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Botany in British India

At the Height of Activity (1800-1850)

A thirst for investigating ‘exotic’ plants in faraway lands, especially in India, developed into a richly-documented scientific discipline: Botany. These archives show its importance to medicine, business, peoples, states and economies. They mainly cover the period 1800-1850 and are part of the India Office Records.

Botany in British India Material

Pioneering Botanists

Highly determined surgeon-naturalists were at the centre of this intense and pioneering activity. These include Robert Kyd, William Roxburgh, William Griffith and Robert Wight.

Interaction: Native Indians and British Newcomers

You can also find out how the British and the indigenous Indian population interacted and exchanged knowledge within these papers.

Activity and Network

These archives document activity including: the creation and operation of a network of botanical gardens in India (at Bangalore, Saharanpur, Dapuri, Ootacamund, Madras, Samulcotta and Darjeeling); plant-collecting expeditions to Assam, the Coromandel Coast and the Spice Islands; and the use of plants as foodstuffs, industrial products and medicines.

Subjects of Research in addition to Botany

Botany is well documented; the archives are also of especial interest to anyone studying:

– history of science, nature and the environment

– sociology and cultural studies (e.g. social uses of botany, gardens as pleasure grounds)

– colonial history (including the interaction between imperial and indigenous populations)

– intellectual curiosity, administration and the exchange of ideas around the world

…amongst many other subjects. The records also contain some hard data which could be used for data-modelling.

See also: the printed book, Science and the Changing Environment in India 1780-1920 by Richard Axelby and Savithri Preetha Nair (London: British Library, 2010) - search for this in the British Library's catalogue,

How the records have been made accessible

This project is made possible by the generous support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The Project’s blog posts can be found using the keyword (and # hashtag) bibi and below:

Dr Griffith’s Report on Caoutchouc (Rubber Tree)

Related Collections

Wallich and Indian Natural History

F Board of Control Records

L Departmental Collections 

P Proceedings

V Official Publications