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British & French science

The encounter with the Americas by Columbus in 1492 opened up to western Europe the possibility of access to new resources across the Atlantic. The Age of Discovery followed as Spain and Portugal launched a spice race to the East Indies following both eastern and western routes around the world.  By the 16th century silver and gold were pouring in from the Americas and Portugal had ended the millennia-old hunt for the source of the much-desired nutmeg and cloves.

These Iberian countries were then followed by a new European power. The 17th century was a golden age for Holland which led the world in commerce, technological development, and intellectual achievement, taking over, often violently, the global maritime trading hubs of the former European powers.

Superior Dutch horticulture was brought to England as potted plants and glasshouses introduced to Hampton Court by William and Mary in 1689. The botanic gardens at Leiden and Amsterdam boasted the most comprehensive plant collections in Europe, brimming with new plant introductions passed to them by The Dutch East India Company. Dutch botanists were carrying out pioneering work in tropical botany in the new Dutch colonies.

But Dutch political and economic fortunes also turned around as, through the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment, France and Britain would compete for global territories and intellectual prestige. Competition was at its keenest in the scientific institutions where botany was high on the scientific agenda. It is these two countries that pioneered modern science and horticulture in their respective scientific institutions. The French botanical legacy, especially, is easily forgotten. The scientists of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle and Jardin des Plantes of the 18th and early 19th centuries:

‘ . . . were virtually the founding fathers of the modern natural sciences . . .’ and it was ‘ . . . Frenchmen at the Jardin des Plantes rather than Britons at Oxford, Chelsea and Kew, who founded modern botany’[33]

Though France’s Palace at Versailles stands among the world’s greatest horticultural artistic creations the commercial botany developed by Joseph Banks at Kew would help define the modern world.


Seventeenth century curiosi were aristocrats, gentlemen and their aspirants who admired the new, rare and surprising in all spheres of life – one major part of their worldly education being the ‘grand tour’ of Europe which taught them the seemly manners of the day and introduced them first hand to the wonders of the ancient and contemporary world. With this experience completed it was then possible to display the gentlemanly attribute of erudition which included a knowledge of the wonders of nature – the butterflies, shells, insects, birds, fossils, and stones that made up small museums (cabinets) accompanied by the books, manuscripts, maps and illustrations that explained them. This was a wonder associated with the desire to understand and describe in accurate detail – rather different from the awe of the sublime in 18th century Romanticism. It was accompanied by collections of all kinds, both inside and outside – floor-to-ceiling paintings, hot-house collections, living and dried plants.[35]

Under the patronage system natural history was the domain of a leasured elite. At the Museum the naturalists could join the royal hierarchy. Under royal patronage the royal prestige was promoted through the commitment to medical and economic reform and the influence and power of the country over foreign and distant lands. By the 18th century the patrons had tended to shift from nobles, princes and the extremely wealthy to a lesser rank, gentlemen and the generally well-heeled. Naturalists eschewing patronage would eke out an existence by by giving talks and lectures and capturing the interest of the public by making prints, writing books and selling specimens to nobles, clergy and elite. As a salaried employee of a nobleman there were tutoring and other duties. Key figures were often directors of botanic gardens and cabinets (museums, sources of entertainment, improvement, display, curosities – mineralogy was an embryonic geology). Before the 1760s there were few chairs of natural history and before 1793 there were no chairs of zoology in Europe. The Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle was to change this by instituting fully salaried natural history posts which its staff obtained from the revolutionary government. Natural history was perceived as part of the process of national and personal improvement being pursued by other burgeoning organizations like the Académie Royale des Sciences, Académie Française, Observatoire, … which were occasionally called on in an advisory capacity.[24]

(In the long tradition of spoils of war European cities conquered by the French Revolutionary army would have specimens of special interest transported to the Jardin and included here were some of Europe’s oldest botanic gardens in Italy[25]. The Jardin was one of the few savant institutions whose staff survived the Revolution without disarray.[26] Post Revolutionary reform of the Jardin in 1793 was directed at making institutions of public instruction or enlightenment rather than solitary self-discovery.[27])

Enlightenment England & France

Enlightenment scientists in England and France competed among themselves as their countries fought for supremacy on the high seas. The Dutch abandoned the great continent to the south of their trading hub Batavia (Jakarta), known to the English by Tasman’s name New Holland. Early French charts of the coastline of Nouvelle Hollande bear the French names given during early voyages of scientific exploration.

Jardin des Plantes - Museum

Botanical & Geological Museum
Jardin des Plantes
Photo: Roger Spencer 23 June 2014

Late seventeenth century science had produced the most outstanding natural philosopher of the age, the Cambridge physicist and English genius Isaac Newton (1642-1727) whose Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica revolutionised science. However, by the early 18th century English domination of science had yielded to France where the Royal Academy of Sciences and other scientific institutions had become very powerful, producing scientists of the quality of Lavoisier (chemistry), LaPlace (mathematics) and Coulomb (physics). French was a popular language for scientific communication (although Latin remained) and was de rigeur in polite English society.


