Robert Wight

- A catalogue of the botanical drawings, and type specimens of taxa described by him and George Walker-Arnott, in the collection of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (E).

The Drawings - Query the data base

This is a catalogue of the 'Wight Collection' of drawings held in the library of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, amounting to some 711 individual items. It is not known how or when this collection came to the RBGE but there are three major possibilities. 1) Through the University of Edinburgh shortly after Wight's death (there is related material in the University library). 2) From the University of Glasgow, possibly in 1903 when they donated much unmounted Wight material that must originally have been in Arnott's collection (many of the drawings are annotated by Arnott). 3). With the Cleghorn material donated by the Royal Scottish Museum in 1941. Most of the drawings had been stuck to herbarium sheets and stored in taxonomic order in the Illustrations collection in the RBGE library until removed by H.J. Noltie in 1997 and reassembled into a 'Wight Collection'. The drawings were removed from the backing sheets in 2003/4, in a project sponsored by the Eddie Dinshaw Charitable Trust. They are now stored in transparent envelopes to allow both sides of the paper to be seen (many have annotations or drawings both recto and verso), and placed in boxes with ring binders.

The information is stored in a Microsoft Access database, searchable taxonomically by 'Current name', 'Original name' and 'Family'. A printout of the whole collection by drawing number is also possible.

The information for each drawing is as follows:

  1. Current name - that currently believed to be the correct name for the taxon.
  2. Family name.
  3. Original name - the name given by Wight (or his contemporaries). This is of particular importance where the taxon was described by Wight and the drawing may represent type material.
  4. Name of artist, and medium. Wight employed two South Indian (Telugu-speaking) artists - Rungiah up to around 1845 and Govindoo from then until 1853. The drawings are all on paper, most were originally drawn in pencil to which were progressively added bodycolour, ink and gum arabic to some parts of the drawings. There are, however, also some related printed works in the collection.
  5. & 6. Paper size (mm) and Watermark. Most of the drawings are on cut sheets of paper and only the part of the watermark visible has been transcribed. The symbol* represents a design (fleur de lis etc.)
  6. Simple description of the elements of the illustration.
  7. Annotations contemporary with the drawings (later ones have been ignored). The handwriting is that of Wight or one of his clerks unless otherwise stated. Ones in ink and pencil are given separately. These are complex and were clearly added to the drawings at various different stages.
  8. Place of publication - many of the drawings were published as lithographs by Wight in various of his illustrated works, notably Icones Plantarum Indiae Orientalis (Madras, 1838-53) and Illustrations of Indian Botany (Madras, 1838-50).
  9. Name of the lithographer - taken from the printed plate.
  10. Wight Catalogue number. Most species depicted can be correlated with specimens in Wight's herbarium collections. These are extremely complex - see H.J. Noltie's "The Botany of Robert Wight" (A.R.G. Gantner Verlag K.G., Ruggell, 2005), but at E is the set used by Arnott as the basis for his work on Wight's Catalogue, Wight's Contributions to the Botany of India, and Wight & Arnott's Prodromus Florae Peninsulae Indiae Orientalis. The Catalogue numbers are species numbers rather than collection numbers and often represent more than one gathering.
  11. Notes.
  12. & 14. Drawing number and location. Many of the drawings are paired, with a larger sheet on which the plant habit is depicted, and a smaller one bearing magnified floral dissections: such pairs have been numbered in the form: W 2.1, W 2.2. If the drawing is a single one, it is numbered in the form: W 3.0. The drawings are stored in numbered boxes of three size-categories. Within each category the works are arranged in the order in which they were published (which relates only in a limited degree to the order in which they were painted).
  13. Link to specimens. For the reason described under Notes 3 and 11, many of these drawings represent type material of taxa described by Wight, and Wight & Arnott; a cross link has therefore been made to related specimens in the herbarium at E. Full details of all the Wight type specimens at E are available in a separate database.
The Types - Query the data base

The herbarium of the RBGE has approximately 23,000 specimens collected in Southern India (the present day states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh) by Robert Wight and his native Indian collectors between 1820 and 1853. The most important ones are those that were originally in the herbarium of George Walker-Arnott, placed on permanent loan to E with the foreign herbarium of Glasgow University in 1966. There is also important material from other a variety of other sources documented (see Noltie, 2005). The collection includes a large quantity of type material that has been documented as part of a major project on Robert Wight.

