Travels in Malaysia and Indonesia
Botanist Report with Photographs
Primary Source
Rubber Trade Survey
With Observations of
Tea – Coffee – Tobacco – Cocoa – Rice

Java, Federated Malay States, Ceylon, 1911. Expedition report of botanist Robert Fyffe, 1st Assistant Forestry Officer for the Uganda Botanical, Forestry & Scientific Department, who made a special tour to Java, British Malaya, and the British Colony of Ceylon to examine the production of para rubber in particular, but also other valuable plantation crops, twice signed in manuscript – to the frontis letter and also to final summary leaf. Folio. 46 pages in typescript, plus 73 original photographs mounted to 24 separate leafs throughout the text, Commonwealth foolscap typing paper measuring just under 8″ x 13″. With author’s own annotations throughout. Navy blue cloth boards measuring 8.2″ x 13″ x 1″, titled in gilt to front. Some wear to boards, fading to endpapers, otherwise in very good and original condition, a pleasing primary source report with profuse photographic illustration.

A botanist of Scottish descent, Robert Fyffe was well-respected in his field. He was especially knowledgeable and interested in rubber production, even acquiring a patent for an instrument used in the rubber tapping procedure. By 1920 Fyffe had risen to the position of Chief Forestry Officer at Entebbe. The National Archives holds a collection of his timber specimens from Uganda. He was also Director of the Botanical Gardens at Entebbe from 1907 to 1 April 1917.

Fyffe, then 1st Assistant Forestry Officer, was based at Entebbe in Uganda while the Uganda was a British Protectorate (1894-1962) and forestry fell under British Administration. The present report is addressed to the Chief Forestry officer of the Uganda Forest Service via his Chief Secretary. To develop commercial wealth into the protectorate, a railway was completed in 1903. It did indeed open up considerable commercial opportunities for the colony. Tea, coffee and other commodities could reach the port of Mombasa and then sold on to the rest of the world.

Fyffe’s expedition was contemporary to the early efforts of increasing commerce after the installment of the railway. Being employed by the British government, and seeing the noteworthy expansion of rubber plantations and rapidly increasing trade in Malaysia and Ceylon in particular, it is no surprise that he was selected to voyage abroad to these booming places for a reconnaissance of sorts.

The Federated Malay States (British Malaya) was a federation of four protected states in the Malay Peninsula – Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang established by the British government in 1896, which lasted until 1946. Fyffe includes Singapore and Penang in this section, although they were then part of the Strait Settlements. [The Straits Settlements were a group of British territories located in Southeast Asia, which came under direct British control as a Crown colony on 1 April 1867, however, the declaration gave the colony a considerable degree of self-governance. In 1911, when Fyffe visited the region, the Straits Settlements consisted of Penang, Singapore, Malacca, Dinding, Christmas Island, the Cocos Islands, and the island of Labuan. The colony was dissolved in 1946.] Java, then part of the Dutch East Indies was surely of continued intrigue and desire in Great Britain’s eyes; precisely one hundred years earlier in 1811 the British East India Company invaded the nation. British occupation lasted four years. Ceylon was a British Crown colony, since 1796, and would remain so until 1948.

Having departed from London 30 August 1911, Fyffe spent nearly three months in these regions, primarily to examine and assess the cultivation and processing of rubber , but also to glean information on other commodities such as cocoa, coffee, rice and tea, to compare the quality and value of the same in Uganda and British East Africa. Noting in his introductory letter that he harvested and forwarded “several samples of rubber prepared in Ceylon and the Federated Malay States”, he prepared the present report immediately upon his return, completing and dating it on 29 January 1912, which goes into much detail on the many stages of producing rubber, from planting the seed, to the various means of tapping, pressing and drying, to the final quantity and quality of production.

An invaluable expedition indeed, he returned home to present several potential crops to experiment with in Uganda, based on his observations and gleanings in the islands of East Asia. His hosts were most informative and helpful, generously offering their time and wisdom, even gifting him with a few camphor plants for planting, and access to acquiring coffee plant seeds from Java.

Spending 26 days in the Federated Malay States and the Straits Settlements, Fyffe visits numerous rubber estates where he is highly impressed by the high yield, the health of the trees, efficient smoking methods, and a monumental machine that he believes will be pivotal for the industry as a whole. He also toured coffee and coconut plantations, and visited something rather unusual – a camphor distillery.

