Curators of the Caribbean

Posted on by Lauren MacCarthy.

By Victoria Purewal, Senior Curator for Natural Sciences

300 year old plant collection brings Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and the Natural History Museum of Jamaica together.

Back in the autumn of 2014, I was fortunate to be contracted by Bristol Museum & Art Gallery to conserve, digitise, film and produce an ebook of four bound volumes of plant specimens dating from the 1770s.

This was completed in 2015 but today this collection is still raising new questions and possibilities. The collector was Dr Arthur Broughton, a prestigious botanist, born in Bristol, who made the mammoth journey to Jamaica.

Rhian Rowson and the four volumes of 18th Century bound herbaria

Rhian Rowson and the four volumes of 18th Century bound herbaria

Both myself and biology curator Rhian Rowson, are trying to piece together his years studying botany in Jamaica and the impact this renowned botanist has had on the island and the world of botany. The volumes are large, heavy, leather bound books holding c. 1,000 specimens including extremely rare and type material.

The conservation project involved the books being analysed for biocides, cleaned in preparation for digitisation, digitised and then painstakingly, each specimen was removed from the every page and re-mounted onto archival sheets.

A digitised page from Volume 4 of the Jamaican herbaria

A digitised page from Volume 4 of the Jamaican herbaria

This has reduced the risk of contamination from the biocides, has increased access and ease of handling, but most importantly the images have been shared with other institutions.
The ebook highlights some of the star specimens in the collections.

This conservation and research project has provided a very exciting connection with the
Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ). Through this collaboration, the opportunity arose for us both to travel to Jamaica to research the collectors and the plant specimens and illustrations we have at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

We have been extremely fortunate to gain funding from both WIRP (Working Internationally Regional Project) and the Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant. Both funders were extremely supportive and constructive in helping towards our submitting a successful application.

Victoria Purewal viewing the remounted plant specimens

Victoria Purewal viewing the remounted plant specimens

We fly into Kingston, Jamaica on Tuesday 27 September and will be gathering historical data on Dr Broughton and other prestigious botanists including Robert Long and the Reverend Lindsay, both of whom were collecting and working during this interesting time in history.

We will be met by Keron Campbell, the botany curator at the NHMJ and together with the natural history team we will be escorted around the island, helping us to collect, compare and verify localities and plant specimens.

Modern day specimens will be collected to help interpret our historic material and provide a contemporary and fresh perspective that we can use to engage with our Bristol and Jamaican communities.

We will be keeping active on social media whilst there, and hopefully offer some insight on the specialisms and research being conducted in Jamaica but also on the botany and the habitats on the island of Jamaica.

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