A series of posts from our volunteers …

Simon Muirhead – Trawling through the Archive

Photographic portrait of Simon Muirhead
Simon Muirhead

For some years I have been a member of EDFAS [Edinburgh Decorative and Fine Arts Soc.] In 2017 I was invited to volunteer to help in the Library and Lorna asked if I would sieve through the accumulated archive to do an initial record onto the RBGE database. Years ago I had worked in the British Museum [Antiquities] and became naturally interested in researching and explaining the past.

Each Wednesday I work my way through a box of letters, documents, photos, etc and record the source of each: it’s date, to whom and from whom with addresses if known and finally a description and precis of the content.

The range is vast. So far I have worked on material from the 1830s to the near present. Reports from botanists exploring often little-known parts of the world, detailed correspondence between sponsors of botanic ventures with their advice and their worries.

Examples are:

  • The 1850’s Oregon enterprise ending in the still unexplained disappearance of the collector.
  • Attempts by RBGE botanists to penetrate the northern warring states of Myanmar after WW2 .
  • The passionate Hawaiian correspondent in his battle to protect and preserve the islands’ unique flora.
  • Letters by past Regius Professors and directors showing their determination to maintain and develop the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as a centre for research and scholarship and for the public, their correspondence with influential people and government departments.

I could go on and on.

Such a variety of subject matter with the added pleasure of being [for me] in an oasis of air-conditioned calm. Archives are endless I am glad to say?