Some of the places described include Selangor including an estate in in Klang or Kelang (the royal city and former capital), Perak, the city of Seremban, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur where he spent time in each their botanical gardens, Province Wellesley (in present-day Penang). This section consists of 5 pages in typescript plus 18 photographs on separate leafs within the text.

One of the photographs reveal that he visited the Castlefield Estate, which was situated in or near Klang and produced rubber, existing from 15 June 1906, and was owned by parent company Golden Hope Plantations Ltd which was also established in 1906 and had another subsidiary plantation estate. [The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 29 November 1910, contains an article on the Castlefield’s annual meeting.]

Excerpts from the text:

  I spent twenty-six das in the Federated Malay States and I visited the Botanical Gardens, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and the Agricultural Station as well as numerous rubber Estates.

  “Most of the rubber is growing between 2° to 4° North of the Equator…. the soil is in a very fine state of division and its physical composition is excellent.”

  “In Selangor which is a large planting center rubber thrives exceedingly well and in many instances growth is remarkable. I visited numerous Estates in Selangor and I saw some five year old trees which measured 41″in girth at 3 feet from the base and I was informed that they were first tapped when only 3 years old.”

  “I inspected Estates in Perak, Seremban, Wellesley, etc. and with the exception of the rubber seen in Wellesley the growth of young trees on a whole is excellent… many of the older plantations have been planted rather close… close planting, excision of bark, planting in swampy land and exhaustion of the nutrient in the soil must to a certain extent retard the growth… “

  “The methods of clearing the jungle, preparing the land and planting are similar to those in Ceylon with the exception that in the Federated Malay States more wide planting is being done. The avenue system of planting 21 x 24 feet apart is in my opinion very good… the rubber is grown entirely without shade. On some Estates the tapping commences when the trees are 16 inches in girth… the tendency at present is to confine tapping operations to below five feet from the base, several kinds of tools are used… The original bark is soft and thick and wound response is rapid… yields are high, as much as 4 pounds of rubber being obtained from a 5 year old tree in a year… ‘Die Back’ and Fomes semiststus occurs in the Federated Malay States… “

  “The latex is strained through a fine sieve and coagulation is effected by the addition of acetic acid… the rubber is either hung in an ordinary drying store to dry or it is hung in a smoking chamber for from seven to twenty-one days according to the Estate. Some Managers prefer a dark rubber while others prefer it of a lighter colour, various combustibles are used as fuel, and of these the best are Mangrove wood, Rubber seeds and Cocoanut husks. I was particularly interested in this method of preparation…”

  “In Ceylon I saw no one there attempting to smoke the rubber…”

  The best sample of Para rubber exhibited at the international Rubber Exhibition held in London last year was smoked sheet prepared on Sungi Kapar Estate in Selangor, this is one of the Estates I had the pleasure of inspecting, smoking is being widely adopted in the Federated Malay States and just recently Mr. Derry of the Botanical Department, Singapore, perfected a machine for smoking and coagulating the latex and making the sheet rubber with one operation, and it is considered that this method of preparation rubber will soon supersede all other methods.

  I paid several visits to the Agricultural Station Kuala Lumpur and was much interested in the experiments being carried out there with the cultivation of Coffee, Cocoanuts, various rubbers, etc.”

  I paid several visits to the Botanical Gardens, Singapore, and to Raffles Museum both of which are very interesting and instructive, and I was very much interested in the tapping experiments which were being conducted in the Botanical Gardens.”

  “The rubber industry in the Federated Malay States owes much to the able Director of the Gardens for his untiring efforts to stimulate the industry… the country will lose a valuable helper and friend when Dr. Ridley returns, as he informed me… “

  I passed through enormous areas of flat land under rice cultivation in the Krian district, and I visited the Botanical Gardens, Kuala Kansar and Penang, where I saw Rubber experiments being carried out…”
End Excerpts.

