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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Ridley, Henry Nicholas (1855-1956)


Reference code(s): GB 0068 HNR

Held at: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Title: Ridley, Henry Nicholas (1855-1956)

Date(s): 19 century-1956

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 6 series, 104 files

Name of creator(s): Ridley | Henry Nicholas | 1855-1956 | botanist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Henry Nicholas Ridley was born in 1855. His first major interest was in genealogy and he was fascinated by his family's past. However, whilst at school at Haileybury in Hertfordshire his interests started to broaden and he became fascinated by nature, specifically birds and insects, he wrote his first published paper on the topic whilst at school. On leaving Haileybury Ridley read Natural Sciences at Exeter College, Oxford where he obtained a second class honours degree. Having completed Oxford, Ridley wished to become a tropical zoologist and he tried but failed to obtain a post (most notably at the British Museum). He then applied for a botany position at the British Museum and was successful, despite botany being a minor interest to him. At the Museum Ridley worked under Carruthers on Monocotyledons. Under his tutelage from 1883 onwards Ridley published widely on Monocotyledons, Orchidaceae and British plants and insects. His first (documented) foreign trip was to the Island of Fernando de Noronha, about which he published papers on; its geology; its botany; and its status as a convict island.

In 1888, having gained a wide knowledge of botany, Ridley was appointed as Director of Gardens and Forests for the Straits Settlements. His post was based in Singapore but also incorporated Malay. From this point onwards Ridley's life was a hive of activity for example, in 1906 he published thirty-eight papers. He published constantly on the Straits region; he was a good Director who completed all his tasks with zeal; travelled as much as possible sending back specimens to build an impressive herbarium in Singapore and contributing to the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew; and he brought back live samples to Singapore to be studied and cultivated. He became especially interested in economic botany, collecting data and writing about indigenous plants with a commercial value such as rattan. Yet, Ridley also still maintained his interested in zoological science; he had a large insect collection; he studied relations between plants and animals indeed he actively cared for animals living in the Botanical Gardens, Singapore. Despite these numerous achievements Ridley is best remembered for his involvement in the development of Malaysian rubber or Hevea brasiliensis.

Sir Joseph Hooker (Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 1865-1885) had encouraged the exchange of plants between colonies and he suggested to Ridley in 1888 that he stop at Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to study rubber plants. Ridley was so enthused by what he found that on arrival in Singapore he established a plantation of rubber trees and started experiments. He concentrated on making sure that the latex yield outweighed the cost of planting and maintaining the trees. Others were slow to realise the potential benefits but despite this Ridley continued to develop his plantation and so by the time others started plantations he was an expert. The first economic plantation was in Malacca in 1896 using seeds provided by Ridley. Others soon followed and the resultant boom was largely due to Ridley's seeds and advice. When he retired in 1912 the planters of Malaysia awarded him $800 in acknowledgement but despite spawning the industry Ridley received nothing else.

Another great interest of Ridley's was psychic phenomena; he founded the Singapore Philosophical Society and edited its journal. He also founded the Society for Psychical Research. He was known to be a kind man, who offered assistance to his employees' families.

Ridley achieved much but it is for rubber and as the man who man made others rich that he is mainly remembered in his obituaries. Professional bodies recognised his contribution to botany; he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1907 and granted a C.M.G. by the Government of the Straits Settlements in 1911. In addition, the Botanical Magazine was dedicated to Ridley in 1906 in acknowledgement of the many live plants he sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Ridley died at age 101 in 1956, at his home in Kew village, London having lost his sight from an earlier illness and having been confined to the house for four years.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Henry Nicholas Ridley, 19th century-1956, comprising five series. The first series consists of photographs and illustrations; the second series contains correspondence; the third series is comprised of notebooks; the fourth series consists of botanical and zoological papers; the fifth series consists of expedition papers and notes; and the sixth series consists of non-botanical and zoological papers.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the scope and content.