The information is stored in a Microsoft Access database, searchable taxonomically by 'Current name', 'Original name' and 'Family'.

The information for each herbarium type sheet is as follows:

  1. Current name - that currently believed to be the correct name for the taxon.
  2. Family name.
  3. Original name - the name of which the specimen is a type.
  4. Place of publication - i.e. of the protologue.
  5. Type status. Because of the vast numbers of duplicates collected by Wight, the complex history of his own collections and their distribution, and the imprecise details given in his protologues, it has proved somewhat hard to apply the modern hierarchical series of types (holotype, syntype, etc.). Further research may show some of these to have been wrongly designated and to be corrected accordingly. A surprisingly small number of names have been lectotypified, but some such lectotypifications may have been overlooked. Any corrections of this sort will be welcomed by H.J. Noltie (h.noltie@rbge.org.uk), allowing the database to be progressively improved.
  6. RBGE Barcode number. Each sheet has been given a barcode; where more than one collection is present on a sheet, each collection has been given a different barcode
  7. 'Wight Catalogue' number. Most species depicted can be correlated with specimens in Wight's herbarium collections. These are extremely complex, but at E is the set used by Arnott as the basis for his work on Wight's Catalogue, Wight's Contributions to the Botany of India, and Wight & Arnott's Prodromus Florae Peninsulae Indiae Orientalis. It must be noted that the Catalogue numbers are species numbers rather than collection numbers and often represent more than one gathering.
  8. Year number. After Wight returned to India in 1834 he continued to send Arnott massive quantities of specimens, collected particularly in the years 1835, 1836 and 1837. As a stop gap before assigning these to species with existing Catalogue numbers, or giving them new ones, Arnott gave these temporary numbers prefixed by the date. Unfortunately the year-prefix was sometimes omitted (but which has been added [in square brackets] where possible from extant Arnott MSS), in which case there exists the possibility of confusion of lower numbers with Wight Catalogue numbers, or with other numbering systems applied to Wight specimens such as those distributed by Kew in the 1860s ('KD (Wight)' numbers).
  9. Other numbers. Wight sent duplicates of many of his collections in 1828 to London that were distributed by Wallich as part of the EIC ('Wallich') herbarium between 1828 and 1831. Wight retained numerous duplicates of most of these specimens in his own collection which he and Arnott later distributed. Such specimens thus may have both a 'Wallich Catalogue' and a 'Wight Catalogue' number. Specimens also sometimes bear other collector's numbers.
  10. & 11. Locality and date. Wight was extremely imprecise in the localities he gave on specimens, probably largely because he had not seen many of them in the wild himself, having been collected by his largely unsupervised collectors. The same general localities recur time and again, the most common being Courtallum, Quilon, and the Pulney and Shevagherry Hills. (Later collections from the Nilgiri Hills and around Coimbatore are mainly at K).
  11. Collector. Most collections are unattributed and [Wight] shoud be taken to mean collected either by Wight himself, or, more commonly, by one of his Indian collectors.
  12. Annotations by Arnott. These are present on specimens from his own herbarium, and are important with respect to the species described in the Catalogue, Contributions and Prodromus. They are commonly also present on the material received from the University of Glasgow in 1903.
  13. Annotations by Wight. Relatively little of the material at E is annotated by Wight
  14. Annotations by Missionaries. Wight acquired much material from the Tranquebar Missionaries (Heyne, Klein and Rottler) either from the Madras Naturalists' Collection (a post he held 1826-8) or directly from Rottler. Some of this had also been sent back to London and was distributed by Wallich with the EIC herbarium (as 'Hb Madras'), but there are some extremely interesting specimens in Arnott's herbarium annotated by the Missionaries, some of which may be duplicate material of species described by Willdenow.
  15. Annotations by others. These include annotations by Robert Graham (and his wife who seems to have acted as his secretary) to whom Wight sent material, especially in the period 1828 to 1831.
  16. RBGE collection name. Although amalgamated into a single general collection, it is possible to identify the majority of the component herbaria to which the specimens were sent, directly or indirectly, by Wight - the most important of these are those of R.K. Greville and R. Graham (the latter coming to E via the Maclagan collection from the University of St Andrews).
  17. Drawing reference. Where possible the numbers of related drawings by Rungiah and Govindoo in the Wight collection of drawings have been added.
  18. Notes.