Monday 15 April 2013

Notes on botany that made its way from Edinburg to Tipu's library

He was a physician but today he is more known for his contribution in the field of botany, zoology and geography. He studied medicine in the University of Edinburg and also botany under John Hope.
Hope (1725-1786) was a Scottish physician and botanist. He is best known as an early supporter of  Carl Linnaeus system of classification. The genus Hopea is named after him.
He was a fairly good student and he had taken detailed notes on botany when he attended several lectures on the subject, including those from Hope.
However, he soon joined the Merchant Navy and then service in the East India Company. He was a physician to William Hastings, the Governor-General and he was asked to survey the province of Mysore in 1800 after the death of Tipu Sultan in Srirangapatna in 1799.
He conducted the first scientific survey of south India and described in detail the plants, customs, tradition, anthropology, social and economic condition of the people of the Mysore Kingdom.  
He started his journey for the survey from Madras and came to Vellore and from there halted at Bangalore. When in Bangalore, he saw and described Lalbagh for the first time and from there he proceeded down south towards Srirangapatna.
He stayed back in Srirangapatna for a little over two weeks and with the help of a Kannadiga who could also speak Sanskrit he met the officials and royals of the Mysore Kingdom.
During one of his visits to the palace of Tipu Sultan where the wives and sons of Tipu still resided, this Englishman was handed over the notes he had made on botany at Edinburg. He was told by the Englishman in charge of Tipu’s library that the notes were found neatly bound in Tipu’s library when the British stormed Srirangapatna and took the fort town.
The notes belonged to none other than Francis Buchanan and it was Buchanan himself who had been asked to undertake the survey of Mysore.
Buchanan recalled that the detailed notes on botany that he had taken down was in the summer of 1780 and that he had handed the notes to his friend, Boiswell.
Bosiwell had accidentally left the notes in a trunk when Tipu had defeated the British in a battle in south India. When the book was presented to him as part of the booty seized from the British camp, Tipu had released that it dealt with botany, a subject dear to his heart.
Tipu had the notes bound in tooled leather and kept in a prominent place in his personal library. When the British took Srirangapatna and overran the town, they came across this book in Tipu’s vast library.
Tipu's library was listed by Major Ogg and later all the books were shifted to the Asiatic Societies of Calcutta and of London. When they realised that Buchanan had been engaged by Hastings to commence his survey of Mysore Kingdom, they had kept the book aside in Srirangapatna itself and handed it back to him when he came to Srirangapatna on May 23, 1800, a little more than an year after Tipu died.
Buchanan noticed that all the volumes that had been rebound at Srinangapatna and “that they have the names of God, Mohammed, his daughter Fatima, and her sons Hasan and Hasain, stamped in a medallion on the middle of the dover, and the names of the first four Khalifs on the four corners. At the top is “The government given by God” and at the bottom, “God is sufficient”.
A few books were stamped with the private signet, “Tipu Sultan”. The Buchanan manuscript was similarly decorated.
Buchanan brought back his notes to Scotland and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburg, where it remains even today.

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