"Dwarf Potted Trees"
from Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Sumatra, and China
by George Bennett

        George Bennett (1804-1893) was born at Plymouth, England.  On leaving school he visited Ceylon in 1819, and on his return studied for the medical profession.  He obtained the degree of M.R.C.S. in 1828, and later F.R.C.S.  After qualifying as a physician he obtained employment as a ship's surgeon, and visited Sydney in 1829.  ln 1832 his friend Richard Owen was engaged in examining the structure and relations of the mammary glands of the Ornithorhyncus (the platypus), and Bennett became so interested that on leaving England shortly afterwards for Australia he determined while in that country to find a solution of the question.  In May 1832 he left Plymouth on a voyage which terminated almost exactly two years later.  An account of this appeared in 1834 in two volumes under the title Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Singapore and China.  In 1835 Bennett published in the Transactions of the Zoological Society of London, vol. I, pp. 229-58, "Notes on the Natural History and Habits of the Ornithorhyncus paradoxus, Blum", one of the earliest papers of importance written on the platypus.  Bennett went to Australia again in 1836 and established a successful practice as a physician at Sydney.  He, however, kept up his general interest in science, and acted as honorary secretary of the Australian Museum which had just been established.  He compiled A Catalogue of the Specimens of Natural History and Miscellaneous Curiosities deposited in the Australian Museum which was published in 1837.  He was the first curator there from 1835 to 1841.  He received his M.D. degree in Glasgow in 1859.  The following year he brought out his Gatherings of a Naturalist in Australasia.  He kept up a correspondence with his early friend Sir Richard Owen, to whom he had sent the first specimens of the Nautilus to arrive in England, and also with Charles Darwin and other scientists of the time.  He was much interested in the Sydney botanic gardens and the Acclimatization Society, and was a vice-president of the Zoological Society, and a member of the board of the Australian Museum.  In addition to the works mentioned Bennett contributed papers to the The Lancet, the Medical Gazette, the Journal of Botany, Loudon's Magazine of Natural History, and other journals.  The variety of his interests may be suggested by the fact that he published in 1871 papers on "A Trip to Queensland in Search of Fossils" and on "The Introduction, Cultivation and Economic Uses of the Orange and Others of the Citron Tribe".  When 84 years of age he contributed the chapter on "Mammals" to the Handbook of Sydney, prepared for the Sydney meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science held in 1888.  In 1890 the Royal Society of New South Wales awarded Bennett the Clarke memorial medal for his valuable contributions to the natural history of Australia.  He died in Sydney in 1893.  He was married three times and left a widow and three sons. 1

       Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Sumatra, and China: Being the journal of a naturalist in those countries during 1832, 1833, and 1834 by George Bennett (1834), as excerpts from two book reviews:

      "7.  We once had an opportunity of seeing at Windsor [sic] a few of the dwarf trees of China; one in particular of perhaps a foot and a half high, resembled a very ancient elm; in the knottiness and roughness of its bark, the peculiar formation of its arms, and in its whole growth and appearance, it might well have supposed to have seen two centuries.  It was in a tolerably sized garden pot.  Mr. Bennett gives us some account, though not so full as we could have wished [sic] , of the manner in which the ingenious people of the Celestial Empire, manufacture these Lilliputian monsters.

      "'The dwarf trees are certainly one of the curiosities of the vegetable kingdom of China, being a joint production of nature and art.  They are very small, placed in pots of various kinds, upon the backs of earthenware buffaloes, frogs, towers, and rock work, which constitute the Chinese taste in what these people would be pleased to term ornamental gardening.  The plants have all the growth and appearance of an antiquated tree, but of an exceedingly diminutive size.  Elms, bamboos, and other trees are treated in this manner, and are abundant in the nursery gardens about Canton and Macao.  They are produced from young healthy branches, selected from a large tree, which being decorticated and smeared with a mixture of clay and chopped straw, as soon as they give out roots, are cut off and transplanted; the branches are then tied in the various forms required, so as to oblige them to grow in particular positions; and many other methods are adopted to confine and prevent the spreading of the root.  The stems, or perhaps they might rather be termed trunks, are smeared with sugar, and holes are bored in them in which sugar is always placed, to attract the ants, who, eating about it, give the trunk an appearance of age.  I saw at Mr. Beale's a number of dwarf trees, which have been in his possession nearly 40 years [sic] , and the only operation performed to keep them in that peculiar curious state, is to clip the sprigs that may sprout out too luxuriously.  As far as gardening, or laying out of a garden is concerned, these people possess anything but the idea of beauty or true taste, neither being in the least degree attended to in the arrangement of their gardens.  Every thing bears the semblance of being stiff, awkward, and perfectly unnatural.  To desert nature a Chinese seems to consider the attainment of perfection.'"  2

