In response to my earlier blog about a First World War souvenir book of pressed flowers from the Holy Land, Alison Parr, our wonderful oral historian at Manatū Taonga the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, brought in a similar book, Wild flowers from Palestine, which she had inherited from her mother. Her mother had nursed in Egypt during the 1940s and Alison thought that perhaps it dated from that time.
Interestingly it turns out that this book dates from the late nineteenth century, and was compiled by a Reverend Harvey B. Greene. He gives a lovely description at the beginning, explaining how he collected the flowers over three seasons, assisted by a large number of the local people and ‘a most faithful dragoman’. (I had to look up dragoman, as to my eyes it looks too much like dragon and I had images of a Victorian reverend accompanied by a large fire-breathing creature. Too much Harry Potter, I think. In case, like me, you didn’t know, dragoman actually refers to an interpreter or guide in a country speaking Arabic, Turkish or Persian).
One of Greene’s aims seems to have been to try and find the flowers referred to in the Bible, and each dried flower is matched with a Biblical quote or a snippet of poetry. In the case of the Rose of Sharon (’I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys’) Greene refers to the English translations of the Bible, which note that ‘rose’ refers to an autumn crocus- and it is a crocus that he has chosen to include here. He names it as Crocus gaillardotii, today known more commonly as Crocus aleppicus.
Greene himself was American, born in 1864, and he graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1891. After serving for a few years as a congregational minister, he left the church and established a florist business in Lowell, Massachusetts. He first went to Palestine in 1895 and this book was first published that year, with subsequent editions in 1896 and this one in 1899 (I think. To be honest trying to work out the editions of this book is like swimming in treacle). Greene also compiled Pressed flowers of the Holy Land, which is very similar in content and feel.
Various interpretations I’ve read link these books with the increasing American interest in Palestine during the nineteenth century; with the wider Victorian genre of printed books with natural history specimens; and with a vogue for souvenir albums of pressed flowers. Certainly Greene and his books fit into all of these interpretations, even the last. He also produced a couple of floral souvenirs from American wildflowers.
Unfortunately Alison wasn’t able to ask her mother about the book, so we will probably never know how a book containing wild flowers from Palestine, collected by an American, and published in both the United States and Britain, ended up in New Zealand. But it’s a fascinating object and story all the same.