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Choose from 397 images in our History collection.


Featured History Image

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

Featured History Image

Eleanor Morland, Gertude Cope and Alice Hutchings, Kew gardeners, 1898

Eleanor Morland, Gertude Cope and Alice Hutchings, Kew gardeners, pictured in 1898, at RBG Kew. By 1902 all the women gardeners had left to take up horticultural posts elsewhere and it was not until World War I that female gardeners were employed at Kew again. Female gardeners wore brown bloomers, woollen stockings, waistcoats and caps, to discourage "sweethearting" with male colleagues.

© RBG KEW

Featured History Image

The Wardian case, ca 1940- 1950

Image of a horticulturalist packing plants into a Wardian Case ready for transportation. The Wardian case was a portable airtight greenhouse developed by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward to protect live plant material during transportation. The Wardian case was a portable airtight greenhouse developed by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791-1868). As he lived in the docklands area of London, Ward's interest in amateur botany was thwarted by the polluted, sooty air that killed everything he tried to grow. After noticing that seedlings flourished in a glass jar and were protected from London's smoky environment, Ward created the Wardian Case; it revolutionised botany in the 19th century, allowing live plants to be transported across the globe.

© RBG Kew