Unlike most of the botanical specimens held by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh that consist of single sheets with sparse notes, this Rhododendron sample is accompanied by 8 pages of text which detail its collection in Tsekou (Haut Mekong) in China’s Yunnan Province by Jean André Soulié in 1895.
Born in 1858 in in Saint-Juéry, Aveyron, on October 6, 1858. Père Jean André Soulié was ordained July 5, 1885, for the Paris Foreign Missions Society and sent in October 1885 to the Apostolic Vicariate of Thibet (now Diocese of Kangding).
As a missionary, he based at Tatsienlu, western Szechuan, in the late 1800s. From 1889 onwards he sent plant specimens to the Paris Museum of Natural History.
Outside of his missionary and medical work in Tatsienlu, which served as a gateway between China and Tibet, Soulié's main interest was botany and he collected plants with zeal, for example on the peak of Jarra, to the north-west of Tatsienlu. In 1891 he was transferred to Dango, even closer to Tibet, by which time he was fluent in the border dialects, making travelling much easier.
In order to not attract attention in this politically turbulent region, Soulié disguised himself as a native merchant, and in this way travelled along the course of the Mekong River through part of Tibet, reaching Tseku. He was later transferred to Yaregong, where he earned a good reputation for his medical work.
In ten years, Soulié collected more than 7,000 specimens from the high altitude Tibetan region and was the last of the great French missionary collectors to work in western China, following on from the likes of Père Armand David and Père Delavay. Species named in his honour include Rosa soulieana Crép., Primula souliei Franch. and Fritillaria souliei Franch.
Soulié was a victim of the violent reprisals of the Batang monks in 1905. After two weeks of torture, he was shot by his captors. His co-worker, Bourdonnec, was murdered a few months later, as was their successor in Yaregong, in 1914.
On December 15, 1895, he gave an account of his travels to Henri d’Orléans who returned to France and published the account in the Bulletin of the Geographical Society 7th series, v. 18 (1897), pp. 36 – 80 along with the map shown below.
This specimen was later given to the RBGE by Cullen in 1976, click here to see it on the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Website