Henry Nicholas Ridley and the Rubber Tree

Henry Nicholas Ridley

Henry Nicholas Ridley

On December 10, 1855, English botanist, geologist and naturalist Henry Nicholas Ridley was born. Ridley was instrumental in introducing rubber trees in the Malay Peninsula and for his fervour in promoting it became known as “Mad Ridley”.

Henry Ridley grew up in Kent, he was educated at Tonbridge and later Haileybury. He graduated in 1878 and received a Burdett-Coutts scholarship that let him conduct research on fossil from quarries near Oxford. He then joined the British Museum in the botany department.

In 1887, Ridley joined the Royal Society expedition with George Ramage to the island of Fernando de Noronha and published on the collections on returning. In 1888 he was selected for the post of director of Gardens and Forests in the Straits Settlements. He was to meet Odoardo Beccari at Florence for information and to meet Trimen at Peradeniya to learn about rubber cultivation along the route.

At Singapore, Ridley became first scientific director in charge of the botanical gardens and in charge of introducing new plants of economical value. Ridley established para-rubber plants here apart from starting a zoological section in the gardens in 1870. Ridley explored the regions around including Penang and Malacca. In 1894 his post was abolished as the expenditure was found to exceed the revenues obtained. Ridley returned briefly to England but the removal of the post was however objected to by William Turner Thiselton-Dyer and Ridley went back to Selangor to advise on forest reservation.

Henry Ridley promoted rubber as a commercial product, which he was known for being passionate; therefore, he was nicknamed “Mad Ridley”. In 1895, he discovered a means of tapping which did not seriously damage the rubber trees. Ridley was also largely responsible for establishing the rubber industry on the Malay peninsula, where he resided for twenty years. The area under para-rubber slowly increased after 1898 when a Chinese landowner, Tan Chay Yan, grew 40 acres successfully leading to more people taking to rubber cultivation.

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