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October 2013

Posted on 08/10/2013

Illustrations of Himalayan Plants (1855)


Illustrations of Himalayan Plants chiefly selected from drawings made for the late J.F.Cathcart Esqre of the Bengal Civil Service. The descriptions and analyses by J.D.Hooker M.D., F.R.S. The plates executed by W.H.Fitch.

This beautifully illustrated folio volume was published by Lovell Reeve in 1855.

This particular copy was acquired by Bedford College under the will of Miss Elinor Busk in February 1943 and accessioned in 1944.

There are twenty-four illustrated plates within the volume together with a title page featuring no less than 30 plants. The beautiful Cathcartia villosa is at the centre of the title-page. A subjective view might suggest that the most beautiful plate is Plate IV, the Magnolia Campbellii, a large forest-tree, discovered by Dr Griffith in Bhutan and chosen ‘to commemorate the eminent services of our friend Dr Campbell, Resident at Dorjiling, in connection with the rise and progress of that important Sanatarium’.

This masterpiece of botanical illustration owes its origins to the coming together of a number of eminent individuals. These were Joseph Dalton Hooker, friend of Charles Darwin and son of Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865), whom he succeeded to the Directorship of Kew Gardens. It was William Jackson Hooker who introduced Walter Hood Fitch, the illustrator, to botany in 1832. James F Cathcart (1802-51) was a civil servant and, in his spare time, a plant collector. He met Joseph Dalton Hooker in Darjeeling where he employed Indian artists to illustrate the plants he found.  

Elinor Busk may have been one of the two daughters of Professor George Busk (1807-86) (a relative of Henrietta Busk (1845-1936), described as the doyenne of Bedford College for Women) who was a naval surgeon and naturalist. From the date, it seems that the Bedford College and now the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College copy of Illustrations of Himalayan Plants may have been given to George and later inherited by Elinor.

The donation of books from Elinor Busk in her will went on to form part of the Busk History of Science Collection which is one of Royal Holloway’s Special Collections.

John Tuck, Director of Library Services


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