His pockets filled with rubber seeds, the Singapore Botanic Gardens' first scientific director Henry Ridley, also called "Mad Ridley", promoted the plant as an economic crop throughout the region.
He was given the nickname as a result of his avid advocacy. The story goes that the name caught on following an encounter with a coffee planter in the Malay Peninsula one rainy day. The planter refused to believe Ridley when he shared that South American Indians had used the material to make their own waterproof boots.
Ridley's research into the crop, which included a rubber-tapping technique that extended the economic life of the tree, took place in the Gardens. It paved the way for the crop's agro-industrial development and distribution to South-east Asia and beyond from the late 1800s. This was a factor in the Gardens' becoming a Unesco World Heritage Site on July 4 last year.
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The colourful life of Ridley is one of several historical gems found in The Straits Times' latest e-book - Historic Gardens: Singapore's First Unesco World Heritage Site.
The free multimedia publication, which was launched yesterday, is divided into five chapters: the journey to Unesco; a walk through history; a haven for nature; a home to landmarks; and beloved by generations.
Said Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez: "We are all proud of Singapore's first Unesco site, and this e-book brings the fascinating story of this historic Gardens to life for our readers.
"This e-book also showcases our efforts to serve our readers in a highly visual, multimedia fashion. We want to give readers yet another opportunity to experience our content across platforms for themselves."
Highlights from the first chapter include audio snippets from the World Heritage Committee's delegates, who praised Singapore's bid at the organisation's 39th session in Bonn, Germany.
The second chapter explores the foundations laid by its visionary managers and directors. This includes the development of the space into an English landscape garden in the tropics, fulfilling a second Unesco criterion of having a historical landscape.
The next chapter features photo galleries of the Gardens' towering heritage trees, orchid hybrid stars and wildlife. The fourth showcases the Gardens' landmarks, including its 1930 bandstand and World War II air-raid shelter.
The final section is dedicated to visitors who have walked through its grounds for the past 157 years.