The Indian Museum Industrial Botany Library
Source: Cherie McKeich
This year’s round of 1854 Scholarships is now open for applications.
The 1854 Scholarships were established in 2004 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the museum. They are awarded to students undertaking an Honours, Masters or PhD research project related to Museum Victoria’s collections, or in association with a Museum researcher. Scholarships may be awarded in the fields of Natural Sciences, Australian History & Technology, and Indigenous Cultures.
In 2009, four scholarships were awarded to support a diverse set of projects, including fossil study in Queensland, a conference presentation and the purchase of diving equipment. Cherie McKeich, Masters student at Deakin University, used her scholarship to travel to India to research collections of Indian objects acquired from international exhibitions of the 1880s, including the museum's Economic Botany Collection. Here she visited libraries and museums seeking material about TN Mukharji, a Bengali civil servant who worked between 1875 and 1896 promoting Indian goods at international exhibitions.
She also visited workshops where unbaked, hand-crafted clay figures representing the castes, occupations and tribes of India are made using many of the same techniques as the century-old 'Poonah' figures in the Museum Victoria collection. Cherie reports:
I found TN Mukharji's journal articles (from the Indian Nation), which shed light on his active involvement in Bengal's intellectual culture. The writings also also demonstrated his avid promotion of India's traditional arts and industries (of relevance to Museum Victoria's collections).
His obituaries revealed how highly regarded his work was, and hint at a compelling personality. For example, he met Czar Nicholas of Russia at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, who was apparently 'so pleased with the conversational powers of Mr Mukerji that he jotted down his name in his note-book and presented him with a ring as a token of his high esteem and regard for him.'
It was also interesting speaking to the librarians and archivists about my project. They were very intrigued that I knew about TN Mukharji, and had come all the way from Melbourne to research him. They willingly discussed his reputation in Bengal as a great writer of literature.
As with much historical research, it is often in the piecing together of fragments that a more complete picture emerges - I'm sure there are many more fragments to be discovered in Kolkata. The 1854 Scholarship was invaluable for assisting my introduction to the city's fascinating archives.
This year's applications close on 31 March 2010.