He mentions Mr. Derry, Assistant Superintendent of the Botanic Gardens in Singapore, with respect to the new and highly praised innovation he had devised [and patented], for smoking and coagulating latex to make sheet rubber in one operation, as witnessed firsthand at the Sungi Kapar estate in Selangor. [Robert Derry of Southport, England, was a botanist in the days of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, whom he was acquainted with as a colleague in the field. When Derry was sent in 1883 to work for the Government Botanist’s Office in Georgetown, British Guiana [Guyana], Hooker questioned his capabilities. Nonetheless, Derry proved himself both knowledgeable and skilled, subsequently being involved in and contributing greatly to the Federated Malay States Experimental Plantations, Straits Settlements Forests, and other government forest departments in the region for at least twenty years. He left his homeland on the ‘Glenogle’ on 7 July 1886, to work for the Forest Department, having officially been appointed to the post of Assistant Superintendant, Malacca on 25 June. Arriving in Penang on 7 August, he stayed with Curtis until 8 September when he proceeded to Malacca to take up charge. In February 1887 he was transferred to Singapore as Acting Assistant Superintendent of the Botanic Gardens in place of Mr. Fox who was taking leave in England. In 1894 there was discussion of closing the Malacca nursery garden and handing over the charge of the forests to the Land Office. Fox was petitioning to retain Derry for a permanent position in Singapore. Mid-1895 he returned to England for a vacation. In February 1896 Derry he was appointed to the charge of the Perak hill gardens, a rather envious post, being stationed on Maxwell’s Hill [Bukit Larut] in a region abundant with mangnificent flora to collect and study. In 1901, Derry was Assistant Superintendent of Forests, Malacca, the became Superintendant of Government Gardens and Plantations for Perak, being based in Taiping. He was also a curator at the Botanic Gardens in Singapore, where he rose to Assistant Superintendent in January 1904. He succeeded Mr. Walter Fox circa 1906. He is also listed among the List of Qualified Jurors, Singapore, published 21 October 1904 in The Straits Settlements Government Gazette. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, have in their collections, some letters written by him, and others mentioning his work in East Asia, in the 1880s-1890s.]

He also mentions Henry Nicholas Ridley CMG, MA, FRS, FLS, F.R.H.S. (1855-1956), English botanist, geologist and naturalist who lived much of his life in Singapore, and was instrumental in promoting rubber trees in the Malay Peninsula. [For the fervour with which he pursued it, came to be known as “Mad Ridley”. In 1888 he was appointed Director of Gardens and Forests in the Straits Settlements. Reaching Singapore, he was the first Scientific Director in charge of the Singapore Botanic Gardens and in charge of introducing new plants of economical value. Ridley explored the regions around including Penang and Malacca. In 1894 his post was abolished as the expenditure was found to exceed the revenues obtained. Ridley returned briefly to England but the removal of the post was however objected to by William Turner Thiselton-Dyer and Ridley went back to Selangor to advise on forest reservation. In 1895 he developed a method to tap the sap of the rubber trees for latex without causing serious harm to the trees, thus increasing the efficiency and longevity of the industry. Ridley was also largely responsible for establishing the rubber industry on the Malay peninsula, where he resided for twenty years.]

With 15 days in Java, which incidentally was in a state of rebellion from a century of oppressive Dutch rule, Fyffe was able to examine and assess several types of rubber plants including the famed Brazilian Para, the Ceara rubber, the Mexican rubber and the rubber fig trees. He compares the growth and varying procedures undertaken with each to create the best product from its bounty, and the diseases to contend with.

He travels extensively and further discusses crops of coffee, tea, rice, and tobacco, bringing forth some interesting statistics on production and exports. He visits the Government Tobacco Experimental Garden and one particularly large tobacco estate near Klaten where most plantations seemed to be centered, noting the arduous task of maintaining these crops. At the Botanical Gardens of Buitenzorg he is overtaken by the spectacular variety and exquisite beauty of the flora including an orchid, nothing several plants by name. Naturally, he makes the time to visit the Forest Department, for which he has special praises with respect to their work. Having arrived in Batavia 29 October 1911, he travelled to Buittensorg, Bandoeng, Sourabaya, Malang, Blitar, and Klaten, departing the island on 11 November. This section comprises 15 pages typed reporting, plus 16 photographs on separate leafs at every fourth page.

