Curators of the Caribbean

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


A digitised page from Volume 4 of the Jamaican herbaria

In the autumn of 2014, I was fortunate to be contracted by Bristol Museum to conserve and digitise 4 bound volumes of plant specimens dating from the 1770s and collected by the prestigious botanist Dr Arthur Broughton. The conservation and digitisation was completed in early 2015, yet two years on I am still working with and fascinated by this fabulous collection.


Rhian Rowson and the 4 volumes of 18th century bound herbaria

Dr Arthur Broughton, was a Bristolian who made the mammoth journey to Jamaica, due to ill health, and myself and Rhian Rowson, biology curator at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, 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. 1000 specimens including extremely rare and type material. The books were analysed for biocides, cleaned in preparation for digitisation, digitised and then each specimen was painstakingly removed from the volumes and re-mounted onto archival sheets. This project has mitigated the risk of contamination from handling the treated pages, 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

The most exciting connection made during the research side of this project was with the Natural history museum of Jamaica (NHMJ). Through this collaboration, the opportunity has arisen for both me and Rhian to travel to Jamaica to collect modern material, research the historic plant specimens and illustrations held in Bristol museum and the collectors behind them. 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 Broughton plant specimens

Victoria Purewal viewing remounted specimens from one of the Jamaican volumes.

We fly into Kingston, Jamaica on Tuesday 27th 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 identify and verify plant specimens and localities. 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.



2 thoughts on “Curators of the Caribbean

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Most Read Blogs of 2016 | NatSCA

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