PLANT COLLECTORS IN KASHMIR
Kashmir Life|January 21-27, 2021
While studying Botany, students hardly spare a thought about the processes and the people who gave their lives to identify and name the plants that Kashmir grows. Exceptional botanist, Ralph R Stewart who push-biked into Kashmir more than a century earlier details the contributions that Western experts made to Kashmir taxonomy
Ralph R Stewart

I must be Rogers McVaugh’s oldest pupil. I did not know him until I was 70 and about to retire from Gordon College, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, where I had worked from 1911 until 1960, except for occasional furloughs in this country. When Rogers took charge of the angiosperm herbarium in 1960, following the death of ‘Uncle’ Harley Bartlett, his distinguished predecessor, he found that he had a legacy of some 150,000 specimens in bales and bundles in various storerooms. Some of these specimens had been in storage for fifty years. As about 30,000 of these specimens were from India, McVaugh looked around to find someone with a knowledge of Indian plants. A friend told him that I was retiring from Gordon College and he wrote to inquire if I were available. As I did not want to move into an Old Folks Home we gladly moved to Ann Arbor.

Rogers may not have realized that I was his pupil but living and working in his herbarium, and watching the way he did things was an inspiration to me. I had been a lecturer and administrator in a missionary college and a plant collector in my free time and was glad to learn how things were done in a good herbarium.

Eighteen years have passed and I am still working in a far corner of his herbarium and he is about to follow me into official retirement. After coming to Ann Arbor I worked for two years getting the Indian specimens into the herbarium and when the National Science Foundation grant supporting me ran out I was advised to try for one of my own to work on the flora of Pakistan, and Kashmir. India had been divided in 1947 and the place where I lived had become part of Pakistan.

Rawalpindi was a good centre for a botanist. It is only ten miles from the Himalayan foothills. The Murree and Hazarahills which rise to 9000’ are within 40 miles. Students could be taken into the mountains by bus in a couple of hours and there were good places to collect within ten or twelve miles. The valley of Kashmir was only 200 miles away. The road was closed in 1947 but between 1911 and 1947, I had spent many vacations in Kashmir and had built up a good collection of Kashmirplants.

I worked for ten years on An Annotated Catalogue of the Plants of Pakistan and Kashmir which was published in Karachi at the expense of the US Department ofAgriculture in 1972. In preparing an appendix, giving a few facts about 394 collectors, I began to get interested in the collectors, especially those who had been the pioneers. I began to wonder what it was like to collect plants in the Punjab and Kashmir 150 years ago when the Sikhs were still ruling in the whole area before the British took over in 1849. What was it like when there were no good roads; when a good day›s march was from 12 to 15 miles; when there were no telephones, telegraphs, hospitals or modern medicine? What was it like when there were no cures for plague, smallpox, cholera or malaria? Travel was so unsafe that important people travelled with armed escorts and ordinary travellers had to wait for a caravan they could join in order to enjoy the security of numbers. In spite of all these difficulties and more, the pioneers and explorers came from a number of countries. It took months by sailing ship to reach India by the Cape of Good Hope route and the land route through Turkey and Persia and the Persian Gulf also took months. When the traveller wanting to go to Kashmir reached Bombay, he still had weeks and weeks of travel before him.

It was not until 1860 that the railroad reached Rawalpindi. In 1912, I was able to ride a pushbike to Kashmir in five days. Moorcroft, Falconer, and Jacquemont went on horseback but they could not go faster than their coolies and pack animals. They did not find rest houses at the end of each day’s march but had to take their own tents.

The only book which I found of much use in my search for data about those who had collected in India and Kashmir was IHBurkill’sChapters on the history of botany in India (Botanical Survey of India, Calcutta, 1965). The book is a mine of information but you have to dig hard for the ore, as the book is arranged in such a manner that the references to each person are scattered through the book, which does not deal with those who began work after 1900.

To obtain additional material which was not in Burkill, I spent a good deal of time in the Travels Room at Kew reading the books of the pioneers I was interested in. Almost all of them were authors and if they did not reach home, others used their notes or diaries.

As my contribution to the Festschrift of Dr McVaugh I would like to introduce to a modern audience some of the pioneers who reached the Punjab and Kashmir many years ago.

WILLIAM MOORCROFT

(1765-1825)

The very first person to do any collecting in Western Tibet and Kashmir was a veterinary surgeon. He was the first Englishman to have a degree in veterinary surgery and he was the first veterinarian to be employed by the East India Company.

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