The flower buds and young seedpods and leaves of agathi (Sesbania grandiflora) can be eaten as a vegetable, and are commonly used in Thai cuisine. It is wild in tropical eastern Asia, but has been long cultivated in the warmer parts of India. The tree also has numerous medicinal properties: for example, the leaves can be chewed as a mild laxative, and to clean the mouth; the flowers are said to be good for headache, and the fruits which are bitter and acrid can be used as a laxative.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the East India Company controlled much of the Indian subcontinent. Keen to exploit and export valuable natural commodities, the Company set out to record the flora of India and commissioned Indian artists to create detailed botanical illustrations. Many of the plants were known through their use in Ayurvedic medicine. One of the world’s oldest medicinal systems, it has been practised in India for 3,000 years.
Company School style paintings became popular with wealthy Europeans. It was not uncommon for East India Company officials (who were not employed as medics or botanists) to build their own personal collections of paintings depicting Indian flora and fauna. We cannot be sure how local amateur botanist Richard Cresswell came by this collection of 86 Company School works. It is possible Henry Creighton commissioned them during his time as a judge in Calcutta and that on his death the works came back to the UK with his daughter Frances who later married Richard Cresswell.