THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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95 posts categorized "Science and environment"

26 February 2019

Trying to grow Syrian tobacco in Bombay

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In 1841 seeds from Syrian tobacco plants were acquired by the Bombay Presidency.  Seeds were distributed to twelve collectorates or botanic gardens throughout Bombay Presidency with instructions to undertake experiments to see if the correct soil and climate conditions for growing the plants could be found.

Tobacco plantTobacco plant from p.37 of The Making of Virginia and the Middle Colonies. 1578-1701. 9605.c.18. BL flickr Noc

On 10 July 1843 the Bombay Revenue Department submitted a letter reporting on the results of these experiments to the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London. The experiments had very mixed results.

In the collectorates of Ahmedabad, Khandesh, Ratnagiri, Surat and Thane the experiments failed completely as the plants either did not vegetate or died shortly after they appeared above the ground.

In Kaira [Kheda] the seeds sprang up well but most were washed away in heavy rain.  Those that survived produced a very small yield of an inferior quality to the local tobacco grown and were therefore considered a failure.

In Pune two of the three experiments failed, and the third although successful was not harvested in time and became a victim of the strong winds in that region.  As some seeds from the successful experiment had been preserved, it was decided that future experiments should be conducted by the Botanic Gardens there.

In Ahmednagar and Solapur one or two plants grew successfully and produced leaves of a good quality; seeds from these plants were preserved to be sown again the following year.

Dharwar was considered to be the most successful province as the first attempt sprung up and was growing well, but was a victim of the strong winds that follow the monsoon.  A second attempt was made to plant the seeds much earlier, however none of these vegetated so on the third attempt they were again planted later in the year.  This attempt was successful with good healthy plants and good quality leaves, but the plants received considerable injury from insects.  The seeds from these plants were preserved with the intention of trying again the following season and of sending them to other collectorates such as Thane to see if they would be successful there too.

The Botanic Gardens at Dapurie attempted the experiments on a much larger scale and they were successful in obtaining a good quantity tobacco from their plants.  They even sent samples of the product to London for the Court of Directors to test and give their opinions.

Extract from report by Dr Gibson of the Botanic Gardens at Dapurie on the experiments on the Syrian tobacco seedsExtract from report by Dr Gibson of the Botanic Gardens at Dapurie on the experiments on the Syrian tobacco seeds IOR/F/4/2808/91724 Noc

The report concluded however that Syrian tobacco had not generally adapted to the soil and climate of Bombay Presidency.  There had however been requests for fresh seeds to do more experiments and that request had been sent to the Company’s agent in Egypt.  They hoped that some of the collectorates that had seen some success would be able to replicate it on a larger scale in the future.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/2808/91724 experiments introduced in the several collectorates of the Bombay Presidency with a view of proving the adaptation of the soil and climate to the production of Syrian tobacco

 

06 December 2018

Who repaired the pavements in London?

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In 1764 the London Commission of Sewers and Pavements produced a report into the state of the city’s pavements and roads.  The report inventoried the impediments it found to walking and traffic throughout the city.  These included defective pavements, rubbish, unloading wagons, parcels, craftsmen working in the streets, shop signs and rainspouts.  The report concluded that London roads were 'defective, even in the principal streets' and the Commission set about trying to resolve as many of the impediments as they reasonably could.  Many were on the site of properties which the City of London leased to various companies and individuals.  The leases for these properties included clauses regarding responsibility for maintaining pavements and roads within properties boundaries in good working order.

One such lease was between the City of London and the East India Company and was for warehouses on Leadenhall Street, which had been leased by the Company since 1741.

Plan of warehouses on Leadenhall Street leased to the East India Company 1760Plan of warehouses on Leadenhall Street leased to the East India Company enclosed with the lease renewal of 31 October 1759. IOR/L/L/2/293

On 31 July 1764 the Court of Directors of the East India Company received a letter from the Commissioners of Sewers and Pavements for the City of London.  The letter concerned the state of disrepair of the pavement in front the Company’s warehouse at Leadenhall Street and requested that 'The Court will cause the said pavement to be forthwith effectually repaired'.

The letter was read at the next session of the Court of Directors on 1 August 1764, and the minutes of this meeting record the Court instructing the immediate repair of the pavement in question. The 1764 report was also responsible for the creation in London, in 1765, of the world’s first kerbed sidewalks, a feature which would subsequently be copied by other cities and can be found the world over today.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/E/1/46, f 507 Letter 252, John Smith, Clerk to the Commissioners of Sewers and Pavements to Robert James, Secretary to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, 31 July 1764
IOR/B/80, Court Minutes, 1 August 1764.
IOR/L/L/2/293 Renewal of lease 31 October 1759 from City of London to East India Company for warehouses on Leadenhall Street.

