Jambolan (Syzygium cumini) has long been valued medicinally; the fruits contain vitamin C, anthocyanins and flavonoids; the leaves contain many different aromatic oils and the stems and bark are also rich in active compounds. The various parts of the plant have different uses (mainly anti-fungal and antibacterial) in traditional and Ayurvedic medicine. Recent studies have shown the seeds to be of potential use as a treatment for diabetes.
The jambolan is a large evergreen tree, found throughout the warmer parts of India, Nepal and Burma. The greenish-white flowers have masses of thin stamens, the fruit are purple, about the size of an olive edible and sweet to slightly sour, with a single seed.
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.
Some drawings in this collection, including this one are signed on the reverse. The artist’s name, Bhawani Das, is written in English and Bengali. He is known to have worked for Lady Mary Impey, wife of Sir Elijah Impey the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. It is probable that Creighton and Impey knew each other.