Conditions governing access:

This collection is subject to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew's standard access and reproduction conditions. Access is unrestricted and by appointment but will be subject to the conditions of the Data Protection Act. Reproduction information is available on request.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue available, contact the archives for more details.


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The collection was bequeathed to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew by Mrs H.N. Ridley in 1958.


Related material:

Related Material in other collections held by RBG, Kew:

J.D Hooker, Floras of Burma, Ceylon, India and Malaya ff. 57. (JDH/3/7) MF J.D Hooker, Impatiens c 1900-1910 ff. 4 (JDH/4/16) L. Reeve & Co. Authors etc., Dispersal of Plants (in alphabetical order) W. Munro, Monograph of Bambusaceae Southern Nigeria 1891-1905 ff. 343/441 T.F Chipp, Miscellaneous Data 1922-1948 ff. 171 Kew Gardens Appointments of Assistant Directors ff. 46/48/64 Miscellaneous Reports New Ginea, Fiji and Pacific Islands 1850-1928 ff. 12-13/15 Miscellaneous Reports Great Britain-Forest Education and Miscellaneous ff. 101-102 Miscellaneous Reports Southern Nigeria 1891-1905 ff. 342/441 Miscellaneous Reports Singapore Botanic Gardens etc. 1874-1917 ff. 51/74-78/81-87/91-94/102/104/109/111-113/268-271/175-178/280/284-285/486/488/501-503/515/527-531/550/561 Miscellaneous Reports Borneo-Cultural Products 1844-1913 ff. 142 Miscellaneous Reports Malaya-Rubber 1852-1908 ff. 91 ff. 91 Miscellaneous Reports Singapore Botanic Gardens 1911-1928 ff. 1-2 Miscellaneous Reports Straits Settlement-Cultural Products 1869-1909 ff. 184 Miscellaneous Reports Ceylon-Rubber 1880-1908 ff. 81 Miscellaneous Correspondence to Kew Staff Director’s Correspondence vol. 100, English Letters RED-RYE 1856-1900 ff. 126-128 Director’s Correspondence vol. 149, Asia Letters 1909-1928 ff. 571-575 Director’s Correspondence vol. 168, Malayan Letters-Singapore, Penang, Perack, Malacca 1901-1914 ff. 65-188 Director’s Correspondence vol. 166, East Asia Letters II 1866-1900 ff. 556-560 Director’s Correspondence vol. 18, English Letters M-Z 1842 ff. 58-89 Director’s Correspondence vol. 3, English Letters A-B 1832-1853 ff. 181-182/73 Director’s Correspondence vol. 7, English Letters A-G 1836 ff. 147-198 Correspondence with Miss M. M. Whiting, Miscellaneous Correspondence ff. 52 W.T Thisleton-Dyer, Projected Biography ff. 155-169 QG 332 H.N Ridley, General Correspondence T.F Chipp, Letters 1922-1931 ff. 171 Letters to I.H Burkill ff. 226-229 Letters to W.B Hemsley ff. 121 Letters to W. Mitten 1848-1905 ff. 245-246

Related Material held by other archives:

The Natural History Museum- Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD.

Notes on the collections of Franz Colestin Beroldingen, M Connolly, I Durazzo, the Geological Society of London, T Hohmann, T Nuttall, N Story- Maskelyne, H N Ridley, Mrs R A Rye and J Williams, by J M Sweet, W Campbell Smith, Sir Arthur Russell and others. Henry Nicholas, Ridley, one letter from Singapore, 20 Dec 1902. Henry Nicholas Ridley, Bracken Seedlings in London.


Archivist's note: Entry transcribed by Sarah Drewery, March 2011.

Rules or conventions: General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: March 2011

Scientific expeditions | Field work | Research work
Travel abroad | Travel

Personal names
Ridley | Henry Nicholas | 1855-1956 | botanist

Corporate names
British Museum (Natural History) x Natural History Museum

Christmas Island | Oceania
India | South Asia
Indonesia | South East Asia
Malaysia | South East Asia
Singapore | South East Asia
USA | North America