 

20 August 2018

World Mosquito Day 2018

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August 20th is World Mosquito Day, commemorating the day in 1897 when Ronald Ross confirmed that the malaria parasite was carried by the mosquito.

The Library’s Archives and Manuscript collections contain a wealth of material regarding mosquitoes, malaria, and other mosquito-borne diseases. The records of the East India Company and India Office are particularly rich in information on research into malaria transmission, prevention and treatment, and hundreds of relevant records have been catalogued and are being digitised as part of the India Office Medical Archives project.

Anti-Marial Measures poster in Arabic and English, with Mosquito illustrationIOR/R/15/2/1062 Anti-malaria measures (1939-1947). See the complete digitised file at the Qatar Digital Library.

The work of Ross and other scientists, including Indian Medical Service colleagues, are often documented in records known as the Government Proceedings, found under reference IOR/P. This series consists of over 40,000 volumes, and information on military and civil health and sanitation within the Proceedings series has been made more accessible through item-level cataloguing.

A large Proceedings Volume, bound in red leatherA volume from the Proceedings and Consultations of the Government of India and of its Presidencies and Provinces, IOR/P. One of c46,500 volumes. See an introductory catalogue entry for the entire run here.

Malaria was long thought to be caused by miasma from rotting vegetation and foul waters, and thought to be a particular risk in hot and humid climates. The earlier records contain Medical Topographies prepared by Indian Medical Officers to designate ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ areas to inform the construction of hospitals and barracks.

Excerpt of a letter from Ronald Ross to the Indian GovernmentExcerpt of a letter sent by Ross to the Government of India, relaying the observations and theories of Patrick Manson, and making the case for Ross's further study of mosquitoes. IOR/P/5185 Mar 1897 nos 141-45 

Drugs derived from the cinchona plant were used as a remedy for malaria. The records document the establishment of cinchona plantations in India in the mid-19th century with trees and seeds taken from the Andes, as well as studies into the production and effectiveness of different preparations.

  Instruction label for a Government quinine doseSpecimen instruction label for a Government-issued dose of quinine, derived from the cinchona bark. IOR/P/6579 Oct 1903 nos 119-23

Treating malaria and its symptoms is only one part of the battle against the disease. Once the transmission vector was identified, attention turned to preventing its transmission through the destruction of mosquitoes and their habitats. The records document the establishment of Mosquito Brigades and the development of Government sanitation policies in colonial India.

Numbered list of preventive measures to be adoptedDetails of preventive measures recommended by the military authorities. IOR/P/7053 Jun 1905 nos 200-04

Further resources

You can find more by searching Explore Archives and Manuscripts using the terms mosquito, malaria, or India Office Medical Archives.

 The National Library of Scotland’s Medical History of British India pages contain digitised reports into medical research in British India from 1850-1950.

The UK Medical Heritage Library provides access to over 66,000 digitised European medical publications from the 19th century, including many on mosquitoes and malaria.

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

16 August 2018

Photographs of Dhofar Province

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An India Office Records file that was recently catalogued by the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership programme contains a number of photographs showing the biodiversity of what is now the Dhofar Governorate, in the Sultanate of Oman.


In 1947, Brian Hartley, Director of Agriculture in the Aden Protectorate, was invited by the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd, to visit Dhofar, in order to carry out a survey of the conditions there, and in particular to provide advice on the growing of sugar cane in the region. Hartley’s resulting report, 'A Preliminary Survey of the Land Resources of the Dhufar Province, Sultanate of Muscat and Oman', which was completed in March 1948, covers water supplies, crop production (specifically sugar cane), hill cultivation, animal husbandry, irrigation and livestock improvement, mountain farming, and fisheries. A selection of photographs from Hartley’s visit, which appear in the file at the end of the report, can be seen below, along with Hartley’s original captions.

