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Marianne North at her easel, circa 1883 Featured History Image

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

© The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Robert Fortune 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

The Kew Gardens Question Featured History Image

The Kew Gardens Question

The Kew Gardens Question. This political cartoon was published in 1878 as part of the ongoing debate as to whether the public should be allowed into the gardens in the mornings, before 1pm. Officially, only botanist and botanical artists were allowed morning access, with the Director's permission. The Kew Gardens Public Rights Defence Association was set up and successfully campaigned against this. The author of the article accompanying this cartoon smuggled himself into a morning session at the Gardens and claimed that those eminent botanists inside were mostly fast asleep in garden chairs and other gentlemen were "engaged in testing the effects of cigar smoke on open-air evergreens."

© RBG KEW