Monday, August 6, 2018

Cavendish bananas, the Duke of Devonshire & Sir Joseph Paxton

Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) was the gardener at Chatsworth House for 30+ years, built it’s Great Conservatory (left, 1830s) and later built the famed Crystal Palace in 1851. He named this variety of banana after his employer, William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858). Queen Victoria visited...

Musa Cavendishii - a variety of banana - cultivated by Paxton was imported from Mauritius (found in China a couple years earlier) in 1829.  After Paxton's work, it was sent out around the world.  After the Panama Disease (Fusarium fungus) killed off a popular variety of banana in the 1950s, the Cavendish gained prominence and now amounts to almost half of all bananas sold.  It is now under siege from disease.

Paxton designed a remarkable all glass "Hot stove" or "Great conservatory" that covered an acre (300' by 145' wide) and 67' (over 6 stories!) tall. Hot water (for heat) and cold water went through 6 miles of pipes. 70,000 square feet of glass were held up by 40 miles of sash-bars.

The "Bachelor Duke" of Devonshire enlarged Chatsworth House, pictured below.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert toured Chatsworth in 1843 and particularly wanted to visit the first huge conservatory.  It was large enough for a carriage to drive through the center.  Prince Albert organized the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London (like a World's Fair of industries), and had Paxton create an even larger glass building (1851 feet by 454 feet) called the Crystal Palace (picture near end of this post).

Cavendish Bananas 1842
"There are several species or varieties, but those best worth cultivating in Britain are the M. s. [Musa sapientum] Cavendishii… the Duke of Devonshire's Banana, is valuable on account of its fruiting at a small size, and within a year from the time the suckers are taken off. The fruit is not so plump as that of the two preceding varieties…

Twenty plants of Musa s. Cavendishii, may be fruited within the year, in a pit thirty feet by fifteen feet, and the weight of fruit produced may be from 400 lbs. to 500 lbs. An equal weight of pine apples may be fruited in the same space in the same time ; but much additional room would be required for bringing them forward, for six months at least, before they were put into the fruiting-house.

The summer temperature for the Banana is 65 min., and 85 max., or more with sun heat. Winter temperature, 65 min., and 75 max. The Bananas that ripen in winter are but little inferior to the summer fruit.

Every plant throws up a single flower-stem, which flowers and fruits; after which the plant dies, and is succeeded by a sucker. The fruit of none of the varieties contains seed, and hence these suckers are the only means of propagation."
Loudin, John C.  The Suburban Horticulturist.  London: 1842

The culture of the banana for the dessert was first commenced by Mr. Paxton in 1836, who, after two years' trial at Chatsworth, said that he “might recommend it advantageously for a suburban garden;' and this, as will be hereafter seen, is confirmed by five years' experience. …the Duke of Devonshire's variety, Cavendeshii, is grown in abundance for the table of the King of the French at Versailles and Meudon.

All the varieties of banana are propagated by suckers; they are grown in large pots or tubs, eighteen inches or two feet in diameter, in a mixture of leaf-mould, sand, and thoroughly rotten dung, and watered with liquid manure. Suckers will fruit within the year; and they may be retarded or accelerated so as to ripen their fruit at almost every season.

A banana house, 30 feet long, 15 feet wide, 12 feet high at the back, and six feet high at the front, heated by flues or by hot water, will hold about ten full-grown or fruiting plants, with room between for different-sized successional ones, to be tubbed successively as the large plants ripen off their fruit, these being shaken out of their tubs, as soon as the fruit is gathered, and potted, to produce suckers: by judicious management in tubbing, and in administering water, a supply of fruit may be had from such a house during the greater part of the year.

In Paxton's Magazine of Botany for 1836, it is observed that a pit, 40 feet long, 15 feet broad, and 5 feet high, will produce several hundred weight of fruit in a year, with no other care or attention than that of giving plenty of manure to grow in, and a good supply of heat and water. The banana will fruit at all seasons; and no doubt with easier culture than any kind of fruit grown under glass."
The Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c   London: Dec 24, 1842

Queen Victoria visited Great Conservatory Dec. 1843
"Immediately after her Majesty's arrival, the royal and noble party sat down to luncheon; at the termination of which, her Majesty, leaning on the arm of the Duke of Devonshire, accompanied by the Prince and the whole of the guests, proceeded through the state rooms, … and the orangery.

Her Majesty then signified her wish to see the conservatory, a building and collection of plants so grand and so rare as to be deservedly ranked among the minor wonders of England. To this she was conducted by the Duke and attended by the guests.

