A Lifelong Naturalist
It's the birthday of British civil servant Allan Octavian Hume born on this day in 1829.
Hume had worked in India for more than three decades.
"I look upon myself as a Native of India.”
Hume was a lifelong naturalist.
In his late twenties, Hume began to accumulate materials for his dream: a masterwork on the bird of the Indian Empire. Hume's job with the Customs Department of India provided exceptional opportunities for collecting birds. called the ‘Pope of Indian Ornithology’.
Hume had set up enthusiastic ornithology assistants all over India. As his team of volunteers collected specimens, they were thoroughly debriefed. Hume recorded decades of data and interviews in notebooks and journals in his home, called Rothney Castle, at Shimla.
When Hume was 55 years old, he experienced a devastating loss that would spell the immediate end of his work in ornithology. Over the winter, Hume had left Shimla only to return in the Spring to find Rothney Castle ransacked by a disaffected servant who stole and destroyed all of his written manuscripts.
Just like that, his dream was gone. All of it. A Lifetime of work. It took the starch right out of him. There would be no master book by Hume on the birds of India.
Thankfully, Hume’s specimens were spared. But his passion for ornithology had vanished with his papers. Heartbroken, Hume offered his entire collection of over 82,000 birds and eggs to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The Museum's curator Richard Bowdler Sharpe went to personally pack up the collection. He was blown away by Hume and his staggering collection.
"It did not take me many hours to find out that Mr. Hume was a naturalist of no ordinary calibre, and this great collection will remain a monument of the genius and energy of its founder long after he who formed it has passed away."
Hume returned to England as well. He turned his sharp observation and exploration skills to the field of botany. For the remainder of his life, he found solace and purpose in the garden. He went on expeditions annually and created an impressive herbarium.
He designed custom cabinets to store his specimens. He was especially interested in seeds and seedlings - showing the progression of early growth in plants. Hume was a fanatical collector.
In the months before he died in 1910, Hume finalized plans to transfer his botanical library and his herbarium to his lasting legacy and gift to the world: The South London Botanical Institute.
Btw - There is a lovely Gingko Biloba tree standing tall in front of the Institute and it is also in their logo.