Excerpts from the text:

  “I left Singapore on the 27th October and arrived at Batavia on the 29th…”

  “Rubber: The species cultivated in Java are Hevea brazilinsis, Ficus elastica (Rembong), Castilloa elastica and Maniho Glaziovii.”

  Ficus elastica is indigenous to Java… easily propagated from seeds or cuttings… Tapping consists of making oblique cuts all over the tree with a large knife, and the latex is allowed to coagulate on the tree and the rubber is collected as scrap, sometimes it is run through a washing machine and made into crepe of very fine quality but it is generally sold as it is collected on the trees. The habit of sending out adventitous aerial roots together with the difficulty of tapping the trees on conservative lines and the low yield obtained are points which disparage the value of this species.”

  Para, Hevea braziliensis. This species is receiving a fair amount of attention in Java where most of the plantations are young and many have not yet reached the tapping stage… The oldest trees are growing in one of the Experimental Gardens, Buitenzorg, some of these are twenty-six years old… the trees are growing on elevated well drained loam. Tapping experiments are being carried out… the half-herring bone on half of the circumference of the bole and the 1/2 system on two opposite quarters. Wound response is excellent… yield of dry rubber is very satisfactory…latex is coagulated by the addition of acetic acid… 8 per cent which in my opinion is excessive… the coagulum is placed upon a table and rolled with a hand roller… hung in a smoking chamber… for several days… it is of a semi-transparent amber shade.”

  “… Castilloa elastica… cultivated in the south of Java to a limited extent… difficulty of extracting latex in any quantity is an objection to its cultivation… by making two vertical channels… the latex is pushed out… by women who use a piece of bamboo… by this method the cost of collection is said to be reduced to 20 (guilder) cents per pound of dry rubber.”

  Coffee is very extensively cultivated and gives employment to a large number of the inhabitants, the quantity exported in 1909 amounted to over 10,000,000 kilos. The species cultivated at the present time is Robusta, Arabian coffee having succumbed to the disease known as Hemilia vastatrix… The Government is doing a great deal of work in connection with this industry… over 100 acres in area consists entirely of coffee… many species and varieties… the principal object is to raise a disease resistant species yielding fruit of good quality… Grafting, cross and self fertilization experiments are conducted with success… worthy of marked attention are Coffea Quillo, C. excelsa and C. robusta.”

  Tea is one of the principal cultivation in Java… I visited one large Tea Estate… about 60,000 acres and a variety of products are cultivated including Tea, Rubber, Rice, Sugar, Bananas, Durian, and other native fruit trees. The tea is cultivated on the southern slopes of Mount Salak which is an inactive volcano. The soil on the mountain slopes is a deep sandy loam rich in humus… The equipment of this Estate is very modern…”

  “Rice is one of the staple article of food in Java and it figures largely in the exports, during 1909 over 2000,000,000 kilos were exported. Most of the rice is grown under irrigation and nothing is prettier than the vast areas of terraced rice paddy fields sparkling with water… The Javanese are superior agriculturalists…”

  Tobacco, Nicotiana Tobaccum. I passed through vast areas under tobacco in the environments of Klaten and I visited the Government Tobacco Experimental Garden and one large Estate… The worst pest is Phylloxera which attacks the roots and base of the stem. Inoculation experiments were being carried out during my visit… Caterpillars are troublesome at times and the children are employed to collect and destroy them… Tobacco being an exhausting crop it is necessary to apply manure and cattle manure is best with the addition of artificial phosphatic compounds… The curing barn is a large well ventilated structure the walls of which are built of bamboo and palm leaves… After fermentation the leaves are graded according to size, aroma texture, etc., and are the baled ready for export…”

  There is a very well organised Forest Department which is exploiting the valuable timbers in the primeval forests, afforestating mountain slopes to conserve the water supply and making and preserving forest reserves, and planting large areas with Teak, etc...”

  Botanical Gardens, Buitenzorg. I spent a good deal of time in these world famous Gardens… delightfully situated on the gently undulating ground surrounding the Governor’s Palace… founded in 1817 and many superb specimens of exotic plants…”
End Excerpts.

Prior to the aforementioned, Fyffe was in Ceylon for one month, where he toured no less than twenty-six estates. He was warmly welcomed and permitted to observe plants and equipment thoroughly during his travels.

Mostly focused on rubber plantations, he examines all conditions, cultivation processes including results from varying planting distances, methods of tapping, equipment used at various stages, and much more. He also touches upon the production of tea, vanilla cocoa, copra

He witnesses the patented vacuum dryer of German engineer Emil Passburg, for use in drying rubber. [In 1889 Passburg had created a similar apparatus for beer brewers and distilleries to vacuum dry wet grains, as well as root-chips from sugar manufacturers. His system was perfected and patented on 12 January 1904, an apparatus for “Drying solid materials or objects by processes not involving the application of heat by evaporation or sublimation of moisture under reduced pressure, e.g. in a vacuum,” thought it was presented as “a new and useful improvement in processes of drying sugar-loaves.”]

He also mentions dryers made by “Commercial Co. of Colombo” [Colombo Commercial Company, Ltd., one of the oldest engineering companies in the country being founded in 1874, and owner of the Wellakelle estate at Maturata from 1884-1900].

Fyffe arrived 16 September 1911. Among the places visited were Kalutara in the Dumbra valley, the Henerathgoda and its Botanical Garden where the first imported rubber tree was planted in 1876, the Nuwara Eliya district including the famed Hakgala Garden which was established in 1861 for experimental cultivation of the medicinal plant Cinchona and subsequently tea production until 1884 when it was transformed into an exquisite garden, the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens near Kandy, and those at Colombo.

Excerpts from the text:

  “My tour was made very instructive and pleasant, in that, the Estate Agents and Managers whom I met were exceedingly courteous and afforded me every facility for inspecting their Estates and factories.”

  Some of the best rubber soils are in the low lands of Kalutara, in the Dumbra valley, on the lower slopes of the Kelani valley and in Ratnapure…”

  Above 1,600 feet, tea forms the principal cultivation. The present year has been one of the almost unprecedented drought… A good deal of rubber has been planted throughout the tea, thus no clearing was necessary… Some Estates have been rather irregularly planted…”

  “… after the trees form a mass of roots, the organic and inorganic salts which are necessary for their healthy development, become exhausted and as a result growth is slower, and it becomes necessary to manure…”

  In the Heneratgoda Gardens is to be seen a group of fine old trees, and the largest one measures over 180″ in girth at three feet and it has yielded a large quantity of dry rubber. The veterans represent the original stock introduced from the Amazon valley in 1876. In Kalutara there are some very fine 17 year old trees… one three-stemmed 35 year old has a tapping surface of 200″… In Dumbra valley where the soil is dark friable loam, some 10 years old trees measured over 50″ at three feet.”

  “With few exceptions, no shade trees are cultivated with rubber… Grevillea robusta… is planted to supply fuel more than shade…”

  “Most of the Estates in Ceylon are periodically manured… One Estate I visited keeps over 300 head of cattle to provide farmyard manure. This Estate is divided into three sections and each section in manured every three years…”

  “Various systems of tapping are practices, the half spiral being one which is most generally adopted… The basal V… the inverted V…”

  “Bamber’s incision method… being tried in the Peradeniya experimental Gardens as yet little is known regarding this system…”

  “On almost every Estate I visited, I noticed trees on which burrs were forming, these in some cases put down to the use of the pricker and to bad tapping generally, but as burrs and fluted stems occur on trees which have never been tapped, tapping cannot be responsible for all the irregular growths…”

  “I visited on Estate on which 5,000 trees were being rested, as the renewed bark was not yielding a sufficient quantity of latex to warrant tapping operations being carries on. The trees are over 9 years old and were planted in a tea clearing 10′ x 10′ apart.”

  “With few exceptions wound response s rapid and the latex continues to flow for some considerable time. During my observation I noted several trees which yielded copious supplies of chrome and yellow colours. The fact that the latex was coloured may denote that they are distinct species or varieties of Hevea brasiliensis. A botanical examination of the trees might lead to a solution.”

  “Collecting cups: These consist of half cocoanut shells, tin, glass, enamel and aluminum cups… glass is preferrable, as they are easily washed and glass does not affect the rubber in the way tin or metal cups do.”