The Grand Conservatory, engraved upon the annexed page, is 300 feet long, by 145 feet wide, and covers about an acre of ground. The elevation of the central coved roof is 67 feet, with a span of about 70 feet, resting upon two rows of elegant iron columns. Round the centre, at the base of the dome, is carried a gallery and direct through the centre is a spacious carriage-drive. From an elevation of four feet from the ground is one mass of glass; each plate being 4 feet long, by 6 inches wide: the ascent to the gallery is by steps of rockwork, covered with rare plants. 

By means of tanks, a circulation of hot and cold water is kept up, through tubes occupying six miles in length. The sash-bars, if laid end to end, would reach forty miles in length; and they contain 70,000 square feet of glass. 

Mr. Paxton, F.L.S., is the sole contriver and architect of this wonderful conservatory. Such is its extent and convenient arrangement, that as many as three or four carriages have been driven in it at one time. …

At six o'clock, her Majesty, the Prince, the Duke of Wellington the Duke of Devonshire, and other distinguished personages, visited the grand conservatory, which was lighted with lamps, disposed along the ribs, by which the sides of this magnificent structure are divided, in a very tasteful manner. The effect of the scene was comparable to the fairy palace of some eastern tale."
Illustrated London News. Dec 9, 1843

Paxton's Magazine - description of origin  1837

"This highly interesting and most valuable plant is a native of China; it was sent from the Mauritius in 1829 by the late Charles Telfair, Esq., to his friend the late Mr. Barclay of Burryhill. Mr. Cameron, Curator of the Birmingham Botanic Gardens, has kindly furnished us with the following particulars respecting its history:— “The only plants of the Chinese Musa, that I ever heard of, were two imported ones received under that name at Burryhill in 1829. They were sent from the Mauritius by the late Charles Telfair, Esq., who stated in his letter, that he had obtained the species two or three years previously from China, that he had been at much pains in collecting together all the species and varieties of Musa he could obtain, and that he considered the one sent to be the most valuable, as it fruited profusely, and, only growing three feet high, would render it a great acquisition to the stoves of this country. As I had left Burryhill, I do not know what became of either plants.” Messrs. Young, of Epsom, purchased both plants at Mr. Barclay's sale, one for the Duke of Devonshire, and the other to go to the continent."
Paxton's Magazine of Botany… London: 1837

Joseph Paxton - "self made man", architect, author and Member of Parliament
Paxton's enormous 1851 Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition

A Banana of commerce (M. Cavendishi) in an English conservatory 1895
Recipes- 1821 & 1894

"This fruit [banana] yields a softer pulp than the plantain-tree, and of a more luscious taste. It is never eaten green, but when ripe is a very pleasant food, either raw or fried in slices like fritters. It is relished by all ranks of people in the West Indies. 

When the natives of the West Indies undertake a voyage, they take the ripe fruit of the banana and make provisions of the paste; and, having sqeezed [sic] it through a sieve, form the mass into loaves, which are dried in the sun or baked on hot ashes, after being previously wrapped up in leaves."
Accum, Friedrich. A Treatise on the Art of Making Good and Wholesome Bread… London: 1821

"(This is always a favorite with children.)
1 pint milk                  3 bananas
¾ cup sugar               1 scant t lemon extract
3 eggs                          1 saltspoonful salt
2 T powdered sugar   1 T corn starch 

Put the milk in double boiler and over the fire. Mix the cornstarch and salt with a little cold milk so that it will pour. Stir into the hot milk and cook till it thickens. Beat together till light and smooth the yolks and sugar, add to the mixture in the boiler. Beat the whites till dry, fold into the mixture gently about one-third of the whites. Then pour over the three bananas which have been peeled and sliced into a pudding dish. Mix the two tablespoonfuls of sugar with the remainder of the beaten whites of eggs. Spread over the pudding and set in a moderate oven till colored a delicate brown. Serve hot or cold.

A process has recently been discovered for making flour of bananas. Chemical experiments show that this flour contains more nutriment than rice, and that when eaten with beans, corn or sago, it forms a very palatable and nourishing diet."
"Bananas" by Janet M. Hill.  The New England Kitchen Magazine   June-July 1894  many recipes


Accum, Friedrich. A Treatise on the Art of Making Good and Wholesome Bread… London: 1821
Gardening Illustrated.  Oct. 12, 1895
Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Illustrated London News. Dec 9, 1843
Illustrated London News. Aug 31, 1844
Illustrated London News  June 24, 1865
Loudin, John C.  The Suburban Horticulturist.  London: 1842
Morris, Francis.  A Series of Picturesque Views of Seats of the Noblemen ... vol. 1  1880
Paxton's Magazine of Botany… London: 1837
The Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences   London: Dec 24, 1842
The New England Kitchen Magazine   June-July 1894

©2018 Patricia Bixler Reber
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