(1812-1880) was a Scotsman who is said to have introduced over
120 new types of plants to the West. As soon as word reached England that
the Opium War was over, Fortune obtained appointment as Botanical Collector
to the Horticultural Society of London. After a four month passage
from England, he arrived in China where he remained from July 1843 to December
1845. While there he dressed in local costume and had a shaved head
in order to travel inland beyond treaty allowances. He met with fever,
robbers, pirates, and storms during his travels and collecting on the mainland
and neighboring islands.
Fortune sent several shipments of seeds and live plants in Wardian cases back to the Society's garden at Chiswick, where he had been superintendent of the hothouses. By the time he returned to England some of his earlier specimens already had been propagated and transferred to other principal gardens in Europe. During his first China stay he also spent two months in Manila and the Philippines.
He was also in China from August 1848 (after a two month passage) until 1851. From this visit he introduced thousands of tea plants into northwestern India that March. These experiments founded [sic] the tea industry there, possibly to allow the British to be able to control the tea in a friendlier area than China.
Fortune returned to China in March of 1853 (until 1856), and then on again to India, from February to November of 1856, with many seeds and plants of ornamental trees and shrubs likely to be of value there. In 1858 he was employed by the American government to explore China for tea plants which would grow in the Southern States.
And then, for a short time, he was once more in China, by way of Japan, in July of 1861. He left Europe in the summer of 1860 and reached Nagasaki before mid-October. After one week of touring the countryside and visiting nurseries, he set off for the area of Yokohama and Edo (the old name for Tokyo which Fortune calls Yedo). He arrived in the former after a fortnight, where he spent the same period before crossing to the capital. Mid-December he set steam for the Inland Sea, then back to collecting in Nagasaki briefly before crossing to Shanghai on January 2nd. Fortune was back in Japan by mid-April near the Bay of Shimoda. During the next three months he visited the region between Kamakura and Edo before departing the capital, again sailing to Shanghai.
Robert Fortune's travel books were enormously popular, went through several editions, and made him the most famous British traveler in the China of his time. (His phenomenal success must have inspired many young men to follow in his footsteps, although he was perhaps the last to make most of his valuable discoveries in the gardens and nurseries in the cities.) His humor, entertaining anecdotes, and vivid descriptions certainly helped sell books. But the very fact that the site of his travels was China must have also been a central attraction. To the British public, China remained very much the ultimate Other, the antipode to Europe. 1
Three Years' Wanderings in the Northern Provinces of China
"The gardens of the Mandarins in the city of Ningbo
[Ning-po, visited for the first time by Fortune in the autumn of 1843]
are very pretty and unique; they
contain a choice selection of the ornamental trees and shrubs of China,
and generally a considerable number of dwarf trees. Many of the latter
are really curious, and afford another example of the patience and ingenuity
of this people. Some of the specimens are only a few inches high,
and yet seem hoary with age. Not only are they trained to represent
old trees in miniature, but some are made to resemble the fashionable pagodas
of the country, and others different kinds of animals, amongst which the
deer seems to be the favourite. Junipers are generally chosen for
the latter purpose, as they can be more readily bent into the desired form;
the eyes and tongue are added afterwards, and the representation altogether
is really good...
"The only tree which I met with if very
large size in this district
, commonly called the Maiden-hair tree, from the resemblance
its leaves bear to a fern of that name. This is one of the plants
which the Chinese are fond of dwarfing, and it is, consequently, often
seen in that state in their gardens."
"The Soo-chow nurseries abounded in dwarf
trees, many of which were very curious and old, two properties to which
the Chinese attach far greater importance than do we in England."
A Journey to the Tea Countries of China
"...On visiting some of the flower-shops
in Shanghae, in the middle of January, I was surprised to find a great
many flowers which had been forced into bloom and were now exposed for
sale. I was not previously aware that the practice of forcing flowers
was common in China....