      "...it would appear, that as [Chinese] gardeners, notwithstanding their boastful pretensions, their first-rate nursery gardens, in so far as the author's opportunities led him to judge, are inferior to the worst specimens of the sort to be met with in any of the provincial towns of Great Britain.  Still, their trifling artificial attempts are even in such places apparent.  For instance, the small trees of the finger citron sort, had the curious fruit of that tree tied upon them, to look as if they were really growing and in their original field.  Some part of their ingenuity may be learned from what follows:--
      'The Chinese procure the dwarf orange trees, laden with fruit, by selecting a branch of a larger tree upon which there may be a good supply of fruit: the cuticle being detached from one part of the branch, is plastered over with a mixture of clay and straw, until roots are given out when the branch is cut off, planted in a pot and thus forms a dwarf tree laden with fruit.  Other means are adopted to give the trunk and bark an appearance of age, and these, with the dwarf bamboos and other trees, must certainly be regarded as the principal Chmese vegetable curiosities.  As far as gardening or laying out a garden is concerned, these people possess any thing but the idea of beauty or true taste, neither being in the least degree attended to in the arrangement of their gardens, every thing bears the semblance of shift, being awkward and perfectly unnatural.  To distort nature, a Chinese seems to think the attainment of perfection.'--vol. ii, pp. 89-90."  3


1     "Bennett, George," in Dictionary of Australian Biography by Angus and Robertson, 1949, BE-BO, http://gutenberg.net.au/dictbiog/0-dict-biogBe-Bo.htmlt ;

"Bennett, George," http://www.anbg.gov.au/biography/bennett-george.html

2     "Review of New Publications," The Gentleman's Magazine (London, William Pickering), Vol. III New Series, April, 1835, pg. 396.

      Two insights the above gives us are that, per the reviewer's introduction, "a few" dwarf potted trees were apparently in England (at Windsor Castle?) by the early 1830s, and, per the quote from the book, a Englishman named Beale while living in the Macao/Canton area for at least 40 years had in his possession several such trees for that length of time, i.e., since the 1790s.  Whether or not Beale actually cared for the trees himself is not known, but it is unlikely.  He probably had a native gardener -- who, with what prior experience, and what experiences afterwards? 
      "Mr. Beale" was the merchant prince and opium mogul Thomas Beale.  Living in China since 1792, he was among the most respected British residents in Macao, equally well known among the Chinese and Portuguese.  His life dramatically illustrates the roller-coaster course into which many an eastern merchant fell.  While still a teenager, he came to China to join his brother's trade business.  Through guts, luck, and shrewdness, he amassed enormous wealth, only to lose it and end up in debt.  Tormented and humiliated, he disappeared from his house one day in 1841.  Weeks later, a few Portuguese boys playing on the beach were shocked to discover a decomposed body half buried in the sand.  It was Thomas Beale, who had not seen England since his departure five decades before.
      In his active years, Beale was known for his hospitality.  His mansion in Macao included a splendid garden of twenty-five hundred plants in pots, arranged in the Chinese fashion, and an even more famous aviary, a must-see for Western visitors to Macao.  The aviary, forty by twenty feet, contained hundreds of rare birds from China, Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America.  George Vachell, the chaplain to the China Factory, described the sight in detail to his friend John Henslow, Professor of Botany at Cambridge University and mentor to Charles Darwin.  There were about six hundred birds in the aviary at the time of Vachell's visit.  When the naturalist George Bennett (above) stopped in Macao during his Pacific voyage, he was so impressed with Beale's garden and aviary that he devoted forty-five pages of his travelogue to describing their contents.  (Per Fan, Fa-ti  British Naturalists in Qing China: Science, Empire, and Cultural Encounter (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press; 2004), pp. 44-45.  A short bio on pg. 163 lists Beale's dates as c.1775-1842.)

      This excerpt from Bennett thus puts Livingstone's report and those of Fortune in an entirely different light.

      It would be interesting to speculate on what background the reviewer(s) had to make the comment on Bennett's account "though not so full as we could have wished" -- what additional details, techniques and processes might the reviewer have wanted from this early historically-detailed-for-its-time report?

3     The Monthly Review (London: John Murray), Vol. III, No. III, November 1834, beginning on pg. 396, with mention of dwarf trees on pg. 410.

      Another review can be found in The Quarterly Review (London: John Murray), Vol. LIII, No. CVI, February 1835, pg. 18, with an excerpted version in the American edition out of New York, The London Quarterly Review, pg. 10.

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