Colour illustration of Rhododendron thomsonii India

Rhododendron thomsonii by Walter Fitch from Joseph Dalton Hooker's Illustrations of Himalayan Plants
Rhododendron thomsonii by Walter Fitch from Joseph Dalton Hooker's Illustrations of Himalayan Plants

Custodian: University of Glasgow Library Special Collections

Reference: Sp Coll RX 36

Lithograph of original drawing by Walter H. Fitch after sketches by Joseph D. Hooker.

Colour plate 12 of 24 in Joseph Dalton Hooker, Illustrations of Himalayan plants chiefly selected from drawings made for the late J.F. Cathcart, London: 1855.

Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911) and Thomas Thomson (1817–78), both graduates of the University of Glasgow, spent much of their early careers travelling in India. They studied and recorded the natural flora, and in particular they identified many species of rhododendron previously unknown in the UK.

The pair studied under Joseph’s father, William Hooker, Professor of Botany at Glasgow University from 1831. In 1847, Joseph Hooker set out for the Himalayas, travelling on a government grant to Calcuttta (Kolkata), Darjeeling and on to Sikkim, sketching the plants and mapping the landscape as he went.

In 1850 he joined Thomson to travel in the Sikkim forests, Assam and Chittagong. Thomson had joined the East India Company as a surgeon in 1840, and in June 1847 was appointed as one of the British commissioners for defining the boundary between Kashmir and Chinese Tibet. During that time, he made extensive explorations in Kashmir, taking the opportunity to build up specimen collections while he was there.

Thomson and Hooker acquired an extensive collection of plant specimens between 1850 and 1851, and wrote volume one of their Flora Indica on the basis of that journey which was published in 1855. Thomson returned to India in 1854 where he was made Superintendent of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kolkata and Professor of Botany at Kolkata medical college. Sir Joseph Hooker went on to succeed his father as Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 1865.

The bright red species illustrated was named Rhododendron thomosonii in commemoration of Thomas Thomson.

Lanark-born Walter Hood Fitch (1817–92) was one of the foremost botanical illustrators of the 19th century. He began training in painting and lithography in Glasgow in the late 1820s before commencing an apprenticeship in pattern drawing in the textile industry.

In 1832 he was introduced to botany by William Hooker and subsequently broke off his apprenticeship for employment and a subsequent, long association with the Hooker family.

Fitch followed Hooker to London in 1841 when Hooker was appointed director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Fitch later worked freelance and in collaboration with his nephew John Nugent Fitch, who he had trained. He was known particularly for his artistic skill, scientific accuracy and ability to work from rehydrated dried specimens. He was highly regarded across Europe, undertaking work for numerous patrons, publications and for the Linnean Society, of which he was made a fellow in 1857.

Beginning in 1834 over 12,000 of Fitch's botanical drawings and lithographs were published.