Sunday, April 24, 2011

Outdated pleasures

While some are after the latest, others enjoy the outdated. There are some archaic sources for India that will always be fascinating for the insights that they offer. Today I look at The Cyclopaedia of India - this amazing work was produced in several editions, the first in 1858 followed by 1873 and the third in 1885, with  35,000 entries.  The author of this work, Surgeon General Edward Green Balfour, is himself of some interest. He is hardly remembered today but was one of the founders of the Government museums in Madras and Bangalore apart from the zoological garden in Madras. Working as a military doctor, he noted that women doctors might be more acceptable within Indian society and this led to the first woman doctor Mary Scharlieb joining the Madras Medical College.  Skeptical of Indian traditional medicine, he also worked on translating European texts on midwifery into Indian languages. He was a cousin of Allan Octavian Hume and would sometimes get his works read out in the House of Commons through his uncle Joseph Hume (a topic of an earlier post). His medical work included surveys of health and disease in association with climate - Statistical data for forming troops and maintaining them in health in different climates and localities (Quarterly Journal of the Statistical Society of London, 8, 1845:192-209) and his Remarks on the abstract tables of the men discharged from the military (Quarterly J. of the Statistical Society of London 1851, 14:348-356)- from which he determined that places in the hills were better suited for maintaining Military stations.  He was among the first to link deforestation and famine, suggesting the link between forests and water in Notes on the influence exercised by trees in inducing rain and preserving moisture (in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science 25(1849):402-448). As the first superintendent of the Madras Museum, he maintained careful statistics of the collections, the number of visitors and made special attempts to ensure that more women visited it.  Heber Drury (of the orchid fame) acknowledges him in his "The Useful Plants of India."  Environmental historian Richard Grove noted that "Balfour stands as the clearest example of an apparent duality of humanist reform and conservation concerns." A painting of Edward Balfour is said to languish in the halls of the Chennai Museum.
The three volume Cyclopaedia (3rd edition)

His cyclopaedia is however an especially major work. Scanned versions of the third edition are available online. Later editions expanded from three to five volumes. (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3)

A few random pickings (including some rather fantastic hail stones !)

Mooragana butter, or solid oil of Canara, is used medicinally as an ointment for the wounds of cattle injured by tigers. It is said to be produed from a forest tree growing in the Canara jungles. It is dark brown, and is the most solid of the solid oils. (v3:12)

Hail. ...At the end of the 18th century, a mass fell at Seringapatam the size of an elephant, which took three days to melt. On the 10th April 1822, at Bangalore, 27 bullocks were killed. (v2:3)

Todiramphus collaris, Scopoli. The white-collard kingfisher of the Sunderbuns, Arakann, Tenasserim, Malayana, and Archipelago. Its feathers are largely prized by the Chinese, who buy the skins at 24 for a dollar.

Bangalore. ...Bangalore city in 1871 had 142,512 inhabitants, of whom 105,632 were Hindus, 21,587 Mahomedans and 15,294 Christians. Public buildings for the administration of Mysore were erected during the minority of the present ruler. There are many Christian churches; and the French Catholics and several Protestant sects are spread over Mysore district. There is a college, and the Mysore Museum, which the editor founded in 1865. (Note: Italics added)

Hand. The figure of the hand, amongst all nations, is utilized as an emblem. ... In India, amonst Mahomedans and Hindus, the right hand is more honoured than the left; in China the left hand is more honourable the the right; in Siam the right more than the left. In British India, a person to whom you make a present, a servant to whom you do a kindness, will rush to your hand and press it to his lips. To seize a man's hand is to crave his protection, to profess yourself his servent.
Handkerchief. Handkerchief pieces form a considerable article of manufacture and traffic in Southern India. Handkerchiefs, coloured, from Madras, red from Sydapet and Ventapollem, are much admired for the harmony and richness of the colours, and the superiority of texture. Nellore pocked-handkerchiefs of jean deserve unqualified approbation. The silk handkerchiefs manufactures in Bengal are known in the market as Bandana, Kora and Chapa. They are generally figured, and of different colours. They are exported chiefly to the Burmese territories, and sold at from 1.5 to 5 rupees each. The coloured cotton handkerchiefs manufactured at Ventapollem, on the east coast, are well known in foreign markets, were formerly highly prized for their superior qualities and colours, but they have been driven from the markets by the Madras and Pulicat manufactures, which the community prefer for their superior qualities and colours. Madras handkerchiefs of the superior kinds are sold at 1.75 rupee each, and inferior sorts at 4 annas to 12 annas; the colour of the last description is very perishable. ...

One finds similar entries in the Hobson-Jobson, but that is often terse given that it aims mainly to be a dictionary or glossary. (scanned version) Some topics are handled by rather expansive treatments - an example is "opium".

Other links to see

A trip to Chennai last week (7-8 March 2012) allowed me to make a trip to the Government Museum. At the entrance of one of the galleries is a large oil painting of Edward Balfour. Unfortunately the lighting was awful with ugly lights reflecting off it. The painting is covered by a glass front, but it is sad that a good digital reproduction has not been made available online. After taking photographs at oblique angles and digitally skewing them on GIMP and patching together some pieces, I (or rather Wikimedia Commons / all mankind) now have a reasonably good image of this 1880 painting by Walter Saunders Barnard (1851–1930). It happened to be Womens Day and they apparently had something special. One hopes they did highlight his role in bringing ideas of public health, women's education, museums and zoos.

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