Gardens of Science and Empire

The three maps shown here came to light during the production of a guide to the mass of material relating to science and environment found within the India Office Records (Axelby and Nair 2010). The maps compare the layout of the Calcutta Botanical Garden in 1816, 1843 and 1846 and were produced to illustrate the changes wrought by William Griffith (1810-1845) after he gained temporary control over the gardens from his rival Nathaniel Wallich (1785-1854). The two men had radically different approaches to science and its role in supporting Empire. The interplay of practical utility, landscape aesthetics and imperial ideology can be read in the changing layout of the gardens.

I wrote about Wallich, Griffith and the Calcutta Botanical Gardens in the journal Archives of Natural History. In the published article the maps were, for reasons of expense, reproduced in black and white. Here I’m able to show the colour versions.

Plan of the Botanical Garden, September 1816 (one year after Wallich became Acting Superintendent).  RF 20002 a 68  f/c

Plan of the Botanical Gardens, December 1843 (the date when Griffith took temporary charge).  Calcutta Botanical Garden

Arrangements in Progress for the Completion of improvement in the Hon. Company’s Botanic Garden according to the Plans of the late Officg Supdt. William Griffith, 15th November 1846.  RF 20002 a 68  f/c

And this is a letter in which Wallich expresses his extreme displeasure upon discovering what Griffiths had done to his beloved gardens.

Wallich to W.J. Hooker, 8 Feb 1845, Letters from Wallich 1841-49, RBG Library, Kew. 

‘where is the stately, matchless garden that I left in 1842? It this the same as that? Can it be? Nonono! Day is not more different from night that the state of the garden as it was from its present utterly ruined condition. But no more on this. My heart bleeds at what I am impelled daily – hourly to witness. And yet I am chained to the spot and the chain, in some respects is of my own making. I will not be driven away. Lies, calumnies, every attempt that the iniquity of the evil one would possibly devise to ruin my character – publicly and privately, have been – are still employed – they may make my life miserable and wretched, they may break my heart: but so so long as my conscience acquits me – so long as I can dare to life up my soul in prayers to Him, who knows all, who sees all – and who will visit in his own good time the guilty – so long as the good & uprights are on my side – so long as the Govt above all the Government at Home, my generous and munificent masters – approve of me – so long will I not budge one inch from my post my yielding to my deadly foes. In regard to them let me say this much more. If I have ever deserved from them, the smallest portion of their increasing and fierce persecution – if on any occasion whatsoever, I have given cause for any feeling except of obligation and thankfulness – aye gratitude in the fullest sense of the word – then let me be visited, if possible, with ten-fold torture and agony then I have sustained from them these many years.’

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