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Forests of India


Richard Henry Beddome was the son of Richard Boswell Brandon Beddome. In 1856, he was appointed to the Madras Forest Department. In 1857 he was selected on account of his devotion to botany and natural history as an assistant to Dr. Hugh Cleghorn, the first conservator of the newly formed Forest Department of the Madras Presidency. He succeeded Cleghorn in 1859 and remained Chief Conservator until 1882. For more on his life, click here.

Ribbentrop's "Forestry in British India"
Start of "In the Rukh"
Dr. Hugh Cleghorn



Ribbentrop's "Forestry in British India"

Most people's knowledge of Indain forests comes from Kipling's stories about Mowgli, in The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book. There is also a lesser known short story about Mowgli in one of Kiplings' adult collections, Many Inventions. This story is called "In the Rukh". One of the characters is Muller, "the gigantic German who was the head of the Woods and Forests of all India", who is highly knowledgeable.

Muller is based on Berthold Ribbentrop, who published a book called "Forestry in British India" in 1900, mentioning his "career of 33 years". Here is the online version. This book only mentions Richard Henry Beddome once (page 240):

Before the Indian Forest Department was organized, no literature whatsoever existed in this country treating of sylviculture, amenagement, forest laws and forest management generally. We had no Forest Floras nor any other comprehensive scientific books for the special use of Forest Officers. As a matter of fact there was an extreme poverty of books on forestry in the English language.

Matters have considerably changed since then. The first books were naturally botanical surveys of the property brought under the control of the Forest Department. The value of these works is enormous; for though the everyday forester need know only a comparatively small number of the numerous species which are represented in our Indian forests, the number he must know is nevertherless considerable, and he must have a handbook from which he can ascertain the universally recognized name, etc., of any species of tree, shrub or climber which may become of special commercial use or of special injury to his forests. Without such botanical works he would find it impossible to communicate any observations he may have made as regards the sylvicultural or commercial importance of any plant intelligibly, and would be unable to profit by discoveries made by others. The most important of such works are -

Colonel Beddome's "Flora Sylvatica of Southern India and Ceylon."

[followed by about half a dozen other books]


There are some comments in the book about Conservators (page 78):

The Government of India proceeded, with its customary energy, to create and develop a Forest Department for the great work before it. As already mentioned, Conservators of Forests had been appointed in Bombay in 1847, in Madras in 1856, and for the United Burma Provinces in 1857
... Madras was separated into a Northern and a Southern Circle in 1883 [Beddome stopped being Conservator in Madras in 1882]
... From the beginning it was recognized that the Forest Range must ultimately form the unit of forest administration; but for many reasons it was quite impossible to enlist this agency before a controlling staff had been provided.

Even this took some time. No officers were available specially trained for the work, and the earlier appointments had to be filled by men selected from other branches of the Public services.

Officers were as a rule chosen who had previously shown qualifications for forest life and forest management. In some instances they were naturalists, in others sportsmen.
... Allowing, however, even for such special selection, the aptitude with which the majority of these officers found themselves after a short time at home in their new sphere is astonishing and highly creditable, proving once again the special adaptability of the English race for administrative work of any kind. Many amongst those appointed without special previous training have left their permanent mark in the history of the progress of forest administration in India,
[then follows several names, not including Beddome, alas!]

(page 91):

Conservators of Forests, whether in charge of the forest business of a whole Province, or a Circle forming part of a Province, are regarded as the head of the Department, and are directly subordinate to the Local Government, with the exception of Madras, where the Board of Puevonue intervenes; and of Perar, Coorg and Ajmer, where the buisiness is carried on through the Commissioners. Conservators hold the most responsible position in the control of the forest administration in India, and can exercise a greater direct influence as regards the application of correct conservative principles and on the prosperity of departmental administration, financial and otherwise, than any other officer in the Department.




Start of "In the Rukh"

Kipling's story "In the Rukh" was published in 1893, in a collection of stories called "Many Inventions" (see above). Here is the start of the story.

OF the wheels of public service that turn under the Indian Government, there is none more important than the Department of Woods and Forests. The reboisement of all India is in its hands; or will be when Government has the money to spend. Its servants wrestle with wandering sand-torrents and shifting dunes wattling them at the sides, damming them in front, and pegging them down atop with coarse grass and spindling pine after the rules of Nancy. They are responsible for all the timber in the State forests of the Himalayas, as well as for the denuded hillsides that the monsoons wash into dry gullies and aching ravines; each cut a mouth crying aloud what carelessness can do. They experiment with battalions of foreign trees, and coax the blue gum to take root and, perhaps, dry up the Canal fever. In the plains the chief part of their duty is to see that the belt fire-lines in the forest reserves are kept clean, so that when drought comes and the cattle starve, they may throw the reserve open to the villagerís herds and allow the man himself to gather sticks. They poll and lop for the stacked railway-fuel along the lines that burn no coal; they calculate the profit of their plantations to five points of decimals; they are the doctors and midwives of the huge teak forests of Upper Burma, the rubber of the Eastern Jungles, and the gall-nuts of the South; and they are always hampered by lack of funds. But since a Forest Officerís business takes him far from the beaten roads and the regular stations, he learns to grow wise in more than wood-lore alone; to know the people and the polity of the jungle; meeting tiger, bear, leopard, wild-dog, and all the deer, not once or twice after days of beating, but again and again in the execution of his duty. He spends much time in saddle or under canvas - the friend of newly-planted trees, the associate of uncouth rangers and hairy trackers - till the woods, that show his care, in turn set their mark upon him, and he ceases to sing the naughty French songs he learned at Nancy, and grows silent with the silent things of the underbrush.

Gisborne of the Woods and Forests had spent four years in the service. At first he loved it without comprehension, because it led him into the open on horseback and gave him authority. Then he hated it furiously, and would have given a yearís pay for one month of such society as India affords. That crisis over, the forests took him back again, and he was content to serve them, to deepen and widen his fire-lines, to watch the green mist of his new plantation against the older foliage, to dredge out the choked stream, and to follow and strengthen the last struggle of the forest where it broke down and died among the long pig-grass. On some still day that grass would be burned off, and a hundred beasts that had their homes there would rush out before the pale flames at high noon. Later, the forest would creep forward over the blackened ground in orderly lines of saplings, and Gisborne, watching, would be well pleased. His bungalow, a thatched white-walled cottage of two rooms, was set at one end of the great rukh and overlooking it. He made no pretence at keeping a garden, for the rukh swept up to his door, curled over in a thicket of bamboo, and he rode from his verandah into its heart without the need of any carriage-drive.

Gisborne is a Forest Officer rather than a Conservator. 'Nancy' was the Forest School in France. British Forest Officers were trained there because there was no equivalent British school set at up the time, and indeed Berthold Ribbentrop was brought into the Indian Forestry service from Germany as British expertise was lacking. Ribbentrop says in his book "Forestry in British India" (see above):

At the end of 1875 the professional education was entirely transferred to Nancy. The first officers thus specially trained arrived in India in December 1869, and since then [to 1900] 95 officers have joined under this arrangement.

Richard Henry Beddome's career dated before this time. He seems to have had no formal training in forestry. Still, originally he was an ordinary army officer, but once was appointed to the Madras Forest Department, he never rejoined his regiment. He continued working for the Forest Department until 1882. He became a member of the University of Madras in 1880, and finally retired in 1892.




Dr. Hugh Cleghorn

Cleghorn is mentioned in the short account of the career of Richard Henry Beddome at the top of this page. Cleghorn is also mentioned in Ribbentrop's "Forestry in British India" (page 68):

It was not till 1847 that the Bombay Government appointed Dr. Gibson as Conservator of Porests, after he had served for some years as interim Conservator in addition to his duties in connection with the botanical gardens.

Madras followed suit some years later, and in 1856 appointed Dr. Cleghorn to be Conservator of Forests in that presidency. Both these officers signalled their appointment by some valuable reports, in which the physical value of the forests was for the first time taken into consideration. Dr. Gibson showed that the wholesale destruction of the forests which had taken place during preceding years by overfelling, but above all by the rapid increase of shifting cultivation, had led to the silting up of rivers, which thirty years previously had been known to be free. Dr. Cleghorn's early reports and letters move much on the the same line, and both officers strongly advocated that Government should claim and exercise the proprietary right to all such forests as could not be clearly proved to be private property, a stricter conservative control, and above all an immediate restriction of shifting cultivation in the hills. The seriousness of the situation was not, however, recognized and none of the steps recommended by them took effect till much, later, and forest conservancy in those provinces hardly rose above the level of a revenue administration. As a matter of fact hardly anybody believed in the possibility of a conservative treatment of State forest property through a State department ever being remunerative.

Cleghorn's biography in Wikipedia says:

Cleghorn saw the growth of the railways as being a major threat to the forests. He had seen a similar pattern in Scotland in the 1850s and he estimated, in the Madras Presidency, that a mile of rail line needed 1760 wooden sleepers which would have a life of eight years. In addition to the sleepers, wood was needed to run the steam engines of the railways apart from their use in steamships. By his estimate, there was no way to maintain the supply without destroying the forests unless some special management was undertaken. He pointed out that Britain was in a better state because of the reserves of coal and the ability to import wood from other parts of its Empire.

This is of particular interest to me, since another of my ancestors was involved in building railways in India. This was Frederick Lewis Dibblee whose Indian career lasted from 1864 to 1888. He worked in Southern India, especially at the start of his career. Assuming that Richard Henry Beddome had similar opinions to his mentor Dr. Hugh Cleghorn (which seems likely), apparently one of my ancestors objected to the consequences of the actions of another ancestor!