One of the main aims of the British East India Company was to work out how best to exploit India's natural products. The company established several botanical gardens to conduct scientiﬁc projects and experiments. Experts were appointed to direct the work of the gardens and the Company sponsored expeditions and surveys throughout its territories.
One such expert was Thomas Hardwicke, who in 1778 entered the military service of the Company at the age of 22. By 1819 he had progressed to the rank of Major General and from 1820 was Commandant of Artillery until his retirement in 1823. During his time in India and the subcontinent he amassed a large and splendid collection of natural history specimens and continued to collect during his retirement in London. Hardwicke's bequest to the British Museum included his books, drawings (which amounted to more than 59 volumes), quadrupeds, skins and zoological specimens in spirits. He also left cabinets of minerals, rocks, fossils and shells. The largest part of his collection was birds from around the world which formed part of his 'Museum room' at his house in Lambeth. His collections are still studied by scientists today.
Before his death in 1835 Hardwicke published two volumes of Illustrations of Indian Zoology, consisting of 202 colour plates from his art collection. Like most of those in the service of the Company who created collections of drawings, he was not the artist. His works were collated from a whole army of artists that he commissioned to draw for him, as well as interested persons who sent him drawings they acquired while on their travels.