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The First Botanical Collectors in Nepal: The Fern Collections of Hamilton, Gardner and Wallich

C.R. Fraser Jenkins (Author)
Synopsis This book is the story of how the first botanical collectors and plant-hunters began their exciting voyages of discovery in the previously forbidden Kingdom of Nepal, the richest botanical area of the fabled Himalaya, that was just beginning to become accessible in the early nineteenth century. The first was Dr. Francis Buchanan (later Francis Hamilton) in 1802-3, who was a prolific writer of detailed reports on his expeditions and whose collections went to the Natural History Museum in London, including an almost lost Flora of Nepal, which was never published. Following him the remarkable first British Ambassador to the court of the Rajah of Nepal, the Hon. Edward Gardner, took up botany to while away the time he had on his hands from 1816-1820 while gradually creating better relations with the formerly hostile Nepalese Gorkhas. Yet his story has been almost unknown to botanists and historians alike, even though his collected herbarium-specimens survive at the Natural History Museum in London and, along with Buchanan's, from the basis of the earliest study of Hiamalayan plants, David Don's once savagely criticised, but nevertheless most important foundation-work, the Prodromus Florae Nepalensis of 1824. Finally the story is told of the famous Dr. Nathaniel Wallich, Superintendent of the botanical gardens at Calcutta for the Hon'ble 'East India Company, and Asia's foremost botanical pioneer, whose lifetime of dedication to Botany opened up the secrets of the rich botanical diversity of much of Asia to scientific study. His work took him to Nepal in 1821-22, where he proceeded to catalogue the Nepalese flora, and wrote a detailed book on Nepalese ferns that had lain unnoticed in a cupboard in Calcutta, unknown to all botanists, for nearly 200 years until rediscovered by the author in 2003. Wallich's energetic collection, study and work on the largest collection ever brought to England resulted in a great leap forward in botanical research throughout Europe and Asia on an international scale due to his cataloguing and distribution of over 200,000 duplicate specimens. His charming personality and the many trials of his life in the fever-ridden tropics of Bengal etc. are touched on in these pages, but remarkably did not serve to deter his botanical zeal and endeavour in any way. This book is intended to provide historical information to help today's botanists to be familiar with the background to their research and in understanding the important early collections on which the names of many species depend for their typification and identity. Full references are given in the text to enable further research and enquiry into the subject. A detailed study of David Don's Nepalese ferns by the same author is planned to follow.
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About the author

C.R. Fraser Jenkins

Christopher Roy Fraser-Jenkins was born in 1948 in a family steeped in botanical tradition, from his grandfather's famous Rhododendron-collection at Clyne Castle, Swansea, to his late father's well known horticultural garden at Newcastle House, Bridgend, where be was born.  He started his life-long, passionate interest in ferns aged 9 and after getting his B. Sc. honours degree at Leicester University in 1970 he studied for a Ph. D. there under Professor T.G. Tutin, also being invited by Professor Irene Manton and Dr. J.D. Lovis to their postgraduate course on fern-cytotaxonomy at Leeds University.  He then left his Ph.D. study to teach biology at Charterhouse School with the early pioneer-botanist in Nepal, Oleg Polunin, followed by at his old school, Radley.  From there he returned to full-time fern-research, with his own long-term programme, and with the help and collaboration of The Natural History Museum, London, and of his botanical colleague of many years, the Nobel Prize-winner, Professor Tadeus Reichstein of Basel, travelled extensively, collecting and studying in herbaria and the field throughout the world, particularly in west Asia (Turkey, ran and the Caucasus) and, from 1977, concentrating on the Indian subcontinent.  As a Nuffield Research Fellow at he Natural History Museum, from 1979 to 1981, he began to monograph the larger and more complex Indian fern-genera, particularly Dryopteris and Polystichum, followed by others.  he was awarded two Royal Society Scientific Exchange Fellowships to study in China and made many botanical visits throughout Asia, including 12 major study-and collecting-expeditions (of 9 months to two years) throughout the Sino-Himalayan region from Afghanistan and Pakistan, throughout India, also Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, to China, Taiwan, Japan and Java.  During the course of these journeys he has built up a major reference fern-herbarium of international importance containing some 32,000 numbers, on which he has drawn extensively in preparing over 90 detailed research-publications on fern-taxonomy and phytochemistry.  He has also collaborated extensively with botanists throughout the region.  In 1989 he was awarded the Indian Fern Society's Professor S.S. Bir gold medal for pteridological research.  He has lvied for 20 years in Kathmandu, Nepal, with his Nepalese wife and son, Jacob, and has collected extensively throughout the length and breadth of Nepal and N.E. India, studying pteridophytes along with local colleagues, as well as working with others on ferns of Kumaon, Bhutan and Bangladesh.  His previous major book, New Species Syndrome in Indian Pteridology and the Ferns of Nepal, a detailed nomenclatural study. was published in 1997.  In 2002 he was awarded a research-curatorship on South Asian ferns at the Natural History Museum, London, working there for a year on Don's Nepalese ferns, as well as the ferns of Tibet, a monograph of Himalayan Athyrioid ferns and Cheilanthes, Adiantum and Pteris (with Prof. S.C. Verma and Dr. T.G. Walker).  He is currently Nepal Coordinaor for the British volunteer-teacher group, i-to-i International, organising visiting volunteers, and studies ferns as his hobby and passionate interest.

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Bibliographic information

Title The First Botanical Collectors in Nepal: The Fern Collections of Hamilton, Gardner and Wallich
Format Hardcover
Date published: 10.01.2006
Edition 1st ed.
Language: English
isbn 8121105064
length viii+106p., Plates; Figures; Maps; References; Index; 24cm.