Sunday, 29 December 2013

He introduced apples to Bangalore

The Lalbagh is perhaps the most famous landmark of Bangalore and it is one of the finest botanical gardens in the world. There are many people whose association with the Lalbagh is still recalled with respect and awe.
If Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan are credited with having started the garden and also developed it into the charbagh style, the British subsequently took pains to not only maintain the garden but also develop it.
The names of botanists and Superintendents of Lalbagh like James Cameroon, Krumbeigal, Mari Gowda and others quickly come to the fore but there are a few others whose contribution is as great as that of these men.
One such person is Benjamin Heyne (1770-1819), a surgeon, botanist and naturalist. Heyne nurtured Lalbagh during the early 1800s and it was he who gave the botanical garden its present shape. What is more it is this man who introduced apples into Bangalore along with several other fruits and vegetables.
It was in 1793 that a young Heyne joined the service of the British East India Company. In 1796, he was assigned to the Madras Presidency as Botanist to Samalkot (Samalkot today is s small mandal in Andhra Pradesh and it is about 64 kilometres from Rajamundhry. Samalkot then had a botanical garden and it was part of the Northern Circars that the British ruled).
In 1799, the British alliance defeated Tipu Sultan in the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore war. The British returned the Mysore Kingdom to the Wodeyars and appropriated the Lalbagh Botanical garden in Bangalore.
The British decided to transform Lalbagh as a “depository for useful plants sent from different parts of the country.” They then ordered Dr. Benjamin Heyne, the Company’s botanist at Madras, to take charge of  Lalbagh.
The order to preserve and protect Lalbagh came from the Governor-General of India, Richard Wellesley. The British asked Heyne to accompany the Surveyor, with the following instructions:
“A decided superiority must be given to useful plants over those which are merely recommended by their rarity or their beauty,... to collect with care all that is connected with the arts and manufacturers of this country, or that promises to be useful in our own; to give due attention to the timber employed in the various provinces of his route,... and to collect with particular diligence the valuable plants connected with his own immediate profession, i.e. medicine.”
Heyne was in charge of Lalbagh till 1812. He set about the task he had been assigned with diligence and he collected a lot of plants, shrubs and plants from Bangalore, Mysore, Coimbatore and even the Western Ghats.
A large collection of plant specimens which were forwarded to London. He collected more than 350 species from the Western Ghats and more than 200 species were named by him. He also sent many of his Indian botanical specimens to the German botanist Albreht Roth, whose work “Novae plantarum” ) is largely based on these botanical specimen.
Coming back to the Survey work he had been entrusted with,  Heyne was assistant to Francis Buchanan. Both took up and completed the epoch making Mysore Survey.
Benjamin Heyne died at Madras in 1819 but not before he had been appointed to superintend in 1803 the cultivation of potatoes and other culinary vegetables such as turnip in the Company's garden in Mysore State. The garden, of course, was in Bangalore.
He was also tasked with the job of introducing bread fruit in Mysore State. Bread fruit belongs to the mulberry family, Moraceae. In Karnataka, it is locally called divi Halasu.
It is to him the credit must go of commissioning botanical illustrations though none of them survive today. In the eighteenth century, botanical illustrations had become important and botanists depended on them to identify, classify and publish botanical nomenclature. Heyne was keen to train ‘native' artists in identifying and illustrating characteristics of plants and shrubs that he had collected and planted in Lalbagh.

In 1803, William Bentinck wanted Heyne to  apply his “mineralogical knowledge to the subject of gold sand, collected in the vicinity of Bangalore, and the mode of extracting it from the stones in which it is embedded”.

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