Photograph of Dahaq, 1948, showing a mountain streamIOR/R/15/6/282, f 56 2: Photograph of Dahaq, 1948 Noc

 

Photograph of man in field of sugar cane, Rizat Irrigation SystemIOR/R/15/6/282, f 57 1: Photograph of sugar cane, Rizat Irrigation System Noc

 

Photograph of a palm grove, SalalahIOR/R/15/6/282, f 58 2: Photograph of a palm grove, Salalah Noc

 

Photograph of the Northern Watershed of Al Qutun - wild olive, dry scrub, short grassIOR/R/15/6/282, f 59 1: Photograph of the Northern Watershed of Al Qutun Noc

 

Photograph of a herd of Cattle on the Qutun UplandsIOR/R/15/6/282, f 60 1: Photograph of a herd of Cattle on the Qutun Uplands Noc


The remaining photographs, together with Hartley’s report, will be made available on the Qatar Digital Library website later this year.

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
'File 8/90 II ECONOMIC, Agricultural & INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT IN MUSCAT TERRITORY', IOR/R/15/6/282

 

26 June 2018

British-US rivalry in the race to discover oil in Iraq

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How the race to discover ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’ led to the British Government’s belief that an American oil company had helped secretly fund the Iraqi revolt against British occupation in 1920.

  Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916.Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916. IOR/L/PS/18/D228, f 141

In the aftermath of the First World War, much of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s dominions were carved up between the War’s victors. In the case of Mesopotamia [Iraq], this meant military occupation and administration by the British.

The British Government saw great strategic and commercial value in Mesopotamia, thanks in part to the significant oil reserves they believed it to possess. Britain already had an effective monopoly on oil exploration and production in neighbouring Persia [Iran], through the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. But at the end of the First World War, foreign oil companies were also eager to discover oil reserves in Mesopotamia.

The two major players in Mesopotamia in 1919 were the British Anglo-Saxon Oil Company (ASOC, now part of Royal Dutch Shell) and the American Standard Oil Company of New York (SONY). The stakes were high. In a letter intercepted by British censors, one of the two geologists sent by SONY to explore Mesopotamia reported to a relative that he was on his way to find ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’.

Naturally the British Government favoured British interests over American, but could not be seen to be giving preference to one over the other. The solution was to request that both companies halt their exploration work, explaining that while Mesopotamia remained under military occupation, oil exploration could be conducted for military purposes only. In the meantime, ASOC’s geologists were retained by the military, and their work paid for by British military funds.

Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 147

The frustrations of the two SONY geologists, stuck in Baghdad and unable to carry out their work, is made clear in another intercepted letter, written in June 1920 by one of the geologists to his fiancé. ‘If you know the inside history of this you will find that the British have held up […] American firms from doing business in places conquered by the British while we were doing their fighting in France’ he wrote.

  Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 29

By this time angry Iraqis were on the streets, protesting against Britain’s continued occupation of their country, two years after the end of the War. The intercepted geologist’s letter affirmed the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia’s belief that SONY were financing the anti-British movement in Mesopotamia. In a secret telegram sent to Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in August 1920, the Commissioner further wrote it was ‘clear that [the] United States Consul has frequent conversation of an intimate nature with extremists to such an extent that in recent meetings in mosques, cries have been raised by extremists “long live America and her Consul”’.

Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921.Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 4

The British officials involved conceded that they had no concrete proof to back up any of their suspicions and accusations. Nevertheless, Curzon felt it ‘desirable that any avenue that might lead to proof, should be kept open’.

Mark Hobbs
Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
British Library, London, ‘File 2249/1915 Pt 2 ‘Oil: Mesopotamia and Persia: oil; Sir J Cowan's deputation & Standard Oil Co.’ (IOR/L/PS/10/556)

 

08 May 2018

Senior Statesman of British Biology: John Maynard Smith

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To publicise our upcoming event Dear John: The 'Kin Selection' Controversy presented by the British Library and Undercurrent Theatre, we present the last of three blogs by PhD student Helen Piel on evolutionary biologists George Price, William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith. 

Portrait photograph of John Maynard SmithJohn Maynard Smith c1965. © University of Sussex

 

John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) was one of Britain’s most eminent evolutionary biologists. His career spanned half a century, first at University College London, and then from 1965 at the University of Sussex. Educated at Eton, Cambridge (where he took a first degree in engineering, working as an aircraft stressman during and briefly after the Second World War) and UCL, he showed a remarkable ability to discern and describe biological problems and to ‘do the sums’: Maynard Smith brought his mathematical abilities and trust in models over into biology from his earlier education and training.

