First-hand accounts of orchid hunters in the wild can give us a glimpse into their journeys and the lands they visited. Chronicles were printed in magazines and periodicals like the journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, and the Orchid Review. Some of the keenest orchid enthusiasts like Fredrick Boyle also wrote several articles and books. His celebrated About Orchids published in 1893 is an essential read to understand the story of this plant and its trade. But I want to focus on the story of one orchid hunter and more importantly on the photographs of his adventures.
Albert Millican's Travels and Adventures of an Orchid Hunter - An Account of Canoe and Camp Life in Colombia, While Collecting Orchids in the Northern Andes is one of the most vivid descriptions of the golden years of the orchid trade. Published in 1891, it gathers Millican's five journeys to South America, the first on 1887, year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.
A wealthy private patron, Richard Brooman White, - one of the most knowledgeable orchid collectors in Scotland - financed Millican's travels and the subsequent publication of his book. The orchids from his journeys would no doubt find their way to Brooman's glasshouse at Arddarroch, his mansion at the edge of Loch Long.
Millican not only wrote with concise precision about the places and people he saw on his journey, he was also one of the first to take photographs to illustrate his accounts. After crossing the Atlantic to the main ports in the Caribbean Sea, Millican's journey took him across Venezuela and into Colombia via the port of Barranquilla. His inland journey started first by steamboat and then canoe, reaching the base of the Andes Mountains.
Back in London, business was booming. Nurseries sold rare specimens at auctions for what would now be tens of thousands of pounds.