Art and History

How the Garden Grew: A Photographic History of Horticulture at RBGE

Leonie Paterson

Founded as a physic garden in 1670, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) moved to its present site at Inverleith in 1820. Since then the Garden has expanded, developed and changed through the years. This book of photographs from the RBGE Archives contains over one hundred beautiful black and white images showing the Edinburgh Garden through the ages and the horticultural staff who worked in it. From our earliest archived photograph to the major restructuring of the Glasshouses in the 1960s, these pictures tell the story of the Garden and the people who helped it to grow.

Paperback, 216 x 242 mm, 128pp, ISBN 978 1 906129 92 7, £12 + packing and postage 

Wild Flowers: a sketchbook by Charles and John Raven, edited by H.J. Noltie

ISBN 978 1 906129 85 9, hardback in quarter cloth, 216pp, 240 x 165mm, £20+ packing and postage.

This handsomely bound publication reproduces for the first time, in colour, a selection of 137 drawings from a remarkable collection of 3860 watercolours that depict almost every member of the British flora. The drawings were made between 1930 and 1955 and are largely the work of a remarkable father-and-son team: Canon Raven (1885–1964) was a distinguished theologian, naturalist and historian of science, and his son John (1914–1980) a classics don and passionate field botanist. In 1942 the Ravens wrote ten chapters intended to accompany a selection of their drawings, explaining how the collection was made – starting as a family holiday project that became something of an obsession, with Charles painting, and John travelling round the country collecting specimens. The chapters, which include essays on Galloway, Ben Lawers and Glen Clova are published here for the first time, seventy years after their conception, in time to celebrate the centenary of Mary Raven who made some of the early drawings. The book starts with a substantial introduction on the Raven family and the drawings written by Henry Noltie.

John Hope 1725 - 1786: Alan G. Morton's Memoir of a Scottish Botanist

A new and revised edition by Henry J Noltie

ISBN 978-1-906129-71-2, paperback, 120pp, £15 + p&p

With the opening of the John Hope Gateway and in light of new discoveries from the Hope archive, RBGE has produced this edition of Professor Alan Morton's short biography published on the occasion of the bicentenary of Hope's death in 1986. The new edition is in three principle sections; biographical, the Leith Walk Garden and Hope's lectures and pupils. A great deal of new information has emerged from the research undertaken around the archaeological survey and controlled demolition of the former Gardener's Cottage at Leith Walk, with the intention of rebuilding at Inverleith. A taste of is given, and much more information provided on Hope's lectures and his pupils.

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The Botanical Collections of Colonel and Mrs Walker: Ceylon, 1830 – 1838.

By H.J. Noltie

 ISBN 978-1-906129-89-7. Pp i – ix; 1 – 270, 18 b/w figs. Available from RBGE  Shops and Publications Office: pps@rbge.org.uk .Price £25 (incl p&p to UK. Overseas customers  - please enquire about postage prices at pps@rbge.org.uk)

This new book is about the pioneering collections made in Ceylon by an intrepid pair – the Deputy Adjutant General of Ceylon, and his Scottish born wife Anna Maria Patton. A historical introduction provides the context in which these collections were made – at a time of rapid political and environmental change in the wake of the British takeover of the Kingdom of Kandy; biographies of the Walkers and the Patton family are provided. There follows a catalogue of the type specimens of the species described from their collections during their lifetime by G.A. Walker-Arnott, W.J. Hooker, R. Wight and C.G.D. Nees von Esenbeck, which are now in the herbaria of RBGE, Kew and Geneva. The letters written by the Walkers to Sir William Hooker at Kew have been transcribed and included, as have two journals by Mrs Walker of major expeditions made to Adam’s Peak and SW Ceylon. Also included is a catalogue of the detailed analytical studies that Mrs Walker painted, especially of orchids, which are now in the collections of Kew, the Natural History Museum and RBGE. A gazetteer of their collecting localities is given, and a list of the two genera and 66 species of flowering plant named after them.

A Commentary on the New Taxa described in The Botany of Captain Beechey's Voyage by WJ Hooker and GA Walker-Arnott

by H J Noltie

ISBN 978 1 906129 68 2, softback, 80pp, 240 x 138mm, £25+ packing and postage.

The herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh houses George Walker-Arnott’s set of plant specimens collected on the voyage of the Blossom, under the command of Frederick William Beechey between 1825 and 1828. The Botany of Captain Beechey’s Voyage, describing the resulting collections was written by W.J. Hooker and G.A. Walker-Arnott and published between 1830 and 1841. The bulk of present work is a commentary on the new genera and species described in the Botany, with nomenclatural notes, including currently accepted names, and the location of type and original material at Edinburgh and in Hooker’s set of specimens at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

This is the second in a series by Henry J. Noltie cataloguing important collections of what were previously largely unrecognised types in the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It follows his The Botany of Robert Wight (2005).

James Duncan: An Enlightened Victorian

by Andrew McDonald Watson

ISBN: 9781906129330, softback, 80pp, 245 x 185mm, £8+ packing and postage.

Whilst familiar with the collections of Burrell few have heard of James Duncan. Yet had Duncan's collection remained intact it would be internationally recognised and significant to Scottish culture today. The first Scottish collector to purchase an Impressionist painting, Duncan had an extraordinary eye as a collector at a time when Victorian sensibilities frowned upon many modern works. At his estate, Benmore in Argyllshire, Duncan amassed a collection of international import, housed in his own vast gallery and available for public view, along with his other projects, a fernery and a sugar refinery. A man of huge scientific ability who pioneered work in industry and commerce, Duncan employed his significant wealth in improving the working conditions of his workforce and the community in general. And yet this innovative man, well regarded amongst the most distinguished of his peers, all but disappeared from history as his fortune dwindled. Here, for the first time, Duncan is recognised in the context of his time as a scientist, industrial innovator, philanthropist and art collector; a Scot of great industry and energy whom history has forgotten until now.

'Watson's authoritative study pays long overdue tribute
to a distinguished ‘merchant prince' ... finely crafted and
meticulously researched.'
Colin J. Bailey, BA PhD FSA FSAScot

'Andrew Watson's characteristically thorough research
and balanced judgment brilliantly rights an historical
wrong and restores Duncan to his proper place in the
pantheon of great Scots.'
Robert Wenley, Head of Collections and Learning,
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

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Raffles' Ark Redrawn

By Henry J. Noltie
ISBN 9780712350846, softback, 180 pp 216mm x 240mm, £20

This beautiful volume with over 100 stunning natural history drawings of plants, birds and animals was originally commissioned by the pioneering natural scientist Sir Stamford Raffles. The intricate illustrations form what remained from Raffles' time in Sumatra, after his original collection burnt along with his ship just offshore in 1824. The majority of this remarkable collection, therefore, represents the work of just ten weeks, and offered an insight into unexplored flora and fauna for contemporary Western eyes. Recently purchased by the British Library as part of the Raffles Family Collection, the drawings are virtually unstudied and this title brings them to a new audience in their original brilliance.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has long term connections with Indonesian and Malaysian botany, having undertaken work on the flora of the region, including current research on the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). This title is a celebration of the beauty and diversity of the region with the remarkable detail captured in stunning full-page colour. It details the works as well as offering background information on Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, his life and work, and also the wider collections and the artists he employed. A wonderful book for botanists, naturalists, historians and art-lovers alike.

Dapuri DrawingsDapuri Drawings - Alexander Gibson and the Bombay Botanic Gardens

Henry J. Noltie (2002)

ISBN No: 1 85149 422 7 (Antique Collectors' Club); Hardback; Size: 327 x 235mm; Extent: 240pp; Illustrations: 205 colour; 10 b&w.

REDUCED retail price £26 (was £35); trade price £15.60. Add £5.50 p+p (to UK).

This lavishly illustrated book tells the story of a remarkable collection of botanical drawings in safekeeping at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. These watercolors were commissioned by Alexander Gibson, an East India Company surgeon, and depict plants grown in the botanic gardens under his control in the Bombay Presidency. They are the work of an unknown Portuguese-Indian artist, made between 1847 and 1850.

The main section of the book includes color reproductions of the 170 drawings. Half the species depicted are native to western India, the other half are exotics from as far afield as Argentina and Australia. The color plates are preceded by substantial chapters on Gibson's life and work and a history of Dapuri and the other botanic gardens under his charge. An illustrated introduction tells of the author's travels in search of information about Gibson, his gardens and the drawings.  Click to buy

George Forrest, Plant HunterGeorge Forrest

Dr Brenda McLean (April 2004)
Published by Antique Collectors' Club and RBGE; ISBN 1 85149 461 8; Hardback; 240pp; £29.50 plus £5.50 p+p

The remarkable life story of the legendary Scottish plant hunter George Forrest is told in this fascinating, readable new book. Forrest first set out for Yunnan, south-west China, in May 1904. In the course of seven expeditions over 28 years, Forrest discovered hundreds of new species and introduced many now familiar plants to British gardens.