At UCL he studied and later worked under J B S Haldane, one of the founding fathers of neo-Darwinism (the merger between Darwin's theory of natural selection and Mendelian genetics). In the laboratory of Helen Spurway, Maynard Smith worked on genetics with the fruit fly Drosophila subobscura and later tackled the questions of ageing and sex. After his move to Sussex he focused increasingly on theoretical questions, and in 1973 published a seminal paper on ‘The Logic of Animal Conflict’, together with George R Price. The paper combined evolutionary biology and an idea taken from economics (game theory) to suggest a new way of studying animal behaviour: in evolutionary game theory, individual animals are pitted against each other like players in a game. In 1999, Maynard Smith was awarded the Crafoord Prize (biology’s equivalent to a Nobel Prize) for his work on evolutionary game theory. 

Portrait photograph of an older SmithJohn Maynard Smith c 1984. © University of Sussex

Maynard Smith was also known for his successful efforts to communicate evolutionary biology to a broader public, writing his first book The Theory of Evolution in 1958. He published various essay collections and The Origins of Life (1999), a ‘birdwatchers’ version’ of one of his books aimed more at a specialist audience (both co-authored with Eörs Szathmáry). From the 1960s he regularly appeared on radio and television, and was a frequent guest on the radio show Who Knows?, where a panel answered questions sent in by the public.

Smith also contributed as a scientific advisor to programmes, and narrated the Horizon episode ‘The Selfish Gene’, based on Richard Dawkins’ book of the same name, which itself was based on several of Maynard Smith’s ideas, particularly evolutionary game theory.

Although a theoretical biologist who avoided fieldwork throughout his career - his bad eyesight had dissuaded him from joining fellow undergraduates who went on to study under the famous ethnologist Niko Tinbergen at Oxford - his love for nature was obvious in his avid gardening. During summers he would open his garden to the public, and his Who's Who entry cites 'gardening' as one of his two favourite recreations. The second was 'talking'.

Helen Piel
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) PhD student, University of Leeds and the British Library

 

Further reading:

Helen Piel (2017). Local Heroes: John Maynard Smith: (1920-2004): A good "puzzle-solver" with an "accidental career". The British Library, Science Blog.

Marek Kohn (2004). A Reason for Everything. Natural Selection and the English Imagination. London: faber and faber.

John Maynard Smith (1985). In Haldane’s footsteps. In: D. A. Dewsbury (ed.) Leaders in the Study of Animal Behavior: Autobiographical Perspectives (pp.347-354). Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.

19 April 2018

The Plans, Maps and Views of Lieutenant-General William Skinner, Chief Engineer of Great Britain

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Born to a merchant in St Kitts in the Caribbean, William Skinner (1700-1780) lost his parents at a young age and was adopted by his Aunt and her new husband Captain Talbot Edwards, Chief Engineer in Barbados and the Leeward Islands.

Skinner was educated at military colleges in Paris and Vienna and received his warrant as practitioner engineer in 1719. By 1757 he had risen through the ranks to become Colonel William Skinner, Chief Engineer of Great Britain, and in 1770 he was made Lieutenant-General.

Watercolour view of Newfoundland from the seaA View in Newfoundland (Add MS 33233, f. 26)

At the British Library we hold Skinner’s personal collection of maps, plans, surveys and views (Add MS 33231-33233) which show the variety of places where he worked throughout his career, as well as giving an insight into the working process of a military engineer in the 18th century. 

From the start of his career Skinner was sent all over the world.  He became known as an authority on fortifications, and worked on important projects including the building of fortifications on Menorca and surveying Gibraltar, where he later served as Director of Engineering.

A View of the South Front of the Mountain of GibraltarA View of the South Front of the Mountain of Gibraltar (Maps K.Top.72.48.d.)

After the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Skinner was asked to lead a major project to build fortifications in the Highlands. Fort George, built on the sea front north-east of Inverness, was finally completed in 1769 and is still in use today.

Colour plan of Fort St GeorgeA Plan of Fort George (Maps K.Top.50.33.)

Skinner became Chief Engineer in 1757, just after the Seven Years War (1756-1763) had begun, and many projects that he worked on at this time were as a result of this conflict. In 1761 Skinner was sent to Belle Île in France, which had been captured by the British in order to have a base from which to attack the French mainland. General Studholme Hodgson who had led the raid on the island, complained about ‘the set of wretches I have for engineers’, at which point Skinner was brought in to survey the defences and provide accommodation and shelter for the Armed Forces which had been left to hold the island.

