By: HJ Nolte
420 pages, colour & b/w illustrations
This trilogy forms the second in a series of illustrated works devoted to collections of botanical drawings made by Indian artists for Scottish surgeon-botanists, held in the library of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. In the central volume are reproduced some 200 of the drawings commissioned between 1826 and 1853 by Robert Wight (1796-1872) from the artists Rungiah and Govindoo. The first volume documents Wight's life and work as an East India Company surgeon and his major contributions to taxonomy and economic botany. The third volume is a travelogue, describing the author's journeys in search of Wight in Britain and India.
Book 1: The Life and Work of Robert Wight
Book 2: Botanical Drawings by Rungiah & Govindoo: the Wight Collection
Book 3: Journeys in Search of Robert Wight
A fascinating tale emerges of the exploration of the South Indian flora, and of the workings of the East India Company who were always on the look out for potentially exploitable natural resources. While most of Wight's botanical work (including the commissioning of the drawings) was done in his leisure time, and paid for from his own pocket, the Company from 1835 employed him as an economic botanist, and for ten years he was in charge of an experiment on the cultivation of long-staple American cotton based around Coimbatore. Wight employed local plant collectors who travelled widely through South India, often accompanied by an artist. These journeys took them through what are now the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Many of the resulting collections are held in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, where Wight studied botany in 1816 and 1817 - these include some 23, 000 herbarium specimens and 700 original drawings.
In 2005 the taxonomic part of the project was published as The Botany of Robert Wight. This dealt with the taxonomy and nomenclature of Wight's more than 1200 new species and 100 new genera, and won the 2005 Stafleu Medal awarded by the International Association of Plant Taxonomists.
The purpose of the present work is to make these wonderful drawings (only eight of which have ever been published in colour) available to a wider audience: they represent a fascinating and important part of the shared culture of Britain and India.
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