Forrest often risked life and limb in the remote mountains of Yunnan. This book brings Forrest's adventures to life, drawing on his letters. It is the first book about Forrest for 50 years, and the first ever complete biography of him.

Sumptuously illustrated with Forrest's own photographs and contemporary colour plates, and bound in hardback, this is a great read for garden enthusiasts, lovers of history and biography, and armchair travellers!

Indian Botanical DrawingsIndian Botanical Drawings 1793-1868

by Henry J. Noltie (1999)
ISBN 1 872291 23 6, limpbound with jacket, 100pp with 62 colour plates and 20 colour figures, 290mm X 170mm, £15.95 plus £2.00 p+p (to UK)

The links between the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and India go back for two centuries. Medics who studied botany in the Garden as part of their training laid the foundations of our knowledge of the Indian flora. This study entailed the making of dried herbarium specimens and writing plant descriptions. The botanists also commissioned Indian artists to make paintings of the plants to supplement the specimens and written descriptions. Much of this material was sent back to Britain where it survives in collections such as that at Edinburgh.
This book tells the story of these collections, with an emphasis on the paintings, which have languished largely unknown in the Library of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. A selection of 62 of these spectacular illustrations was conserved and exhibited in Inverleith House in 1998, as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Indian Independence. These are reproduced in full colour. Click to buy

Robert Wight and the Botanical Drawings of Rungiah & GovindooRobert Wight


H. J. Noltie
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

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.

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 500 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.
Publication Date 1 May 2007
ISBN of set: 978 1 906129 02 6
Book 1 (ISBN 978 1 906129 03 3) 216 pages with 41 black and white plates
Book 2 (ISBN 978 1 906129 00 2) 208 pages with 195 colour plates and 25 colour figures
Book 3 (ISBN 978 1 906129 01 9) 88 pages with 70 colour plates
All limpbound in a slipcase

£75 plus postage & packing (£5.50 to UK, £15 to rest of Europe, £15 surface or £32 airmail to rest of World).

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click here for Order Form.
click here for pdf flyer with more information and example illustrations.

Monkey Puzzle Man - Archibald Menzies, Plant Hunter         

James McCarthy

Published in association with Whittles Publishing. 

From his humble beginnings in the mid 18th century, Archibald Menzies came to be regarded as one of the foremost plant collectors of his time.

Remarkably, this is one of the first full biographies of  Menzies' eventful life: his early years in rural Perthsire, his time at RBGE as a gardener, his service as a naval surgeon at one of the bloodiest periods for the British Navy before his appointment as naturalist on HMS Discovery and his relationship with the irascible Captain George Vancouver.

This well researched publication is a must for botanists, naval historians and general readers of Scottish history alike.

Published: December 2007

£25 plus postage and packing (£2 to UK, £4.50 to rest of Europe, non-Europe rates available on request).

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William Roxburgh: The Founding Father of Indian Botany (Published by Phillimore and Co Ltd and RBGE)

Born in the mid 18th-century, William Roxburgh was brought up in the centre of the Edinburgh Enlightenment, with all the patronage and intellectual curiosity that this entailed. After joining the East India Company as an Assistant Surgeon oone of their ships, he joined the staff of the General Hospital at Madras. Soon, he was Company Naturalist, describing many species for the first time which inspired some beautiful watercolour drawings by Indian artists, copies of which were sent to Sir Joseph Banks at Kew. Arising from his scientific work, he was appointed the first paid Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden in 1793, where he continued his previous experimental work as well as lookinginto the introduction of a wide range of crops.Always looking for ways to improve the lot of native workers, to reduce the impact of frequent
famines, he suggested labour-intensive methods by developing local skills and introducing suitable plants that could be used for food. With important work also on the botany of the Cape of Good Hope as well as St Helena,
and significant contributions to the fields of meteorology, zoology and geology, Roxburgh's obituaries referred to him as the ‘greatest botanist since Linnaeus’.

Published: April 2008

£50 plus postage/packing (£5 to UK, £9 to rest of Europe, £8 surface or £16 airmail to rest of World).

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