Plan of the Citadel and Part of the Town of Palais Belle-IslePlan of the Citadel and Part of the Town of Palais Belle-Isle (Add MS 33232, f. 3)

As Chief Engineer all military building projects needed to be submitted for his approval. One such project was the building of fortifications around St John’s in Eastern Newfoundland. This area had been reclaimed from the French in 1762 after the Battle of Signal Hill, which was the final battle of the Seven Years War in North America.

watercolour View of Conception Bay, NewfoundlandA View of Conception Bay, Newfoundland (Add MS 33233, f. 34)

William Skinner died on Christmas Day 1780. He kept on working right up until the end of his life, and had passed on his engineering talent to his grandson, who worked successfully as an engineer in the US.

All the items from Skinner’s collection are available to be viewed in the British Library Reading Rooms, and one of his views of Newfoundland (Add MS 33233, f. 34) can currently be seen in our Treasures Gallery.

Stephen Noble
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Catalogue links:

Maps and Plans, chiefly of fortifications or surveys for military purposes, Add MS 33231 A-PP
Surveys of Belle Isle, France, and plans and sections of its fortifications during the British occupation after its capture in 1761, Add MS 33232
Views of fortifications and landscapes, Add MS 33233

 

12 December 2017

Journals of Albert Hastings Markham

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Where in the library collections might you find watercolour arctic landscapes, playbills, squashed mosquitoes and first-hand accounts of whaling?

We are pleased to announce that the journals of Sir Albert Hastings Markham (1841-1918) have been processed and are now available to request in the Manuscripts Reading Room, under reference Add MS 89230. The journals were acquired at auction in 2015, drawing on the T S Blakeney Fund and with the generous support of the Friends of the British Library and the Eccles Centres for American Studies.

They cover the period from 1871-1902, during which Markham undertook polar reconnaissance in the Arctic and the Kara Sea, surveyed the conditions in the Hudson Bay for the Canadian Government, participated in the British Arctic Expedition (1875-1876), and served in the Navy in the Torpedo School, Pacific Station, and Mediterranean.

Watercolour depicting a sledge being pulled by 5 men, with the help of a sail

A sledging scene under sail, Add MS 89230/2/1 f 136

Importance and writing

Markham’s entries are richly detailed, and he does not shy away from recording his opinions on the behaviour of his crew and the places he visited. His account on the whaling vessel Arctic is probably best not read by those of a sensitive disposition, conjuring up as it does the sights and smells of decks covered with blood, fat and coal dust.

His journal as second in command of the Mediterranean fleet contains his first-hand account of the incident for which he is probably best known – the sinking of the flagship Victoria, following a collision with Markham’s ship Camperdown whilst undertaking manoeuvres off Tripoli.

These journals complement our existing holdings on Arctic research and exploration, from material relating to James Cook’s third voyage and attempts to find the Northwest Passage, and Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition. The British Arctic Expedition of 1875-1876 was in several aspects a precursor of later Antarctic explorations, and Markham’s role leading the sledging team to achieve farthest north makes this a vital first-hand account.

Accompanying materials

The British Arctic Expedition journals (Add MS 89230/2) contain beautiful watercolours and ink sketches of arctic landscapes, wildlife, and fellow crew members.

Watercolour of a black and white LoomYe Loom, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 36

Ink sketch of sledge dogs howling, with their heads raised upwardsYe canine troop performing a melodious concert, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 82

During the cataloguing process I was pleased to find letters enclosed in the journals, many written by figures in the history of arctic exploration and 19th century naval history, including William Grant (arctic photographer), Captain Antonius de Bruijne (of the Dutch schooner Willem Barents), and Benjamin Leigh Smith. Markham was also careful to collect keepsakes such as dinner menus and playbills for the performances put on by the ship’s company.

Programme for the Thursday Pops entertainmentProgramme for the Thursday Pops, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 191

The Hudson’s Bay journal (Add MS 89230/4) was partly composed by Markham whilst he journeyed from York Factory to Winnipeg by canoe. Markham and his party were plagued by mosquitoes - “the buzz and the hum of my relentless persecutors – the mosquitoes – will they never tire? Will they ever leave me unmolested?” -  and these flying irritants have literally left their mark on the journal, with folios 115-151 spotted with pressed remains.

Manuscript journal page, spotted with squashed mosquitoesJournals with the ick factor, Add MS 89230/4

The catalogue can be found at Search Archives and Manuscripts under collection reference Add MS 89230. We will continue to post images on @BL_ModernMss, so be sure to follow us if you aren’t already.

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts