52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 31: John Anderson’s tortoises and turtles
These beautiful hand-painted pictures of tortoises and turtles were created by Scottish naturalist John Anderson (1833-1900). They feature reptiles found in India, Ceylon and Burma, including the Indian star tortoise, Northern river terrapin and black pond turtle. They were drawn from life or from specimens between 1870 and 1874.
Anderson was a distinguished scholar who made an important contribution to the understanding of zoology in Asia, working on mammals, reptiles and birds. His collections of plant specimens feature at Kew and other gardens. He was born in Edinburgh and was educated at Edinburgh University, gaining an MD in 1861, then lectured in Natural Science for a couple of years at Edinburgh Free Church College before setting out for Calcutta. He was instrumental in setting up the Indian Museum in Calcutta to house the specimens, artefacts and archives collected over many years by the Asiatic Society of Bengal. He was appointed as its first curator in 1865 by the Government of India. He actively collected specimens for the Museum including skeletons, carapaces and stuffed specimens of Indian sea turtles, and human skulls of Indian tribes. At the same time he also worked as Professor of Comparative Anatomy at the Calcutta Medical College until his retirement from India in 1886.
Anderson also advocated the establishment of a Zoological Gardens for Calcutta and helped with expert advice once this project was underway. He was also naturalist and medical officer on two scientific expeditions to Burma and Yunnan in China in 1867-8 and 1875, which resulted in several publications, Mandalay to Momein in 1876 and a 2 volume academic tome in 1878-79, reporting on all his zoological research from the expeditions, particularly on the Irrawaddy dolphin and notes on Indian and Burmese chelonia. The illustrated plates in the second volume include some of these wonderful turtle drawings. These volumes are also available in Special Collections.
His last expedition was to the islands of the Mergui archipelago in southern Burma in 1881-1882, producing another work on the local fauna and an ethnographical work on the Selungs, English Intercourse with Siam, compiled partly from manuscripts of the East India Company.
He retired to Britain but spent many winters in Egypt where he continued to document the natural world around him, working on a multi-volume Zoology of Egypt, until his death.