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Fruits of the earth: plants in the service of mankind

Newman and Mauritius

Watercolour sketch of the <em>bignonia telfairia</em> plantWatercolour sketch of the bignonia telfairia plantThe fine watercolours contained in the volume featured here formed part of a report sent by the governor of Mauritius, Sir Charles Colville (1770-1843), to the Colonial Office in 1829. They were executed by John Newman (1795-1848), who was director of the Royal Botanic Garden at Pamplemousses, Mauritius, from 1825 to 1848.

The garden at Pamplemousses is the oldest in the southern hemisphere, having been founded by French colonial administrator and horticulturalist Pierre Poivre in 1770. Mauritius was a French colony from 1710 to 1810, when it was taken by Britain.

Newman corresponded widely with botanists all over the globe and sent out and received numerous plant specimens and seeds.

The plate on display shows bignonia telfairia, a member of the catalpa family. It is a flowering shrub native to Mauritius and Newman writes that he believes himself to be the first botanist to describe the plant and that he is:

happy therefore in giving its specific name as a token of respect to the lady of Charles Telfair Esquire, her attachment to the science and her accurate drawings of plants, are well known, and fully entitle her name to be recorded on the list of botanists.

The lady in question was Annabella Telfair (d 1832), a plant collector and fine botanical artist who had a number of drawings published in Curtis’s botanical magazine. She was married to the naturalist and surgeon Charles Telfair (1778-1833), who was honorary supervisor of the botanical garden at Pamplemousses prior to Newman’s arrival.

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