, sending plants to be identified, sketch maps of Lakes along the river, meteorological observations and even tools made from plants to be displayed in Kew’s Museum. These are all still held as part of Kew’s Archive, Herbarium and Economic Botany Collections.
Reading more of Livingstone's letters
Anyone can come and visit our Reading Room to view our Livingstone letters. You can also now access them from home via Livingstone Online , an international project collecting together images and transcriptions of Livingstone’s manuscripts from many different institutions , including the National Library of Scotland, the British Library, the School of Oriental and African Studies Library, and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
- Find out about Kew's Directors' Correspondence Digitisation Project
- Contact the Archives team at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Get involved with Livingstone Bicentenary events
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Read extracts from the letters of David Douglas in the Directors' Correspondence, and learn more about this remarkable plant-hunter and explorer.
Having digitised the first few volumes of the Directors' Correspondence (DC) from North America, it is fitting that we begin our series of North American blogs with the great Scottish botanist and explorer, David Douglas. We briefly introduced Douglas in an earlier blog and his remarkable story, lively character and affection for his Scotch Terrier, Billy, make him a firm favourite with the team.
Portrait of David Douglas from Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Much can be learned of Douglas's fascinating biography from material already published, so here I just want to show a glimpse of his character and adventures using the letters he wrote to Sir William Jackson Hooker between 1830 and 1834.
Douglas In North America & Canada
Having already made two remarkable plant-hunting expeditions to North America and Canada on behalf of the Horticultural Society between 1823 and 1827, Douglas returned to Vancouver in 1830 to continue his valuable work. The DC collection contains a hand-drawn map by Archibald McDonald of the Hudson's Bay Company roughly depicting some of the areas Douglas visited on his third, and final, expedition:
Map of areas visited by David Douglas between 1830 and 1834 by Archibald McDonald, with additional annotation [Archive ref: DC 62 f.100a]
Douglas first travelled up the Columbia River, where he discovered many new species including Abies grandis (Grand Fir). A letter from this time shows that success was not easily come by; he narrowly escaped disaster on two occasions:
"An intermittent fever dreadfully fatal broke out...11 weeks ago... not a soul remains!! The houses empty and the flocks of famished dogs howling and dead bodies in every direction... I am one of the very few among the persons of the [Hudson Bay] Company who have stood it...The ship which sailed with us was totally wrecked on entering the River but I am glad to say no lives were lost. To this ship I was at first appointed and... I should have lost my all." [Archive ref:DC61 f.96]
Extract of a cross-written letter from David Douglas to Sir William Hooker, 11 Oct 1830 [Archive ref:DC61 f.96]
Collecting in California and Hunting in Hawaii
Having returned to Vancouver, Douglas then set off for California where he botanised extensively. His discoveries included Pinus sabiniana, Pinus radiata and Pinus coulteri causing him to write in a letter to Hooker "you will begin to think shortly I manufacture pines at my pleasure".
In August 1832, Douglas sailed for the Sandwich [now Hawaiian] Islands, arriving in Honolulu. From there he sent a letter to Hooker's eldest son, William Dawson Hooker, who had previously written to him about a fishing trip. He explained:
In the Sandwich Islands, the Islanders domesticate their fish. They catch when only about 2 inches long 2 kinds of mullet...which they remove to large ponds of brackish or partly salt water...where they grow exceedingly large and fine...Those fellows know something of fishing."
Extract of letter from David Douglas to William Dawson Hooker, 23 Oct 1832 [Archive ref: DC61 f.108]
In Honolulu, Douglas made many astronomical observations, although in the same letter we see that these were somewhat hampered by the wildlife:
"You must tell Joseph I have now a mortal antipathy (more if more can be) to cockroaches than he has for I made a great many observations at the Sandwich Islands...and the vile cockroaches ate up the whole paper and as there was a little oil on my shoes they nearly ate them up." [Archive ref: DC61 f.108]
Douglas returned to Vancouver and in March 1833 set off up the Columbia and Thompson Rivers to Stuart Lake, in British Columbia. Unable to find a party going to the coast, he travelled back down the Fraser River and there met with disaster:
"At the 'Stony Islands' of Frasers River...my canoo [sic] was dashed to pieces when I lost every article I then possessed...the collection of plants was about 400 species, of which 250 were mosses - a few of them were new. I cannot tell you how much this has worn me down." [Archive ref: DC61 f.112]
To add to his suffering, Douglas's adventures had clearly taken their toll on his health by this time as he wrote:
"My left eye is infinitely more delicate than ever...but my right one is no longer useful to me...I fear that the attack of ophthalmia I had in 1826 then snow-blindness then the intense scorching heat of California...has ruined it. I use purple goggles for the snow...against my reluctance[?] for it makes all plants this colour." [Archive ref: DC61 f.110]
Douglas made it back down the Columbia River and in November 1833 again sailed for Hawaii. Sadly, this was to be his last adventure as just eight months later he was found dead in a pit trap, trampled by an enraged bull. The circumstances surrounding his death sparked rumours of murder, but a subsequent investigation found no evidence of this.
Extract of Press Cutting from the Perthshire Royal Horticultural Society, 23 Nov 1885 [Archive ref: DC62 f.71a]
There are many excellent resources giving further detail about the remarkable life of David Douglas, including the recently published book, The Plant Hunters, with much of the information being taken from his letters to Hooker. Stories such as these serve to highlight the unique value of the Directors' Correspondence collection.
- Charlotte -
Buy the book
- Buy The Plant Hunters by Carolyn Fry from Kew's online shop Read about David Douglas and others in our Plant Hunters book, exquisitely illustrated with facsimile items from Kew’s archives
- Buy the ibook version of The Plant Hunters The Plant Hunters has been released as an interactive book for iPad, and is currently featured as new and noteworthy on the Apple iBookstore
- Watch our video about the ibook version of The Plant Hunters
- Follow us on twitter @KewDC for further updates and stories from the correspondence
- Get in touch with the team at email@example.com
- Find out more about the Directors' Correspondence digitisation project
- See the digitised Directors' Correspondence at JSTOR Plant Science
- See the Douglas Fir at Kew Gardens from our Treetop Walkway
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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
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