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VICTORIANA - Enjoy articles relating to the Victorian Era. A regular column in each issue of The Tea House Times. Written by Patrice LePera - Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing - www.afterimage-art.com

June 2010 Posts


Blog Entry

M/J 10 - Orchids and Tea–The Hunt for the Botanical Treasures of the Victorian Age

posted by TeaHouseTimes Admin, ADMINFriday, June 25th 2010 @ 2:25 PM

From the May/June10 issue of The Tea House Times.  To view the most recent issue, please register / log-in at http://www.theteahousetimes.com for free access.

Tea, Spices, Vanilla and Orchids: Imagine Victorian adventurers hacking through Steaming Jungles, in Africa, Asia, and South America hunting exotic botanical treasures.

John Day (images at right) began painting orchids from his father’s collection in Tottenham, then took off as Orchid Hunter and Painter.   He scintillated Victorian societies with tales of his exploits in South East Asia, bringing back not only rare species, but stunning watercolors.*

James Bateman (images at left) stayed in England ordering expeditions, becoming the preeminent scholar on orchids, saving thousands of plants in England that had been kept in ovens, commissioning fabulous color plates by Mrs. Withers, flower painter for the previous Queen Adelaide.  Benedict Roezl was the embodiment of the passion, danger and excitement of the orchid hunter. Despite the loss of a hand, he travelled the world facing venomous snakes and tigers to collect over 800 new species of exotic orchids.

Some, drawn by the irresistible allure of the plants, were painters & collectors, others drawn by fabulous wealth, were avaricious and burned or tore down entire forests to get at plants high in the dense canopy and prevent others from obtaining rare species. Victorian newspapers reported headhunters, overturned canoes, rushing torrents, and chronicled the deaths of many of the orchid hunters, as the jungles took revenge and the most intrepid perished.

At a time when women were characterized by their dresses, Marianne North, a wealthy Victorian lady went around the world twice in her search for rare plants, painting orchids, insects and birds of Jamaica, Brazil, Java, Sri Lanka, Japan, India, Chile, Africa and Borneo.  At the suggestion of Charles Darwin, she went to Australia and New Zealand.  In her book “Recollections of a Happy Life” ** She mentions a headhunter chief, who kept patting the fat arms of a Victorian dowager, at a dinner party in her honor, as the tastiest meal he had ever seen.  In her refined Victorian skirts and corsets she travelled alone, preferring “less civilized and more interesting people,” gracious to natives and diplomats alike, traipsing through jungles, wilderness and swamps, scaling mountains, and cliffs, in scorching sun, drenching rain, painting from a jungle hut, and writing with delight and joy of the wonderful day spent painting orchids, having seen so many lovely things.  All 832 paintings are still on display at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, a tribute to this gentlest of orchid hunters, and the Victorian passion for orchids.

*Reproduced in “A Very Victorian Passion.” 2004
**Recommended: free online at Google.com books
Collectibles:  Orchid books and prints, ephemera


©2010 by Patrice LePera ~ Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing ~ www.afterimage-art.com

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