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Ref No KER
Title Arthur Kerr Papers
Description This collection comprises his diaries (KER/1), photographic records (KER/2), plant records (KER/3), correspondence (KER/4), publications (KER/5) and a volume of orchid Drawings (KER/6/).
Creator Name Kerr, Arthur Francis George (1877-1942)
Date 1906-1940s
Level Collection
Extent 6 series, 12 sub-series
Administrative History Kerr was born on 7 Feb 1877 at Kinlough, County Leitrim, Ireland. His father was Dr.Elias William Kerr (1849-1920) of Cerne Abbas and South Lodge, Dorchester. He was educated at Dorchester Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin where he was awarded a 1st Class Honours B.A. Degree in Botany in 1897. In 1901 he obtained a medical degree and obtained his first medical post on board a sailing ship bound for Australia. In 1902, he was assigned to Siam (Thailand) as assistant to Dr. Hugh Campbell Highet (1866-1929) and later became physician to the British Legation in Bangkok. In 1903 he was appointed Medical Officer of Health in Chiengmai; during his time in this province, he began collecting and drawing orchids. In August 1903 he married Daisy Muriel Judd, Dr.Highet's sister in law whom he had met on his journey to Siam, together they had four daughters.

During the period 1904 to 1914 he was Principal Officer of Health to the Siamese Government. In 1908, whilst on leave in Europe, he came to Kew and visited Sir David Prain, the then Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, and Dr. Otto Stapf, Keeper of the Herbarium. They urged him to collect a wide variety of plants from Siam for Kew and gave him the necessary equipment. In the 1910s, the flora of Siam had never been recorded, Siam being a practically unexplored country, never having been part of the British Empire. On his return to Siam, after his visit to Kew, he combined his tasks of medical officer, which took him to various parts of the country, with his botanical pursuits.

From 1915 to 1918 he served as a temporary captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France, being based at the Stationary Hospital in Marseilles, while his family lived in Hyères. He became unfit due to ill health and went to live with his family for a while in the South of France. On 13 March 1919 he arrived back in Bangkok via Hong Kong, having served as a surgeon on a troop ship. After this period, there was a decline in Kerr's medical duties, until he finally resigned and went into private practice, whilst negotiations for his appointment as Government Botanist were taking place.

On the 1 Sep 1920 Kerr was appointed Director of the Botanical Section of the Ministry of Commerce of Siam a post he held until 1932; in November 1920; he returned to his old residence in Chiengmai. Each year from 1920 until 1929 he went on botanical tours beginning in the north of Siam and working his way southwards, concentrating particularly on the collection of plants of economic importance. On 13 Oct 1921 his wife died of malaria. Later on in the same month, he and his brother decided to take his daughters back to England where they were taken care of by an aunt; he then returned to Chiengmai alone on 11 March 1922. Towards the end of 1922, he left Chiengmai for good and the Botanical Section moved to Bangkok. However, he continued his plant collecting activities, travelling by various means throughout the country, carrying with him a considerable amount of equipment. He recorded in his journals everything he observed such as vegetation, the merchants encountered and the goods they sold, the crops cultivated, the number of pigs in villages as well as local industries and mines.

The official reports of these 'Tours' were published in 'The Record' a quarterly issue by the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok, which mainly recorded financial information. However, Kerr gave in these a sketchy report narrative of his tours (1920-1933) with maps, recording his observations on the way; he made 17 tours altogether. These have been reprinted in the Miscellaneous Reports Series held by the Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kerr was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London on 13 Dec 1923; on 23 June 1932 he sailed from Penang returning to live in England. In Jan-April 1933 he undertook a trip to South Africa and Madeira. He also spent time at the Kew Herbarium, working on the Florae Siamensis Enumeraito with Professor William Grant Craig. During World War II the Admiralty became interested in his knowledge of Siam. He began working for the Air Ministry who asked him for copies of maps which he had drawn during his expeditions in Siam. However, he became too weak to continue this work and died on 21 Jan 1942 at The Street House, Hayes, Bromley, Kent, England. His remains were cremated and his name was added to the tombstone of the family grave at Ceme Abbas, Dorset.

Sources: M. Jacobs: Reliquiae Kerrianae (Blumea Vol. XI, N0.2, 1962 pp.427-493) includes a list of published material by Kerr, his collections and localities, as well as a detailed itinerary of places he visited and collected in.
Custodial History In his will, dated 29 May 1941, Arthur Kerr bequeathed his botanical manuscripts and drawings to the RBGK as well as a collection of dried orchids. Some records were also transferred from the British Museum (Natural History) by the Director Dr J Ramsbottom on 14 Aug 1942. These consisted of: 1 roll of maps of Siam, 11 boxes of notes, booklets and manuscripts on Siamese plants, 6 cardboard boxes of dried specimen, 4 green boxes of notebooks, 2 cases of lantern slides, 4 cabinets of specimen (see file PRO 4/K/6).
Arrangement The collection was sorted, boxed up and a box list made by Paul Suan Davies in March 1992. This arrangement was followed when creating this catalogue, but sub-series were created to clarify the arrangement of the records.
Language English
Physical Description Most of the material bears yellow stickers with 'AF G Kerr' and often a number and/or a letter. These cannot be removed and should be ignored.
Related Material Files PRO 4/K/6 on Kerr 1927, and PRO 3/Siam/1 1927 Siam. Botanical Section, Ministry of Commerce and Communications, Bangkok; Plant Determination List (PDL) Vol 55 Plant Lists - Siam. A.F.G. Kerr (1918-1953); Miscellaneous Report Siam and Cochin China Misc. 1910-1928; Letters in the Director's Correspondence collection: DC 149 Asia Letters 1909-1928 (ff 425-429; 432-487) and DC 161 Indian Letters - North East India, Tibet, Siam 1901-1914 (ff 286-302; 315-369; 378-379); There are in the Library several publications by Kerr. The Illustrations team also hold about 65 illustrations by Kerr.
Subject Orchidaceae
Dendrobium sutephase
Copies None
Show related Persons records.
Persons
Code PersonName Dates
DS/UK/5 Kerr; Arthur Francis George (1877-1942); Dr 1877-1942
Places
Code Set
NA4 Doi Wao/Thailand/Asia
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