In 1783, Sir William Jones left for India with his newly married wife, Anna Maria to take up his appointment as the Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Judicature in Calcutta. Following his arrival, as the relentless heat debilitated his bodily constitution, Jones was left without much strength for any form intellectual activity except for the ‘examination of flowers’. The situation fuelled his long-standing interest in botany, resulting in his plan for a treatise on Indian plants which remained unfulfilled due to his untimely death in 1794. Jones’ botanical endeavours, however, are much less known in comparison to his literary, linguistic, and judicial overtures. My paper addresses this gap in scholarship, with a specific focus on the botanical illustrations commissioned by him from Indian artists. In so doing, I show how visuality became central to natural history, thereby revealing its entanglements with the questions of race, power, and political authority in early British Indian Empire. The case of Jones’ botanical imagery brings into sharper relief the premises of colonial knowledge-making and highlights the complexities of relationship between science and society. My attention to images also helps nuance the understanding of Jones’ approach to life and politics in India. The study of Jones’ botanical endeavours thus not only opens possibilities for a re-evaluation of Jones’ career, but also tests the limit of eighteenth century as a supposed age of harmonious cross-cultural interaction.
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