Retrieved from a wreck?

Was this intriguing pamphlet nearly lost at sea?

Hooker’s annotation in Contributions to a Flora of Ceylon by George Gardner. Calcutta Journal of Natural History. Vol.83: RHS, Lindley LibraryAmong the 127 volumes of Botanical Tracts that contain John Lindley’s pamphlet collection, there are a few that contain instalments of George Gardner’s Contributions to a flora of Ceylon, a work that Gardner, who was the superintendent of the Peradeniya Botanic Garden, published in parts in the Calcutta Journal of Natural History in the 1840s.

One part, bound in volume 83, has Gardner’s usual presentation notice to Lindley written in ink on the first page (cropped in the course of binding), but it also has an intriguing pencilled annotation written along the fore-edge.

It has proven very difficult to read the opening word of this inscription. ‘Ducked’, ‘dunked’, ‘beached’, ‘dirtied’ have all been suggested – and all would be appropriate to the situation, although some of them not so appropriate to the vocabulary of the inscriber, Joseph Dalton Hooker, whose characteristic ‘J.D.H.’ appears as the signature. But the remainder of the sentence is clear: ‘in the Gt. Liverpool’.

Enthusiasts for maritime history will recognise that name. The steamship Liverpool was, on its completion in 1837, the largest steamship yet built, and the first to be made specifically for the transatlantic passenger route. It was bought some years later by the P&O line, partially rebuilt and expanded, renamed the Great Liverpool, and put to work carrying the international mail through the Mediterranean.

SS Liverpool by Samuel Walters (1811-1882), c.1840, of her first voyage to New York in 1838: Robert A Siegel Auction Galleries Inc.On 24 February 1846, on her way from Alexandria to Southampton, she was wrecked at Cape Finisterre, off the coast of Spain. The loss of such a famous vessel led to questions being asked in Parliament; on 19 March, Sir George Grey called for an inquiry, even though ‘As the vessel was not one of Her Majesty's ships, it did not fall directly within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty to institute an inquiry; but as this vessel carried the mails, and had one of Her Majesty's officers on board’, its fate was a matter of public interest. P&O said that it would hold their own internal inquiry.

The most likely interpretation of the pencilled inscription is this: Gardner had sent a package of copies of this, his latest publication, to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. When the package was retrieved from the wreck and delivered, Joseph Hooker duly distributed copies to other colleagues, and added this note by way of apology. I therefore suspect that the first word is ‘dirtied’, although today the pamphlet does not show obvious signs of water damage.

Try reading the inscription and see what you make of the word. And if by chance you work in a library that has one of Gardner’s other presentation copies, see if it also has an annotation by Hooker, and what it says.

More from the collection

Memoirs of a Victorian gardener
An insight into the horticultural world of the late 19th century.

Hollywood salads
A fun book featuring salad recipes from great stars including Bing Crosby.

More about RHS Libraries

Exhibitions and events
The libraries hold exhibitions of photography, botanical art and more, along with talks and courses.
Library collections
As well as books and periodicals, discover, art, photos and archives. Open to all.
Library services
Our libraries can help with your academic research and provide access to digital resources too. RHS members can borrow from the thousands of gardening books held in the Lindley Libraries. 


Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.