  “On some Estates the rubber is rolled into very thin sheets and hung up to dry for a week or more, when it is again put through smooth or fluted rollers… put into the drying store again… Artificial dryers are used on some Estates, those supplied by the Commercial Co. of Colombo and the Emil Passburg vacuum drier are very useful… On one Estate where I saw the Passburg vacuum drier in use the rubber is prepared as follows… made into very thin sheets… placed a few layers thick on wire trays and the trays are put into the Passburg vacuum drier, one drier deals with 160 lbs. per charge and the time required to thoroughly dry the rubber is 1 3/4 hours with a temperature of 175°F, a vacuum of 27″ and a pressure of 5 lbs. per square inch in the heater… There are two of these driers on the Estate… they turn out over 1,200 lbs. of dry rubber per day.”

  “The aim of the Ceylon planters is to produce pale blanket crepe rubber… The first grade consists of very pale amber coloured sheets of uniform thickness…”

  A large area is devoted to cocoa cultivation at an elevation of between 1000 and 1800 feet. The best cocoa I saw is in the Central Province, in the Dumbra valley near Matale… The crop harvest in 1910 on an estate of over 900 acres which I visited amounted to 8 1/2 cwts. of cured beans per acre. Some of the trees on this Estate are over 20 years old.”

  “The assamica tea flourishes in the low country… but the quality of the leaf is inferior…”

  “Copra obtained from the fruits of Cocoa Nucifera. This plant flourishes throughout the low moist country and is especially good near the sea.”

  “Vanilla obtained from the pod like capsules of Vanilla planifolia… One of the most important thing is the fertilization of flowers, if this is not done by hand few fruits indeed will develop.”

  “Rice, Oryza sativa, is extensively cultivated by the natives… The sleek Water Buffalo is a prominent feature on paddy fields, he draws the small native plough… The crop is harvested by men, women and children…”

  “Heneratgoda. The group of old Hevea braziliensis is the principal attraction in these Gardens…”

  “Hakgala. These Gardens situated at an elevation of 6,000 feet were opened to test the possibilities of Camphor and Cinchona… not very successful… The collection of herbaceous plants and roses is very fine…”

  “The public Gardens at Nuwara Eliya and Colombo are beautifully laid out and contain very fine collections of ornamental flowering and foliage plants… many of the Station Gardens are artistically laid out and during my visit were a mass of multicoloured bloom. This pleasing feature helps to make travel by air very pleasant in Ceylon…”
End Excerpts.

After an extensive tour of the finest plantations in Java, British Malaya and Ceylon, Fyffe concludes that development of many valuable products has been superior and innovative in these regions. He recommends that several of these crops be introduce to Uganda for economic advancement.

Excerpts from his conclusion statement:

  “From my observations my opinion is that the Para Rubber trees in the Botanical Gardens, Entebbe, compare well with trees in Ceylon and Java, while they are at least one year behind the rubber in the Federated Malay States.”

  “I consider that smoked rubber is far superior to unsmoked rubber and I recommend that we give this method a thorough trial…”

  “… Tobacco. This valuable narcotic I feel sure can be successfully grown… Kampala is unsuited climatically and the soil is quite different from that on the best tobacco lands in Java… Although I am convinced that excellent tobacco can be grown here… on the slopes of Ruwenzori.”

  “Cinchona (Quinine)… on the slopes of Ruwenzori.”

  “Camphor. I brought three plants from the Federated Malay States as a beginning… at least an acre should be planted as an experiment.”

  “Linseed. This valuable oil yielding plant should grow well in Toro…”

  “Vanilla… Sugar… Sugar grown in Java should be a profitable concern and there would be a fairly large demand for refined sugar in B.E.A. [British East Africa] and Uganda. Busoga should be a good sugar growing country.”

  “Coffee. I recommend that we procure seeds of the best kinds grown in the experimental Gardens, Java… seeds can be had from the Director of the Botanical Gardens, Buitonzorg [sic].”

  “Ipecacuana… Teak…”

  “Agriculture generally is of a very high order in the East, and of the countries I visited Java is most intensively cultivated…”

  I also wish to express my gratitude for the many kindnesses lavished on me by the Government Officials and others whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Ceylon, Java, and the Federated Malay States and India, and for the readiness with which they afforded me facilities for study and for imparting to me much valuable information regarding economic and botanically interesting products.
End Excerpts.

