Montserrat: Gem of the Caribbean

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I came across this interesting blog post by graduate trainee Tavian Hunter on the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens’ site.  He spent time exploring Kew’s work in Montserrat and the resources held by Library, Art and Archives. Now that his traineeship is over, he writes: “Before I go on to start my MA in Library and Information Studies at University College London, I thought it would be a good idea to blog about my native island of Montserrat in the West Indies.” Here are excerpts; see the full posting in the link below:

A challenging environment

As one of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles island arc, Montserrat endures frequent natural events such as volcanic activity and hurricanes, in addition to man-made pressures such as deforestation. All these have not only laid waste to its native botanical plants but also endangered birds like the famous Montserrat Oriole. Kew’s UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team have worked on projects to conserve Montserrat’s unique biodiversity and I have been exploring the resources that the Library, Art & Archives holds to support this work.

In the archives I came across 5 boxes of West Indies letters and a collection of reports from the Botanic Station in Montserrat. In a report on the Experiment Stations in Montserrat for 1900-1901, the authors (both former Kew staff) recommended three sites for stations that would act as experimental plots for introducing new species. Many of these species came from neighbouring islands and were to be grown for the purpose of providing hurricane relief aid.

A useful abundance of rainfall

According to the Leeward Islands Gazette Supplement of 1892, although conditions on Montserrat were not suitable for some plant introductions like cacao, nutmeg and Liberian coffee, Montserrat’s high mountains ensured an abundance of rainfall that proved essential for the cultivation of tomatoes, lettuce, cabbages, cucumbers and bananas at the Grove Botanic Station. Most of the crop yield did raise funds for the island as can be seen in a letter from the Curator of Montserrat’s Grove Botanic Station addressed to Kew’s Economic Botanist, H. C. Sampson. Dated August 8th 1929, he asks Kew for advice in preserving tomatoes on a commercial scale for a possible export trade with Canada. A reply was sent back to Montserrat with advice about the mass-production and canning of tomato products and a leaflet (with recipes) published by the University of Bristol Fruit & Vegetable Preservation Research Station on the preservation of tomatoes. [. . .]

This 1878 publication by the company Evans, Sons & Co is complete with several hand-coloured chromolithographs (figs. 2 & 3), which were popular in the late 19th century. It describes the history of lime plantations on Montserrat and the company’s success in creating lime juice cordials as a beverage against Edmund Sturge’s competing Montserrat Lime Juice Company in the late 1860s. It also mentions the use of lime juice as a medicinal agent, prescribed daily for gout, rheumatism, fevers and measles. [. . .]

[Many thanks to Rod Fusco for bringing this item to our attention.]

For full blog post, see http://www.kew.org/discover/blogs/montserrat-gem-caribbean

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