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Francis Buchanan’s Bengal Survey botanical drawings and specimens reunited after 203 years

In a blog post for Botanic Stories, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Henry Noltie writes:

Since September I have been working, on and off, on the fantastic collection of Indian botanical drawings at our sister organisation, Kew. This started out when asked to select some works for an exhibition of Indian paintings to be curated by William Dalrymple at the Wallace Collection in London next September. With the bit firmly between my teeth, I continued to do what I have been doing for the RBGE collection for the last two decades – taking the drawings out of their arrangement in a taxonomic sequence and reassembling them by commissioner and/or artist. Only after doing this is it possible to undertake serious research on the drawings and to start to restore lost information and context. The collections I am most interested in are those that had gone to Kew with the scandalous dispersal of the East India Company’s India Museum in 1879. Because Kew, in the 1890s, had generously given Edinburgh a relatively small number of drawings that were considered to be ‘duplicates’, I was familiar with most of the subgroupings. Before the dispersal India Office clerks had added pencil annotations identifying these subgroups, three of which are relevant to the present story. The self-explanatory ‘Buchanan’ and ‘Hamilton’ collections (Buchanan changed his name to Hamilton, in 1818, three years after his return to Scotland) and the enigmatic ‘Royle, Carey and Others’ (RCO).

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By: Martin Wingfield
Last updated: Thursday, 20 December 2018