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Robert Fortune

Robert Fortune (1812-1880) born in Berwickshire, Scotland, was a botanist and plant-hunter best known for smuggling tea plants out of China at the behest of the East India Company. Following the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, Fortune was awarded the position of the Society's Collector in China, visiting the region on four occasions, remaining there for two or three years each time. In 1846, he published his journals as 'Three Years' Wanderings in the Northern Provinces of China'. In 1848, he was tasked by the East India Company with collecting tea plants to establish plantations in India, breaking the Chinese monopoly. Disguising himself as a Chinese merchant, he travelled to the remote Fujian, Guangdong, and Jiangsu provinces, regions rarely explored by Westerners, beyond the permissible day's journey from the agreed European treaty ports. The ruling Chinese government had outlawed the purchase of tea plants, but Fortune was able to coordinate the shipment of more than 20, 000 plants and seedlings, in Wardian cases, to the Himalayas, effectively initiating the tea industry in India.

© RBG KEW

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Marianne North at her easel, circa 1883

Photograph of Marianne North (1830-1890), botanical artist, pictured here in Grahamstown, South Africa circa 1883.
Marianne North generally travelled unaccompanied, an extraordinary feat for a Victorian lady, only occasionally using letters of introduction to enable her to stay with the associates of those she met on her travels. Between 1871 and 1879, she visited Canada, the United States, Jamaica, Brazil, Japan, Sarawak, Singapore, Java, Sri Lanka and India. In 1880, Marianne met Charles Darwin, whom she regarded as 'the greatest man living, the most truthful as well as the most unselfish and modest'. On his suggestions, she set off on a further voyage, this time encompassing Australia and New Zealand. In 1882 she visited Africa, the final continent left unrepresented in her work.

© RBG KEW

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Elevation of the Great Pagoda as first intended, 1763

Sir William Chambers first published this design of the Pagoda in 1763 in his 'Plans, elevations, sections, and perspective views of the gardens and buildings at Kew in Surry'. The building itself was constructed between Autumn 1761 and Spring 1762. Engraving on paper by T. Miller.
Elevation of the Great Pagoda as first intended by William Chambers, Architect

© RBG Kew