LEDGER, Charles (1818-1906)


LEDGER, Charles (1818-1906)
noted for his work in connexion with quinine
was born at London on 4 March 1818. After leaving school he went to South America and in 1836 was a clerk in a British merchant's office at Lima. He became an expert in alpaca wool, and in 1842 began business as a dealer in South American products. In 1847 he was grazing sheep and cattle half-way between Tacna and La Paz, and in 1852 went to Sydney to inquire into the possibility of introducing the alpaca into Australia. He returned to South America and by 1859 had brought several hundred alpacas to Sydney. This was a hazardous and difficult business as the export of alpacas was forbidden. Ledger was paid £15,000 for his alpacas and given a position in charge of them. The attempt to acclimatize them in Australia was a failure, but Ledger was not to blame for this. He returned to South America in 1863 and turned his attention to another problem. The cinchona tree, the bark of which yields quinine, grew in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, but no one was allowed to export either trees or seeds. The trees were being wastefully cut down without being replaced, and there was some danger that they might become extinct. Some seeds and plants had been introduced into Europe and Asia by Weddell in 1848, and Sir Clements R. Markham. went later to Peru, and Bolivia, and succeeded in acclimatizing trees in Asia and the Dutch East Indies. Ledger, however, found a better variety, now known as Cinchona Callsaya Ledgeriana, and in 1865 under great difficulties collected several pounds of seed. For his share in this work Ledger's servant, an Indian named Manuel, was arrested in Bolivia and so severely beaten that he died. The seed was sent to London where some of it was purchased by the Dutch government. Seeds were also sent to India and Queensland but the trees do not appear to have been grown in Australia. In 1883 Ledger went to Sydney again and in 1884 took a farm some 20 Miles from Goulburn. Losing his savings in the bank failures of the early 1890s, efforts were made by Sir Clements Markham and others to obtain some provision for Ledger from the Indian and Dutch governments. This was at first refused, but in 1897 on Ledger's seventy-ninth birthday, he received news that the Dutch government had granted him an annuity of £100 a year. He died nine years after in 1906.
Ledger did a great service to the world, as millions of cinchona trees grown in India and Java sprang originally from his seeds. By 1900 two-thirds of the world's supply of quinine came from Java, and over 40 years later the Ledger types of cinchona were still the best quinine yielders (Harper's Magazine, August 1943, p. 278).
A. C. Wootton, Chronicles of Pharmacy, vol. II; The Chemist and Druggist, 23 March, 6 April, 27 July 1895; Nature, 12 July 1941, p. 43; Chamber's Encyclopaedia under Cinchona; Norman Taylor, Cinchona in Java; The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 and 13 May 1859.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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