Banks, Raffles and the Poison Tree of Java: Botanical Exchange in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries



About the Lecture

In the late 18th century, a sensational account of the upas or poison tree of Java was published in the London Magazine which captured British imaginations with its exaggerated depiction of Java’s natural and cultural landscapes. This presentation looks at late 18th and early 19th century botanical investigations of the upas carried out in the wake of the London Magazine article. In particular, it examines the roles played by Sir Joseph Banks and Sir Stamford Raffles in encouraging attempts to uncover the true nature of the tree. It places these investigations within the context of the global botanical network established by Banks which oversaw the circulation of information, seeds, specimens and plants of scientific and economic interest, and suggests that Raffles’s participation in the network was more nuanced than the mere sharing of new information on unusual or useful plants.

About the Speaker

Dr Sarah Tiffin

Dr Sarah Tiffin is an independent Australian-based scholar interested in depictions and descriptions of Southeast Asia in British art and creative literature of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Formerly a Curator of Asian Art at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Sarah is the author of Southeast Asia in Ruins: Art and Empire in the Early 19th Century (NUS Press, 2016) which was shortlisted for the International Convention of Asia Scholars Book Prize in the Humanities 2017 and longlisted for the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2017. She has recently contributed a chapter on the 1682 Embassy from Banten (Java) to the Court of Charles II for Laos and Beyond (forthcoming, NIAS Press) and is currently working on a study of the upas or poison tree of Java in British art and literature of the long 19th century.


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Dec 11 2018


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2