King's College London
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Fruits of the earth: plants in the service of mankind

Mahogany

The versatility of wood has meant that many forests across the world have been subject to the demands of the timber trade and the growing consumer need for wood products, such as wood-pulp paper. Deforestation is an issue central to the environmental concerns of global warming and climate change that mankind faces in the 21st century.

Cart laden with Cuban mahogany being towed by oxen, with overseers also presentCart laden with Cuban mahogany being towed by oxenThe work examines the commercial importance and potential of the mahogany sourced in the West Indies and Central America, in light of the ‘projected interoceanic communications of Panama, Nicaragua and Tehuantepec’

This project would eventually result in the construction of the Panama Canal, which greatly speeded maritime trade between Europe and the west coast of the Americas.

The work includes an appendix containing the documents presented to Lloyd’s Committee of Registry in London promoting ‘the use of mahogany for the building of first-class vessels’. Lloyd’s Registry was in the 19th century primarily concerned with the provision of authoritative information to insurers and related partners on the condition of sea-going vessels.

The image shown here illustrates a 19th century scene from Cuba, with a bull towing a cart laden with - now rare - Cuban mahogany, a wood indigenous to the Americas, sought after for its durability and attractiveness and used in the making of furniture, cabinets and musical instruments.

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