Wallich and Indian natural history

Nathanial Wallich is a major figure in the history and development of botany in India. Much of his work, including botanical collections, watercolour drawings and correspondence, represents an invaluable scientific and historical resource for researchers and botanists, worldwide. The rich collections relating to the work of Wallich (like many similar natural history collections of the period) are now widely distributed amongst a number of European and Asian institutions. 

Partners

  • Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew), London
  • The British Library (BL), London
  • The Natural History Museum (NHM), London
  • The Indian Botanic Gardens, Kolkata
  • The National Archives of India, New Delhi

Aims

A major partnership project which will make some of the dispersed Wallich collections available to a global audience online. The Wallich collections are of fundamental importance to the story of the growth of botany within India. The content will also be of interest to other scientists, social and art historians and will act as an excellent introduction to the breadth and depth of material relating to the history of India and its economic development.

Project details

The initial scoping and digitisation project will clarify the complex relationship between the Wallich collections (drawings, plant specimens and correspondence) held at three of the WCP partner institutions (RBG Kew, NHM and BL). 

It will also explore whether the drawings collections at Kew and NHM are associated with Wallich’s famous work Plantae Asiaticae Rariories (1830-32); such confirmation would be of significant scientific and bibliographical interest.

Drawings will be matched to the relevant plant specimens, held in the herbaria at the two institutions. Where a match can be made, the relevant specimens will also be digitised.

In addition the following activities will take place as part of the first phase of this project:

  • The Wallich correspondence collection held at the BL will be reviewed by a botanical expert from the NHM with the aid of an archivist to assess the scientific and historical content of the letters. Selected material will also be digitised
  • Establishing a website promoting the scientific and historical significance of Wallich’s collections.
  • Collaboration with the Indian Botanical Gardens to assess the condition of the Wallich correspondence collection held there, and make recommendations for their conservation and digitisation.
  • Clarify the relationship of material held at the Botanical Gardens with the Wallich correspondence collection held at the BL. It is hoped that the Botanical Gardens will also be able to contribute material to the online database to ensure it is as comprehensive as possible.
  • Consultation with the National Archives of India, New Delhi to assess if they hold material relevant to the project. 
  • A south Asian scholar will conduct a survey of the key south Asian natural history drawing collections (1690-1900), held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Natural History Museum and the British Library. The survey will establish the richness and inter-connectivity of these collections, producing high-level collection descriptions. 

A second phase of the Wallich project is being planned for 2010/11.

Image: 'Hedychium aurantiacumor Orange ginger.  One example, of the many splendid “plant portraits,” to be found in the Wallich Collections at RBG, Kew and the NHM.
 

ychium aurantiacum or Orange ginger