Saturday 13 April 2013

When plants from Madras nopalry were transferred to Lalbagh

The botanical Gardens of Bangalore and Calcutta are generally acknowledged among the oldest and even today are among the best preserved, protected and nurtured greens.
However, much before the botanical gardens in Bangalore-the Lalbagh-were taken over by the British in 1799 after the death of Tipu, there was another big botanical garden in Madras and it was located at Nungambakkam.
This garden was established in 1778 and almost a few years after the Lalbagh in Bangalore. This garden had come up much before Dr. Francis Buchanan took up his seminal survey on the flora and fauna of South India in 1799-1800.
The botanical gardens at Nungabakkam were set up by Dr. James Anderson, Physician General of the Presidency of Madras. Initially, the botanical garden took off on a fairly large patch of land around his house in Nungambakkam in 1778.
By 1792, the botanical garden had expanded to 110 acres and they came to be known as Anderson’s Gardens. He planted another botanical garden and this was called Nopalry in Marmelon, now Mambalam-Saidapet.
James Anderson (1739-1809) was a qualified surgeon with a medical degree from Edinburgh and he came to Madras in 1761 from Scotland. He was appointed an assistant surgeon with the East India Company in Fort St. George in 1765. He was promoted as a full surgeon in 1786 and then Physician-General.
Anderson sent specimens of cochineal insects he collected on a grass growing on Madras’s sandy beaches, as well as of the dye they produced, to Joseph Banks (1743-1820), an English naturalist and botanist, for verification.
Anderson then with permission from the East India company set up nopalry or a nopal nursery in Madras. This was the only nursery of its kind in India then and its started functioning in 1791 in Saidapet.
The East India company allotted Anderson a two acre site for the nopalry. This piece of land was levelled and it had an embankment, with a milk hedge (Euphorbia aphylla) and mirgosa (margosa; neem, Azadirachta indica, Meliaceae).Anderson appointed his nephew, Andrew Berry, also a surgeon, as  Superintendent of the nopalry. The cactus grown, Nopal de Castile, had such fine and minute spines that they could be seen only with a magnifying glass.
Anderson planted the nopals six feet apart.
By 1796, Anderson began giving more attention to his botanical gardens adjoining his home and in 1793, the East India Company decided to devote a part of the nopalry  to the Government Botanical Gardens and to experiment with growing rubber trees.
However, both the gardens suffered when a cyclone ravaged Madras on December 9, 1807.
Only some of the plants in both the gardens survived the cyclone and among them were sago palm (Saguerus rumphii, Arecaceae) and the nopal (prickly pear). However, by 1809, the nopalry was almost in ruins. It was then that the British decided to transfer the several plants from the nopalry to the Lal Bagh in  Bangalore.
The British then formally declared the nopalry as a failure and the land which it occupied in Saidapet was sold.
However, the Anderson Gardens survived till 1828 and Anderson himself had started introducing sericulture in the gardens from 1790.  he was inspired by the manner in which Tipu had gone about introducing silk in his Mysore Kingdom.
Anderson thought Tipu had hit upon an excellent economic enterprise and he imported silkworms from Bengal in December 1790.
After Anderson’s death, the Gardens was acquired by Thomas Pycroft, a member of the Council of Madras, and divided into today’s Pycroft and Anderson Gardens for development

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