Untold lives blog

06 August 2012

Dr Griffith’s Report on Caoutchouc (Rubber Tree)

Bibi 2 F4_1787_no_73597_29IOR/F/4/1787/no 73597, page 29

Welcome to the first subject-oriented blog post about the Botany in British India Project!
Why this Report?
IOR/F/4/1787/no 73597 is a voluminous file which presents challenging handwriting – so why choose it? Because this Report shows the complex administrative network, the activity of key botanists and the excitement that the Rubber Tree and its potential uses generated at the time.
What is Caoutchouc and Why is it Important?
Caoutchouc is the milky resinous juice of the Rubber Tree which coagulates when exposed to the air and becomes elastic and waterproof. The substance is also known as India-rubber, or Gum Elastic and was found in South America as well as East India. It can also mean the tree itself. According to William Griffith in this Report (p.7), it is ‘far superior to all the other trees’!
Dr William Griffith and Others’ Work – Botany and Science
Dr Griffith (1810-1845) travelled extensively in India and elsewhere and was a voracious collector, amassing over 12,000 specimens. In this Report he tells us about his expedition to the forests including many exciting observations about the Rubber Tree. He ends by relating Mr. Scott’s scientific experiments to understand the properties of the juice. I have made a transcript of this (bottom of p.26-27). Would you make any changes to my transcript? The numbers at the side refer to a document by Mr. Scott – I wonder if this document survives?
Spirit of Exchange of Knowledge
The multitude of references within this file reflect the appetite for learning about the environment and for sharing findings. Griffith mentions many botanical researchers. Included at the end is the information that ‘Francis Jenkins A.G.G.’ signed to approve the copy and that the report was sent to be published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 7, Part 1. Captain [later Major General] Jenkins (1793-1866) pioneered tea production and other industries in Assam and was a leading educationalist.
Share your thoughts!
Please feel welcome to comment on the blog posts as together we can best understand the records and their context.
Claire Norman
Project Officer: Botany in British India
British Library

Further Resources
William Griffith (botanist), Wikipedia

William Griffith, British Botanist, The Beauty of Orchids and Flowers

William Griffith - Papers at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

'Journals of Travels in Assam, Burma, Bhootan, Afghanistan and the Neighbouring Countries' by William Griffith, Project Gutenberg

Article about Francis Jenkins by Cooch Behar Heritage Society



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