The West Indies Chemical Works Ltd. and Logwood in
Haematoxylum campechianum (logwood or bloodwood tree) is
a species of flowering tree in the legume family,
Fabaceae, which is native to southern Mexico and
northern Central America. The tree was of great economic
importance from the 17th century to the 19th century, when it was
commonly logged and exported to Europe for use in dyeing fabrics.
The tree's scientific name is derived from the Greek haima for
blood and xylon for wood, hence "bloodwood".
Logwood extract was first used by the Mayans and Aztecs as an
ink, a fabric dye, and a treatment for diarrhoea. It has been
reported that when Hernando
Cortez encountered the Nahuatl Aztecs in 1519, they were
dressed in the rich violet and black colours derived from logwood
extract. However the Spaniards originally used the trees as
ballast and did not realise the potential as a dye until the late
1500's after it had been introduced into other European
countries, including England. The Crown of Spain then attempted
to create and maintain a monopoly and logwood was contraband
cargo for non-Spanish ships and subject to confiscation.
In the early 1500's during Henry VIII's reign, Privateer's
discovered that one shipload of logwood could generate the
equivalent of a year's value from any other cargo. The breaking
of the Spanish logwood monopoly is considered a factor in the
sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
There was a time though when the use of logwood dyes could land
you in a pillory. Elizabeth I issued Statute 39, "An Act for
the better Execution of the Statute made in the twenty-third year
of the Queen's reign, for the abolishing of logwood, alias
blockwood, in the dying of Cloth or other Stuff." The
deceitful users of Logwood were under the aforesaid Statute, 39
Elizabeth, to be tried, and, if found guilty, fined and set
in the pillory.
The following are the preamble and first section of Statute 23
issued by Elizabeth I in 1567, "Whereas, of late years, there
hath been brought into this Realm a certain kind of stuff called
logwood alias blockwood, wherewith divers do dye daily divers
things: Forasmuch as the colour made with the said stuff is false
and deceitful : Be it, &c., that all such Logwood alias
Blockwood, in whose hands soever the same shall be found, after
the feast of St. Michael the Archangel next ensuing, shall be
forfeited and openly burned by authority of the Mayor, or other
head officer of the city or town corporate, or of two Justices of
peace of the county where it shall be found, and that, from and
after 20 days after the end of this Session of Parliament, no
person, of what degree soever he be, shall dye or cause to be
dyed any cloth, wool or any other of the premises above
mentioned, or any other thing whatsoever, with any of the said
ware or stuff called Logwood alias Blockwood, upon pain that the
dyer of every such several things so dyed shall forfeit the value
of the same thing so dyed ; the one moiety to the use of the
Queen's Majesty, her heirs or successors, and the other moiety to
him that will sue for the same by action of debt, bill, plaint,
or information in any court of record, in which suit no Essoine,
Protection, Wager of Law, nor Writ of Privilege for the defendant
shall be admitted or allowed, and the party offending, being
thereof convicted, to remain in prison, without bail or
mainprise, till he hath satisfied the same value."
These statutes were finally repealed by Charles in 1662 who
declared: "the ingenious industry of modern times hath taught
the dyers of England the art of fixing colours made of logwood .
. . so as that, by experience, they are found as lasting as the
colours made with any other sort of dyeing-wood whatever, and on
this ground it repeals so much of the Statute of Elizabeth as
related to logwood, and gives permission to import it and use it
Early in the 17th century, on the shores of the Bay of Campeche
in south-eastern Mexico and on the Yucatan Peninsula, English
buccaneers began cutting logwood, which was used in the
production of a dye needed by the wool industry. According to
legend, one of these buccaneers, Peter Wallace, called "Ballis"
by the Spanish, settled near and gave his name to the Belize River as early
as 1638. (Other sources, however, assert that the river's name
comes from the Mayan word belix or beliz, meaning
Shortly after England took possession from the Spanish of Jamaica
the export of logwood began to flourish. The town of Black River,
is one of the oldest in Jamaica, being shown on maps as early as
1685. The town had a busy seaport and by 1773 it had become the
capital of St Elizabeth (replacing Lacovia) and supported a
lucrative logwood trade and export of rum, pimento and cattle
skins. Logwood was used to generate steam from a power plant with
large furnace and boiler that generated electricity from as early
as 1893 and was the first in the island.
