Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Corner House that became The Garden

E.J.H. Corner House at Singapore Botanic Gardens
This is a colonial bungalow that was formerly the residence of the Assistant Directors of Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is named after E.J.H. Corner who was Assistant Director in the period 1929-1945. Corner was an expert on fungi and tropical trees and palms. He went on to become Professor of Tropical Botany at the University of Cambridge.

Edred John Henry Corner FRS (12 January 1906 – 14 September 1996) was a botanist who occupied the posts of assistant director at the Singapore Botanic Gardens (1926–1946) and Professor of Tropical Botany at the University of Cambridge (1965–1973). Corner was a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College from 1959.

His studies of seed morphology led him to formulate the Durian Theory of the origin of flowering plants. He was also a leading expert on the genus Ficus and the palm family, as well as a distinguished mycologist, having published Boletus in Malaysia in 1972.

Among his many academic prizes were the Darwin Medal (1960), the Linnaean Gold Medal (1970), and the Japanese International Prize for Biology (1985).

He was a controversial figure, viewed by some as a collaborator with the Japanese during the World War II occupation of Singapore. In fact he was only offered the chance to continue his work in the Singapore Botanic Garden at the instigation of the ousted British governor, Sir Shenton Thomas, and he was treated by the Japanese as an enemy alien, being required to wear a distinguishing red star on his clothing. His account of this time is contained in The Marquis - A Tale Of The Syonan-to (1981). He also wrote a Biographical Memoir of the Emperor Hirohito for the Royal Society.
Corner has also gained some notoriety among creationist circles in recent years for a frequently circulated quotation: "...but I still think that to the unprejudiced, the fossil record of plants is in favor of special creation." Here is the full quote:
The theory of evolution is not merely the theory of the origin of species, but the only explanation of the fact that organisms can be classified into this hierarchy of natural affinity. Much evidence can be adduced in favour of the theory of evolution - from biology, bio-geography and palaeontology, but I still think that, to the unprejudiced, the fossil record of plants is in favour of special creation. If, however, another explanation could be found for this hierarchy of classification, it would be the knell of the theory of evolution. Can you imagine how an orchid, a duckweed, and a palm have come from the same ancestry, and have we any evidence for this assumption? The evolutionist must be prepared with an answer, but I think that most would break down before an inquisition. Textbooks hoodwink. A series of more and more complicated plants is introduced - the alga, the fungus, the bryophyte, and so on, and examples are added eclectically in support of one or another theory - and that is held to be a presentation of evolution. If the world of plants consisted only of these few textbook types of standard botany, the idea of evolution might never have dawned, and the backgrounds of these textbooks are the temperate countries which, at best, are poor places to study world vegetation. The point, of course, is that there are thousands and thousands of living plants, predominantly tropical, which have never entered general botany, yet they are the bricks with which the taxonomist has built his temple of evolution, and where else have we to worship?" (E.J.H. Corner 1961, from 'Evolution', p. 97, in "Contemporary Botanical Thought", Anna M. Macleod and L. S. Cobley (editors), Oliver and Boyd, for the Botanical Society of Edinburgh)
Among the many plant species named in his honour are Anisophyllea corneri, Calamus corneri, Bulbophyllum corneri, and Platyscapa corneri.

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