the golden chersonese and the way thither

In Garden of Blues, we are joined by Victorian women who explored and documented the tropical belt. They were often described as “frail”; they struggled with “insomnia” and “nervous health.” Doctors advised them to stay in bed or to lead an “open air life.” Their journeys of recovery followed the webs of colonial infrastructure.

The British Isabella Bird visited Perak in the 1880s. In her travel log, she reported on a botanical experimental site that eventually would “pioneer” rubber plantations.

In Honduras, Dorothy Popenoe accompanied her husband, Wilson Poponoe, to the Lancetilla Botanical Experimental Station on the northeastern coast of Honduras. Founded in 1925 by the United Fruit Company, this station became a laboratory for botanical and agricultural experimentation.

Dorothy had worked in the Kew Gardens and then joined the United Nations Herbarium. Wilson had worked for the United States Department of Agriculture and from a “world voyage” in 1912, he had explored the fruits of the Malay Peninsula and South China.

In letters written from the Chersonese, he described the various fruits that would make “great acquisitions to countries such as Hawaii and Porto Rico (sic)” and also suggested importing Malayan fruits to Florida and California.

Under Wilson, Lancetilla imported species from the Malay peninsula.

An amateur botanist and archaeologist, Dorothy eventually died from eating an unripe, and therefore fatally poisonous, Ackee fruit.

The history of this fruit is entangled with the colonial quest for crops to feed enslaved people on British plantations in the Caribbean. For instance, the Ackee fruit had been shipped from Westafrica to Jamaica as part of the British slave trade.

William Blighs search for breadfruit trees in Tahiti famously ended with a mutiny in 1789. His ship, the Bounty, never reached the Caribbean and Bligh took shelter in Timor in the Dutch East Indies, a sojourn that opened up the Indo-Malay’s flora to the British.