The use of logwood as a dye was described by
Robert Hooke (1635-1703) in 1650 although it is not recorded whether
in his microscopic investigations he recognized its use as a stain for
cell tissues. 
Georg Christian Reichel (1721-1771) is considered the first to
use logwood extracts as a histology stain (in his case plant
Edwin John Quekett (1808-1847) and his younger brother
John Thomas Quekett (1815-1861) were founding members in 1839 of
the Royal Microscopical Society and early meetings were held in
John's house in London. Edwin was a student of
Professor Edward Turner (1796 Clarendon, Jamaica-1837 London)
at the University of London and received the First Silver Medal
in Edwards's first Chemistry class of 1828-1829. John described the
direct use of the logwood extract in his 1848 book
"Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope".
Freidrich Bohmer (1829- ) copied the use of the addition of
mordants (like potassium alum) to haematoxylin/haematein from the
textile industry and in 1865 was able to initiate the extensive
use of logwood derived stains. Note though that he published his
findings in a regional medical journal and it was only after
being cited some years later that this development was
The main extract from logwood is haematoxylin. Haematoxylin is
relatively colourless and without further modifications has
little or no value as a biological stain, unless it is oxidized
in a process called ripening to yield haematein, which may be
combined with mordants, including Al, Cr and Fe salts to achieve
a range of colours. The use of the word "hematoxylin" to describe
a staining solution is some-what misleading but continues to be
used as a term of convenience. [9,10,11] The process of oxidizing
haematoxylin to haematein, which is the active staining
ingredient can be achieved either naturally and artificially. The
structure of haematein and the related brasilein was predicted by
Paul Pfeiffer and
Alfred Werner in 1904.
|The structure of haematoxylin and haematein
Haematein = 3,4,6a,10-Tetrahydroxy-6a,7-dihydroindeno[2,1-c]chromen-9(6H)-one
Haematoxylin has no staining properties, unless it is oxidized in
a process called ripening to yield haematein, which is then
combined with certain chemicals called mordants. The process of
oxidizing haematoxylin to haematein which is the active staining
ingredient can be achieved naturally and artificially.
The combination of haematoxylin/haematein with eosin--an aniline
dye--was first proposed in 1871 in a publication by Poole,
forming one of the most used combinations in histology today. In
George N. Papanicolaou introduced a five-dye combination,
known simply as the "Pap" stain, destined to become the most
commonly used in cytology and which features haematein as the
Michel Eugene Chevreul  isolated crystals of haematoxylin in
1812 but the crystal structure was not reported until
|The crystal structure of haematoxylin showing water molecules in the cavities when packed
In relating the contributions of
Sir Robert Robinson to the
chemistry of oxygen heterocycles, it must be emphasized that he
appeared to have a special regard for the chemistry of brazilin
(Structures). His name is on publications from
1906 until 1974 and on
extensive reviews concerned with its chemistry [15-20].
Robinson's elucidation of the structure of the brazylium salts
afforded the background for his later outstanding contributions
to the chemistry of anthocyanidins and anthocyanins. Robinson's
studies on the chemistry of haematoxylin ran very much parallel
with those on brazilin. Haematoxylin was synthesized, from
appropriate starting materials, by the same route as had been
used for brazilin
Robinson prepared Brazilin and deduced its structure but found
that Werner and Pfeiffer had proposed the same structure despite
having no real chemical evidence and even though their suggested
pre-cursors were found to be incorrect.
Henry Barham was appointed surgeon-major of the military forces
in Jamaica around 1700. In 1715 he introduced logwood seeds from
Honduras to Jamaica. Years later, in Feb 1897, it was reported in
The Gleaner that the Agricultural Society had collected some red
logwood seeds from Liberty Hall and sent them to Dr Emile Bucher
for analysis and dye tests were carried out on these and other
logwood species found in Jamaica. The Society agreed that seeds
should be brought from Honduras for comparison and propagation.
In 1851 the Reports on the Exhibition of the Works of Industry of
All Nations showed logwood imports for the years 1848-1850.
Table 1 Dye imports (cwt.) to Great Britain for 1848-1850
Table 2 Logwood imports (cwt.) to Great Britain by country for 1849
|British Guiana and West Indies
|British North America
The trade in logwood peaked in the late nineteenth century with
Haiti accounting for 90%. During the twentieth century, demand
progressively declined and exports moved from logs to extracts.
