The International Heritage Project Goes Trans-Pacific

Alexander Wilson, American Ornithology; or, The Natural History of the Birds of the United States, Philadelphia, 1808-1814 (Glasgow University Library Special Collections, Sp Coll Hunterian Ab.2.11-19)

It has been a busy 7 days for the International Heritage Project. On Wednesday we supported the Recruitment and International Office’s GRAB (Global Regional Activity Briefing) lunch, setting up a table with various objects connected to the Americas from the University Archives and Special Collections. On Friday we were able to welcome Professor Tan Thiam Soon and Assistant Professor Forest Tan from the Singapore Institute of Technology with a display of items related to that unique city state. And today we arranged a display of Chinese objects in the Wolfson Medical Building atrium for a group of distinguished medical delegates from Wuhan Union Hospital in China.

Key objects on display included Alexander Wilson’s comprehensive American Ornithology from Special Collections,  the first bird book with coloured plates to be published in America. Wilson, a Scot, born in Paisley in 1766, emigrated to America in 1794 where he became a schoolteacher. The book is notable for Wilson’s detailed and accurate observations and for the hand-coloured plates that are based on Wilson’s own original drawings.

Drawing no. 28, Singapore Bridge shewing alteration on chain anchorage, 6 February 1868, P. & W. MacLellan Ltd Collection (Glasgow University Archive Services, UGD 153/16/1/2)

Also of interest was a 1868 drawing from the University Archives of the Cavenagh Bridge, the only suspension bridge in Singapore, which spans the Singapore River in the Downtown Core. It was built by the Glasgow firm of engineers and machine makers, P. & W. MacLellan Ltd, who went on to build the cast iron Telok Ayer Market in 1894, and was manufactured at the Clutha Iron Works in Glasgow and shipped in parts to Singapore where it was reassembled, opening in 1870.

‘Elephant Steamer’ textile label for Diethelm & Co., United Turkey Red Co. Ltd Collection (Glasgow University Archive Services, UGD 13/7A/8/2)

Also from the University Archives came the humorous ‘Elephant Steamer’ textile label that was designed to identify bales of United Turkey Red cloth destined for Diethelm & Company, a multinational East Asian company established in 1871 in Singapore. The United Turkey Red Company were bleachers, finishers and dyers based in Alexandria, Dunbartonshire that specialised in Turkey red dyeing and exported cloth around the world, but particularly to south and south-east Asia.

As well as a bound volume of colourful and delicately painted watercolours of Chinese rural life, probably dating from around the late 18th century, showing villagers ploughing the fields, tending rice crops, dyeing silk, spinning, thatching, basket weaving, producing porcelain, engaged in calligraphy, worshipping at a shrine, drinking tea and smoking (Glasgow University Library Special Collections, MS Gen 1127), we were able to bring out for our Chinese visitors a rare 1703 grammar of the Mandarin dialect, Arte de la lengua Mandarina by the Spanish Dominican priest Francisco Varo (Glasgow University Library Special Collections, Sp Coll Hunterian Ef.1.8). The manuscript was completed in 1682 in Foo-Chow, coincidentally from where originated our first Chinese student at the University of Glasgow, Hok Tang Chain, who studied Natural Philosophy and Chemistry in 1886-1887.

The International Heritage Project is all about making connections and it is with sadness that I will saying goodbye to the university at the end of this week to take up a post at Glasgow Museums. However, the project continues under Dr Sam Maddra who is very keen to support any international events, whether visits overseas, through providing posters or content for presentations, or international visits to the university, through displays of objects from the cornucopia that is the university’s cultural collections.

Categories: Archive Services, Special Collections

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1 reply


  1. International Story GRAB lunch | The University of Glasgow's International Story Blog

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