The Manuscript

This manuscript from Anjengo in Southern India represents an important pharmacopoeia work. It was acquired by Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), naturalist and patron of the natural sciences and forms part of the incredibly rich and diverse Banksian collection held in the Library and Archives at the Natural History Museum.

The full title is “Declaração das Arvores, Arbustos, Plantas, Trapadeiras, e Eruas virtuozas que se achão pintadas no outro Liuro, cujas Raizes; cascas, folhas, flores, frutas, çementes e Inhames servem para se aplicar avarias doencas declaradas pellos fizicos deste Anjenga” which, translated into English reads :“Statement Concerning the Beneficial Trees, Shrubs, Plants, Creepers and Herbs which have been drawn in another Book, the Roots, Barks, Leaves, Flowers, Fruits, Seeds and Tubers of which can be used for various ailments, as given by the physicians of Anjengo.”

The manuscript represents a unique record of the medicinal plants from the Anjengo region on the southwest, or Malabar, coast of India and details the properties and medical applications known of them in the mid-eighteenth century. Dated 1750, it was written by Salvadore Rodrigues, a Portuguese speaking Indian, a hospital assistant in Anjengo. By the time he wrote the work, Rodrigues had been employed at the Anjengo hospital for 23 years and a testimonial held in the East India Company's records in the Tamil Nadu State Archives in Chennai, India, shows that he was highly considered for his knowledge and skills in treating patients using local medicinal preparations. There is very good reason therefore to suppose that the recipes in the text reflect indigenous medical practice, their acceptance by Europeans, and their role in maintaining their health in the region prior to the nineteenth century.

The manuscript work describes and illustrates 228 medicinal plants that were found in the English settlement of Anjengo on the southwest, or Malabar, coast of India. The drawings have been executed in iron gall ink with yellow, pink, red, blue and green washes. The text gives the names of the plants in Portugese and Malayalam, their physical description and habitats, as well as a detailed medicinal preparation for each plant and the ailments for which they can be applied. This latter type of information, normally a closely guarded secret transmitted strictly within the families of local practitioners, is extremely rare to find in written sources which, when they exist, are usually in Sanskrit or in regional languages difficult to access. In addition, most of the known sources are formal texts which, while they do give formulae and methods of preparation of various drugs, they do not always reflect the actual everyday practice of medicine.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith