The making of a quinologist: Cinchona, collections, and science in the work of John Eliot Howard (1807-1883)

Kim Walker

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The subject of this thesis is the career of the quinologist and industrialist, John Eliot Howard (1807-1883), his cinchona bark collections and scientific work. The approach is collections-based, combining archival and object-based research, to understand Howard’s collections assemblages, scientific practices, networks of specimen and knowledge exchange. Howard’s primary collections and archives are in the Economic Botany Collection and Library and Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Working in his family’s pharmaceutical factory at Stratford, Howard had the financial, technological and cultural resources to develop specialist expertise relating to cinchona and its constituent quinoline alkaloid, helping to develop the discipline of quinology. His career reflects wider historical developments including scientific specialisation, evolution of species and mass pharmaceutical manufacture. Howard’s extensive research led to expert consultation work for the Government’s British-Indian cinchona project, and the family firm becoming Britain’s leading quinine suppliers.

Much historical research has been done on cinchona collection in South America and its transplantation in South Asia, less is known about the ways in which these collections and the knowledge they generated were mobilised within Britain. This thesis asks how the work of Howard, located far from the fields of origin or cultivation of cinchona, influenced its use and that of its alkaloids.

Chapter 1 of the thesis introduces a historical context for cinchona research. Chapter 2 presents the methods, the archival and collections sources and the results of a meta-analysis for the Kew specimens. Chapter 3 introduces Howard and the development of his family business. Chapter 4 explores his professional development as a cinchona expert and his influence within quinology. Chapter 5 examines Howard ‘in the lab’: his collections and scientific practices. Chapter 6 analyses how Howard developed his scientific interests as he moved ‘out of the lab’ into the garden. Chapter 7 then explores Howard’s circulated works through his books, illustrations, distribution and reception. The final chapter presents conclusions and a view of future research beyond the thesis.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Driver, Felix, Supervisor
  • Nesbitt, Mark, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Oct 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • Cinchona
  • Quinine
  • John Eliot Howard
  • Nineteenth Century Pharmacy
  • Howads and Sons

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