The Hon’ble Company’s Botanic Garden, Calcutta, 1787

বোটানিকাল গার্ডেনস, শিবপুর, কলকাতা, ১৭৮৭

The idea for a botanical garden was first tabled in the summer of 1786 by Robert Kyd, a Secretary to the Board in the Military Department of Fort William, as a potential safeguard against famine. But it soon became something much bigger and more ambitious.

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Colonel Robert Kyd

Ten years earlier he had visited the western borders of Assam, and from there he had brought young plants of a species of cinnamon growing wild there. Within the next few years other specimens had been obtained from Bhutan, and still other plants of the true cinnamon from Ceylon. All these plants were “deposited in the Governor-General’s garden,” the garden of Warren Hastings’ old house in Alipore. There the plants throve very well to prove their successful transplantation to Bengal. As Ceylon and the profitable cinnamon trade was at that time in the hands of the Dutch, the Board of Directors readily agreed to a proposal which seemed to promise a prospect of successful competition, the proposed garden was sanctioned, and Colonel Kyd was appointed honorary superintendent, a post which he held till his death. See

Botanic Garden House -1775

Shalimar, the house where Col. Kyd lived. A lithograph by Charled D’Oyly

In a letter dated 20 November 1787, Kyd sets out his vision for the garden to be part of the wider pursuit of scientific knowledge. Gradually the East India Company (EIC) did begin to actively support Kyd’s initiatives. The botanical garden in Bengal was one of the first instances of this support and it made the Gulf a part of an expanding European scientific enquiry that Kyd hoped might ‘add to the Fund of General Knowledge’. In response to an official request, the EIC Resident, Edward Galley, received in October 1787 from Persian Gulf a gift of six exotic plants. Besides the ‘Bussora Date Tree’ and the ‘famous Persian Tobacco’, there was also a tree that produces Varnish Gum.

Basra Date Palm, the Botanical Garden in Bengal--photo-430_8_0018_webcrop_2

Persian Flora

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Basra Date Palm

The garden was established in 1787 with its official name ‘The Hon’ble Company’s Botanic Garden, Calcutta’. Subsequently, it was renamed ‘The Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta’ in the early 1860s. This amazing garden is laid out on a sprawling 272 acres of lush greenery on the west bank of river Hooghly. Over 12,000 trees and shrubs belonging to 1400 species together with thousands of herbaceous plants are in cultivation in the open in 25 Divisions, Glass houses, Green Houses and conservatories. The best-known landmark of the garden is The Great Banyan, an enormous banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) that is reckoned to be the largest tree in the world, at more than 330 metres in circumference. They are also famous for their enormous collections of orchids, bamboos, palms, and plants of the screw pine genus (Pandanus). See

The featured image above is of the Great Banyan Tree at botanical gardens, Calcutta – a black and white photograph (albumen print) by Bourne & Shepherd. Undated. Source: Smithsonian Institution

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