Brief Historical Notes on Rubber in Malaysia

Rubber was introduced by British colonists to Singapore in 1877 via Brazil, Kew Gardens in London and Ceylon. Once established outside its native country, rubber was extensively propagated in the British colonies. Rubber trees were brought to the botanical gardens at Buitenzorg, Java, in 1883. Malaysia had an ideal climate, soil for rubber and plenty of land. Production increased dramatically after the 1890s when there was a huge surge in demand for rubber. By 1898, a rubber plantation had been established in Malaya, with imported Chinese field workers being the dominant work force in rubber production in the early 20th-century. For many years tin and rubber were Malaysia’s primary exports.

Natural rubber was a critical pillar of Malaysia’s export-oriented economy throughout much of the 20th century. Early in that century rubber overtook tin as Malaya’s main export earner and was the dominant component in accounting for variations in export growth. The great Amazon rubber boom ended in 1907, when cheaper rubber from massive plantations in Asia flooded the market. By 1912, the British decided rubber extraction and processing in Brazil was too messy and too expensive. They started plantations in Indonesia.

By the 1930s, Malaysia produced half of the world’s rubber. Many of the Chinese and Indians that live in Malaysia today are descendants of laborers brought to work on the rubber plantations. They helped transform Malaysia into Britain’s richest colony. After independence, many of the plantations were turned over to Malaysian hands and some were converted to palm oil plantations.

Wellesley [present-day Seberang Perai, Penang]

Seberang Perai, a city in the Malaysian state of Penang, was originally named “Province Wellesley” after Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, who served as the Governor of Madras and Governor-General of Bengal between 1797 and 1805. The British acquired Province Wellesley, as they subsequently named it, to provide more agricultural land and as a defensive bulwark against any cross-strait invasion of Penang Island from the mainland. Since then, it has become part of Penang, which was made a British crown colony in 1867.

Province Wellesley was administered by a district officer directly under the Lieutenant-Governor (later Resident Councillor) of Penang, who in turn was subordinate to the Governor of the Straits Settlements based in Singapore. With its population increasing during the British colonial era, due to the influx of Malay refugees from Siamese-occupied Kedah, Province Wellesley became the rice bowl of Penang. Other than rice and vegetables, other cash crops, such as sugar, coconut and tapioca, were also cultivated. Due to the abundance of land in Province Wellesley, it became the only area in Penang where rubber and palm oil estates were established as well. Other than agriculture, Province Wellesley also began to serve as Penang’s transportation hub, a role it continues to play to this day.

Additional notes on Fyffe’s botanical career:

   •    On 3 December 1909 he presented to the Botanical and Forestry Department, samples of the Vigna Unguiculata (L.) Walp. Cowpea, found in Entebbe, including seeds of the following, the native names as given by Mr. Fyffe:
Buff seeded: three packages of seeds of Mpendi Kiriya Mugombere, Mpendi Kantinti, and Mpendi Bimogoti, which had been mixed in transit.
Black seeded: the Mpendi Luzzige.

   •    In the same year he discovered a unique form of ‘Asplenium stuhlmannii var laciniata’ iN Entebbe, a plant that typically grows on granite rocks.

   •    Fyffe appears in the 1910 Catalogue of the Library of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew… Additions received in 1909..” as author of “Reports on Rubber tapping experiments in the Botanic Gardens, Entebbe, Uganda” which was published in London, 1911.

   •    Fyffe was granted a patent in 1910 for an apparatus that improved the process of tapping and pricking rubber trees. Details were reported in the weekly India-rubber Journal, issued on 11 November 1911, the very same day he was departing the island of Java and proceeding to the Federated Malay States, on his Southeast Asian rubber plantation investigation tour.

   •    In 1913, Fyffe carried out enumerations of timber and rubber producing trees in and near Budongo, during which time he identified a small shrub called C. vulgare, uncommon to the region.

   •    In 1916 he procured samples of Solanum benderianum from the Rowenzori mountains [a plant that was still in recent times described as very rare in Uganda, only recorded from the Rwenzori Mts.]

   •    He is also mentioned with reference to the classification of the plant “runsoriense” in a work titled, “A revision of the African Non-Spiny Clade of Solanum L….”

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