The major commercial sources of logwood extracts in recent years
have been the larger Caribbean islands (Jamaica, Haiti and the
Dominican Republic). Other producers include several Central
American countries and Brazil.
Trees are cultivated in Jamaica and some of the other islands but
elsewhere in the region the industry is heavily dependent upon
wild trees. 
The West Indies Chemical Works Ltd (WICW) in Spanish Town
opened in 1893 and became a major supplier of logwood extracts for over 70
years.  The idea is said to have come to two Swiss graduates
of the Zurich Polytechium (Francis Emile Bucher and Emile
Schweich-Mond) when after attending a lecture on dyes by
Georg Lunge (1839-1923) a suggestion was made that it was too wasteful
to import logwood chips into Europe and shipping of the
concentrated extracts could remarkably reduce costs and make a
lucrative business. Alfred Werner was another of their Professors
and as noted above, Pfeiffer and Werner were the first to
accurately propose structures for Brazilin an analogue of
Haematoxylin/Haematein. Pfeiffer later published another 15+
papers on these species.
In the obituary for Emile Schweich-Mond (1865-1938) by Bucher and
Gibson,  the story of establishment of the factory is given.
The two set up a small pilot plant in rented space in Manchester,
England near to a factory that could supply steam. After
determining the conditions for extraction they approached
Ludwig Mond (Emile Schweich's uncle) and after his numerous
suggestions of modifications to their design of the plant with respect
to the location of boilers etc. they were ready to begin construction.
In addition to processing logwood in 1891 they applied for a
Patent in Jamaica for the processing of the heartwood of a
The WICW factory site was well chosen in Spanish Town with good road and
rail service and a large space for the storage of large quantities of logwood.
This was piled according to relative dyeing quality to allow some mixing
in order to provide a fairly stable input feed. About 60 tons of wood were
extracted by 4 times as much water and the spent wood was fed wet into
the boilers to raise steam and electricity.
The site selected was next to the railway
station. The custos of St Catherine, Thomas Lloyd Harvey
(1841-1906) provided some local support and initially there were
seven subscribing members of the West Indies Chemical Works. The
Inaugural dinner for the opening of the plant was held at
Harvey's Rio Cobre Hotel. The other members included Edward
Bodmer (Bucher's father-in-law or brother-in-law), Harvey, Sidney
Raynes Cargill and Franz Xavier Knecht and an eighth joined soon
Notices in the Gleaner show that a rail sideline was built to
link the Spanish Town line in to the factory. This would allow timber
to travel in for processing and dye to move out to the
ports for shipping. This was in addition to small boats that
plied the route from Savanna-la-Mar to St Catherine carrying
2. Bart Kahr, Scott Lovell and J. Anand Subramony, "The progress
of logwood extract", Chirality, 10(1-2), 66-77, 1998.
4. Elizabeth I Statutes
5. Black River
12. A. Werner and P. Pfeiffer, Chem. Z., 1904, 3, 421.
13. Chevreul, M.E. Du me´moire sur le Bois Campe´che et sur la
nature de son principe colorant. Ann. Chim. 82:53-85, 126-147,
14. Bart Kahr, Scott Lovell and J. Anand Subramony, Chirality,
10(1-2), 66-77, 1998.
15. R. Livingstone, 'Anthocyanins, Brazilin, and Related
Compounds', NATURAL PRODUCT REPORTS, 1987, pg 25
16. R. Robinson, in 'Chemistry of Carbon Compounds', ed. F.
H.Rodd, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1959, Vol. IVB, p. 1005.
17. R. Robinson, in 'Rodd's Chemistry of Carbon Compounds ',
ed.S. Coffey, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1977, Vol. IVE, p. 427.
18. W. H. Perkin and R. Robinson, J. Chem. Soc., 1908, 93,
19. P. Engels, W. H. Perkin, and R. Robinson, J. Chem. Soc.,
1908, 93, 1115.
20. F. Morsingh and R. Robinson, Tetrahedron, 1970, 26, 28 1.
22. 1851 Reports
23. C.L. Green, Non-Wood Forest Products, Natural Colourants and
Dyestuffs, FAO 1995
25. J. Chem. Soc., 1939, 729-731
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