Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hume, Allan Octavian, “A small site that is interested in things botanical and historical, associated with the herbaria@home project,” posted a piece on April 13 about the post theosophical pursuits of A.O. Hume (1829–1912) as part of their series on British botanists. “During his latter years, he devoted time and money to the establishment of the South London Botanical Institute; this was and is based in a large house on Norwood Road, Tulse Hill.”

The piece, which has since been taken down, had the obligatory reference to Blavatsky and Theosophy: During his time in India, Hume become involved in the Theosophy Movement (Blavatsky and Olcott) but later dissociated himself from most of its tenets though he remained a vegetarian (and was a vice president of the British Vegetarian Society). Hume was not alone in the adoption of such beliefs—Mary Ann Atwood embraced theosophy, Wallace–Spiritualism, and H C Watson –Phrenology: the interpretation of bumps on the head.

Hume, along with A.P. Sinnett, was one of the recipients of what came to be known as the Mahatma letters. Some of the best-known letters were to Hume. He must have been a formidable personality. Critical of the British Government in India, he took early retirement after being demoted, got involved with the Theosophical Society in India, and, leaving that, went on to help start the Indian National Congress. A passionate ornithologist in India, he became an equally passionate botanist after he settled in London in the 1890s.

The South London Botanical Institute, which was founded by Hume in 1910, still exists, and according to their website: “the aims of the Institute have remained almost unchanged in 100 years. Hume’s lasting contribution has been to provide an environment where those interested in plants, be they amateur or professional, may meet and develop their knowledge of plants.” The Institute, at its original location in London, houses a library with an extensive collection of botanical books and journals, a herbarium, and impressive garden, and hosts a number of related events during the year.

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