"A few days after visiting the moutan
(tree peony) district, I went to see the azalea gardens, which were equally
interesting. About five miles from the city there are two nurseries,
each of which contains an extensive and valuable collection. They
are usually known as the Pou-shan Gardens, and are often visited by the
foreign residents in Shanghae... In the front of the [residence of
the nurseryman] three or four flat stages were covered with Japanese plants,
of which the old man had a good collection. A small species of pinus
was much prized, and, when dwarfed in the manner of the Chinese, fetched
a very high price; it is generally grafted on a variety of the stone pine.
A Residence Among the Chinese
" [The less known Howqua's Garden] is situated near the well-known Fa-tee nurseries, a few miles above the city of Canton, and is a place of favourite resort both for Chinese and foreigners who reside in the neighbourhood, or who visit this part of the Celestial Empire... The plants consist of good specimens of southern Chinese things, all well known in England, such, for example, as Cybidium sinense, Olea fragrans, oranges, roses, camellias, magnolias, &c., and, of course, a multitude of dwarf trees, without which no Chinese garden would be considered complete."
"I have already noticed a new cedar or
discovered amongst these mountains
[near the city of Ningbo]
. I had been acquainted with this interesting
tree for several years in China, but only in gardens, and as a pot plant
in a dwarfed state. The Chinese, by their favourite system of dwarfing,
contrive to make it, when only a foot and a half or two feet high, have
all the characters of an aged cedar of Lebanon. It is called by them the
Kin-le-sung, or Golden Pine, probably from the rich yellow appearance
which the ripened leaves and cones assume in the autumn."
Yedo and Peking
"There are also a number of queer-looking detached little islands dotted about [the western edge of the large island of Kiu-siu] ; and one almost wonders how they got there, as they seem to have no connexion [sic] with any other land near them. Some of them are covered with a scraggy pine-tree or two, and look exactly like those bits of rockwork which are constantly met with in the gardens of China and Japan. No doubt these rocky islands have suggested the idea worked out in gardens, and they have been well imitated."
the houses of the high officials, wealthy merchants, or retired gentlemen,
though generally small, and only of one or two stories in height, are comfortable
and cleanly dwelling-places. One marked feature of the people, both
high and low, is a love for flowers. Almost every house which has
any pretension to respectability has a flower-garden in the rear, oftentimes
indeed small, but neatly arranged; this adds greatly to the comfort and
happiness of the family. As the lower parts of the Japanese houses
and shops are open both before and behind, I had peeps of these pretty
little gardens as I passed along the streets; and wherever I observed one
better than the rest I did not fail to pay it a visit. Everywhere
the inhabitants received me most politely, and permitted me to examine
their pet flowers and dwarf trees. Many of these places are exceedingly
small, some not much larger than a good-sized dining-room; but the surface
is rendered varied and pleasing by means of little mounds of turf, on which
are planted dwarf trees kept clipped into fancy forms, and by miniature
lakes, in which gold and silver fish and tortoises disport themselves.
It is quite refreshing to the eye to look out from the houses upon these
gardens. The plants generally met with in them were the following:
Cycas revoluta, Azaleas, the pretty little dwarf variegated bamboo
introduced by me into England from China, Pines, Junipers, Taxus, Podocarpus,
Rhapis flabelliformis, and some ferns. These gardens may be called the
gardens of the respectable working classes.
"On our way home
[to Nagasaki from an excursion into the surrounding countryside one glorious
we visited a little garden belonging to an interpreter
to the Japanese Government. Here again I noticed some azaleas remarkable
for their great size, and an extraordinary specimen of a dwarfed fir-tree.
Its lower branches were trained horizontally some twenty feet in length;
all the leaves and branchlets were tied down and clipped, so that the whole
was as flat as a board. The upper branches were trained to form circles
one above another like so many little tables, and the whole plant had a
most curious appearance. A man was at work upon it at the time, and
I believe it keeps him constantly employed every day throughout the year!"