The Story of Cinchona Ledgeriana.

Botanical name: 

The following interesting letter from Mr. C. Ledger, so well known in connection with cinchona cultivation, has been sent to us for publication by his brother, Mr. G. Ledger, to whom it was written:

While engaged in my alpaca enterprise, 1856, I received in the interior of this republic (on the high table plains of San Antonio de los Cobres, in the province of Jujuy), by return of express, that some two months before I had sent to the port of Cobija for letters, funds, etc., a packet of newspapers. In one of the papers I read that Her Majesty's government were sending out to South America a special mission, under charge of Mr. Clements R. Markham, in search of plants and seeds of the cinchona. A Bolivian Indian, Manuel Tucra Mamani, formerly and afterwards a cinchona bark cutter, was then accompanying me, with two of his sons. He had been in my service since 1843. He accompanied me in almost all my frequent journeys into the interior, and was very useful in examining the large quantities of cinchona bark and alpaca wool I was constantly purchasing. I never could get him to ride; he was always at "my stirrup," and would show no fatigue after a journey of fourteen to twenty leagues daily for eight to twelve days consecutively. He and his sons were very much attached to me, and I placed every confidence in them. Sitting around our camp fire one evening, as was my custom after dinner, conversing on all sorts of topics, I mentioned what I had read as to Mr. Markham's mission. Now, Manuel had been with me in three of my journeys into the cinchona districts of the Yungas of Bolivia, where I had to go looking after laggard contractors for delivery of bark. It was while conversing on the subject of Mr. M.'s journey, and wondering which route he would take, etc., Manuel greatly surprised me by saying, "The gentleman will not leave the Yungas in good health, if he really obtains the 'rojo' plants and seeds." Manuel was always very taciturn and reserved. I said nothing at the time, there being some thirty more of my Indians sitting around the large fire. The next day he reluctantly told me how every stranger on entering the Yungas was closely watched, unobserved by himself; how several seed collectors had had their seed changed; how their germinating power was destroyed by their own guides, servants, etc. He also assured me how all the Indians most implicitly believe if by plants or seed from the Yungas the cinchonas are successfully propagated in other countries all their own trees will perish. Such, I assure you, is their superstition. Although there are no laws prohibiting the cinchona seed or plants being taken out of the country, still I have seen in private instructions from the prefect in La Paz to sub-prefects of Sorata and Caupolican ordering strictest vigilance, to prevent any person taking seed or plants out of the country. More than half a dozen times I have had my luggage, bedding, etc., searched when coming out of the valleys of the Yungas.

So much importance did I attach to all I heard from Manuel, that, as an Englishman, I looked upon it as a duty to advise Mr. Markham and put him on his guard. I consequently addressed him, relating all I had heard, under cover to Mr. George H. Nugent, H.B.M.'s vice consul, Arica, sending by express (on foot, of course) a distance of more than 600 miles. Some two months after I received answer, saying, "Your letter arrived too late. Mr. Markham is now in Carabaya, not having been allowed to enter Bolivia." Although Mr. Markham was unsuccessful upon this occasion, he subsequently succeeded, as related by him in his "Popular Account of the Introduction of Cinchona Cultivation into British India," 1880, and in a book published in 1862.

You are aware how I am looked upon as a doctor by the Indians. Well, one day soon after, when making a decoction from some "coca" leaves, Manuel had brought me the boiling water, I said: "Manuel, I may some day require some seed and flowers of the famous white flower, rogo cascarrilla, as a remedy, and I shall rely on your not deceiving me in the way you have told me." He merely said, "Patron, if you ever require such seed and flowers, I will not deceive you." And I thought no more about it.

Manuel was never aware of my requiring seed and leaves for propagating purposes; he was always told they were wanted to make a special remedy for a special illness. After much thought, and from my knowledge of him, I question if he would have got them for propagating purposes. He was very much attached to me, no doubt, but he was afraid of his own people.

For many years, since 1844, I had felt deeply interested in seeing Europe, and my own dear country in particular, free from being dependent on Peru or Bolivia for supply of life-giving quinine, remembering and relying on Manuel's promise to me in 1856, and I resolved to do all in my power to obtain the very best cinchona seed produced in Bolivia.

His son Santiago went to Australia with me in 1858. In 1861, the day before sending back to South America Santiago and other Indians who had accompanied me there as shepherds of the alpacas, I bought 200 Spanish dollars, and said to him: "You will give these to your father. Tell him I count on his keeping his promise to get for me 40 pounds to 50 pounds of rogo cinchona (white flower) seed. He must get it from trees we had sat under together when trying to reach the Mamore river in 1851; to give my kindest remembrances (and small present) to Fra Simon, curate in the Apolo missions; to meet me at Tacna (Peru) by May, 1863; if not bringing pure, ripe rogo seed, flowers and leaves, never to look for me again; should I not have arrived from Australia, to give seed, etc., to my daughters, who would give him $400." In June, 1863, he sent a nephew to my children at Tacna asking for $200, saying he had not then collected seed for the patron, but by next season would do so if well ripe and not hurt by frost.

I arrived back in Tacna on the 5th of January, 1865, after separation of twelve years from my home and children, completely ruined by the introduction of the alpaca into the Australian colonies turning out a failure.

I at once sent message to Manuel, informing him of my arrival. At the end of May he arrived with his precious seed. It is only now some twenty-four years after poor Manuel promised not to deceive me; manifest how faithfully and loyally he kept his promise. I say poor Manuel because, as you know, he lost his life while trying to get another supply of the same class of seed for me in 1872-3. You are aware, too, how later on I lost another old Indian friend, poor Poli, when bringing seed and flowers in 1877. (I'm not sure that I like Mr. Ledger very much—MM)

I feel thoroughly convinced in my own mind that such astonishingly rich quinine-yielding trees as those in Java are not known to exist (in any quantity) in Bolivia. These wonderful trees are only to be found in the Caupolican district, and, as rightly stated by Mr. John Eliot Howard, F.R.S., are only to be met with in eastern Yungas. The white flower is specially belonging to the cinchona "rogo" of Apolo.

You will call to mind, no doubt, the very great difficulties you had to get this wonderful "seed" looked at eve; how a part was purchased by Mr. Money for account of our East Indian Government for £50, under condition of 10,000 germinating. Though 60,000 plants were successfully raised from it by the late Mr. M'lvor, I only received the £50.

The seed taken by the Netherlands Government cost it barely £50. I have recently received advice from the courteous Minister for the Colonies, that he proposes to submit to the State General that £100 be awarded to me.

I see by "The Field" you sent me, containing some account of the propagation of cinchona in Java, that up to this time the seed collected from best specimens has been so well propagated that there are now 707,670 Ledgerianas possessed by the government. At 1d. each that would give £2,948, 12s., 6d.; at 4 pounds of bark per tree, at low price of 8s. per pound, £1,132,272. Seeing the immense present and future wealth resulting from my seed, I cannot sometimes help thinking that I am another illustration of the axiom that "inventors are always losers." As far as I am concerned, I lose in money, having spent more than £600, without taking into account the labor and anxiety of so many years. Such, then, is the "story" attaching to the now famous Cinchona Ledgeriana, the source of untold wealth to Java, Ceylon and, I hope, to India and elsewhere. I am proud to see my "dream" of close on forty years ago is realized—Europe is no longer dependent on Peru or Bolivia for its supply of life-giving quinia.

C. LEDGER.—The Field, Feb. 5.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 53, 1881, was edited by John M. Maisch.