I’m finally getting back to my beleaguered blogging of my research trip, having been waylaid by teaching. After the May Bank Holiday weekend, I made my way to the Royal Horticultural Society Lindley Library, not far from Victoria Station and Westminster Cathedral. This library contains early printed books on gardening, botanical art and photographs. Importantly, it also contains the original journals in which the first details and images of Australian flora appeared in British publications.
The staff at the Lindley Library were amazing. They provided me with a list of their publications relating to James Mangles beforehand, then worked tirelessly throughout the day to help me locate them.
Perhaps the most exciting publication was John Lindley’s Botanical Register, which included accounts of many of the plants grown from seeds which Molloy and James Drummond collected, and which Mangles cultivated. In 1839 Lindley, Chair of Botany at University College, London, published ‘A Sketch of the Vegetation of the Swan River Colony’, a systematic account of the flora from south west Western Australia. He states that the information was derived from a handful of preceding publications, as well as the herbaria of James Drummond, James Mangles and Robert Mangles, among others. Molloy is not acknowledged, although Mangles prized her collections, which were more carefully crafted than Drummond’s. Molloy didn’t complain about this lack of acknowledgement – she would have been conditioned not to – instead, she was thrilled that her work would appear at all. She wrote to Mangles:
The notices of the Swan River “Floral Botanical Register”, has [sic] quite inflamed my ardour; and instigated me to greater exertion, to think how small an aid I have lent to your cause — The Colour of the Patersonia is too Blue, the natural colour is more of a violet or Amethystine colour — it really is the colour of an Amethyst and there is a yellow species at Augusta No 99, Large Hortus Siccus, with which Mr Preiss was not acquainted; but the seeds are widely different, so they may not both be Patersonias [emphasis comes from underscoring in Mangles’ letterbooks].
Often, Molloy’s passion for collecting spilled over into her admiration for Mangles. I have no doubt that this was genuine, but I also expect, given her skill with writing and the necessity for women to rely upon their femininity to achieve results, that she was creating a character that would appeal to him. Her use of the words ‘small and aid’ suggests the diminutive, an amelioration of her self, before she declares her detailed knowledge of the plants. This accords with another stylistic pattern in a passage written when she sent off her first box of seeds to Mangles:
I have no hesitation in declaring that were I to accompany the box of Seeds to England, knowing as I do, their situation, time of flowering, soil and degree of moisture required with the fresh powers of fructification they each possess — I should have a very extensive conservatory or conservatories of none but plants from Augusta, I do not say this vauntingly, but to inspire you with that ardour and interest with which the collection leaves me, and to cordially thank you for being the cause of my more immediate acquaintance with the nature and varieties of those plants that we exchanged for the productions of our own Country, and which will also benefit my Children.
Here, Molloy tempers her detailed knowledge of the plants with an explanation of how useful the collecting project is to her and her family. Her phrase ‘I do not say this vauntingly’ is telling, a deflection of the work she has put into collecting, and the knowledge she has gained of the species. To be a woman who knew too much was undesirable.
I had read a copy of the ‘Botanical Register’ online, but to see it in its original form was astonishing – the colours of the plates were still extraordinarily bright.
What was also interesting were the accounts in other volumes of the Botanical Register of the plants named after Mangles, and his attempts to grow them. Rhondanthe manglesii, for example, was described as ‘A charming greenhouse annual, introduced from the Swan River Colony in New Holland by Captain Mangles, R.N. after whom we have named it. It first flowered in the beautiful collection of Robert Mangles, Esp. of Sunning Hill, where our drawing was obtained in 1833, and whence it has since been liberally distributed. In token of its beauty it received the distinction of a medal at one of the great exhibitions in the Garden of the Horticultural Society.’
This points to the currency of flora circulating among horticultural circles in England. On one hand there was genuine excitement about new plants emerging from the soil, but on the other there was prestige to be gained through naming. George Wailes, one of Mangles’ correspondents, made repeated efforts to have a plant named after Molloy but these were ignored. More of this in a later post.
Many of the drawings in the Botanical Register were made by Sarah Drake, who went to school with Lindley’s sister Anne. Her story has parallels with that of Elizabeth Gould, who did many drawings for her husband John Gould but received little recognition. Melissa Ashley describes Gould’s life beautifully in The Birdman’s Wife.
Mangles’ brother Robert, who grew many specimens in the grounds of Whitmore Lodge, is amusingly described in an essay on Mangles by Alice Coats as ‘a very large man with a very small voice’ but I haven’t yet traced the original source for this quote. There are a number of entries on the Mangles brothers in John Claudius Loudon’s Gardener’s Magazine. Loudon’s wife Jane corresponded with James Mangles a few times. She was the author of The Mummy and a pioneer of science fiction, and met her husband when he wrote a review of the book. He asked to meet her, expected to find a man, but instead found Jane. Later, Jane became important in botanical history for writing books about botany that educated girls, as many of the texts about botany at this point were inaccessible and difficult to read.
So the Lindley Library was a marvellous stop on my trip. Following this I went to the herbarium at Kew Gardens and saw some of Molloy’s specimens, which was one of the absolute highlights of my research. Again, this will have to wait for a later post.