France and England exhibited a remarkable similarity in their structures and networks of expertise, patronage and institutions. The patronage culture of early modern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries continued into the Enlightenment, natural historians vying for advancement and social rank by wooing potential patrons. It was a ‘rambling hierarchy of power delegation that emanated from the king[1] With the Enlightenment emerged the possibility of leading scientific institutions influencing the moral and political agenda of the day. French science was, though, more bureaucratic and with greater government involvement than that in Britain.

Natural history institutions

A scientific network of learned societies was being woven. Prominent scientific Institutions were now commanding both money and power – in London and Paris there were Linnean Societies, in France the Academie Francais. Between 1666 and 1700 the Academy of Sciences was established – connecting administration, government, intellectuals, royalty and the ‘private’ gentlemen scientists. In France there was the Natural History Museum and Jardin des Plantes, in London too a Natural History Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

Jardin du Roi & Muséum

The earliest major Parisian royal garden was the Royal Garden of the Louvre founded by Henri IV around 1590. Its gardener was Jean Robin (1550-1629), gardener to French kings Henry III, Henry IV and Louis XIII and a specialist in both ‘simples’ (medieval medicinal herbs) and trees, being well-known for the introduction of the first Robinia tree (named after him) to Europe in 1601, the same year that he published Catalogus Stirpium . . . a list of the 1300 native and exotic species that he cared for. Jean also tended the plants at the Tuileries Palace gardens that had been created by Catherine de’ Medici and a small garden at the School of Medicine on the Rue de la Bûcherie (established in 1597 but closed in 1617). Jean Robin was a plant collector who obtaining many plants from Holland that he refused to share.[34]

The Jardin du Roi was founded in 1626 and supervised by Guy de La Brosse, Louis XIII’s physician, who established it as a medicinal herb garden in 1635, its more recent name Jardin des plantes being a reduction of Jardin royal des plantes médicinales (Royal Garden of medicinal plants) reflecting the original purpose of the garden in the 17th century.[34] It was opened to the public in 1640.

Guy de La Brosse made Vespasien Robin (Jean’s son) his sub-demonstrator claiming that Jean bequeathed to the garden ‘more than twelve hundred species, which formed the first stock of the School of Botany’ and the garden was opened to the public in 1640. Unfortunately there followed a period of decline after which Jean-Baptiste Colbert was appointed administrator followed by Guy-Crescent Fagon in 1693 who harnessed the talents of the outstanding botanists Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, Antoine de Jussieu, Antoine Laurent de Jussieu and his son Adrien-Henri.[34] In 1698 Tournefort published a Flora of the environs of Paris.

The Royal Parisian botanical garden, the Jardin du Roi, was a triumph of the Old Regime. The name was changed to Jardin des Plantes in 1792 after the French Revolution and it became the home of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in 1793. It is now France’s premier scientific Botanic garden. Originally the royal physic garden it maintained a famous botanical school which trained botanists, constructed demonstration gardens, and maintained a seed exchange boasting a proud tradition that pre-dated that of Kew, London, by over 140 years.

In 1693 it employed some of Europe’s most outstanding taxonomic botanists, including Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, Antoine Laurent de Jussieu and his son Adrien-Henri de Jussieu. Tournefort, especially, had a major influence on Linnaeus’s thinking. The Jardin du Roi was associated with the Cabinet du Roi, the king’s collection of curiosities, library and works of art, more familiarly referred to as a museum and it flourished under the watchful eye of intendant (director) Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707-1788) whose intendancy as ‘Keeper of the King’s Cabinet’ lasted from 1739 until his death in 1788 on the eve of the Revolution.

Compte de Buffon

Compte de Buffon was a wealthy aristocrat educated in law and medicine. In his early years he was devoted to mathematics but with a passion for natural history being elected to the Academie des Sciences in 1739 (rather misleadingly as associate botanist). As a philosophe (intellectual of the 18th century Enlightenment) he was a member of polite society attending various salons in the 1750s and ‘60s. He was a prolific author, the 36 quarto volumes of his encyclopaedic Histoire Naturelle . . . placing him in the top rank of naturalists for more than two generations the series extending to 45 volumes in all after his death although, for no apparent reason, not one volume was devoted to botany. This monumental work was a best-seller throughout Europe in spite of its cost and size, selling more copies than the famous works of Rousseau and Voltaire.[32] For the first series of volumes he chose as a collaborator Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (1716-1800) who he had appointed as curator of the Cabinet du Roi in 1744. One hundred years before Darwin, Buffon was prepared to draw attention to the similarity between apes and humans, and to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy that the Earth was only about 6,000 years old. Buffon was considered a master of prose and was highly decorated, the king conferring on him the title of count by the king: he argued with most intellectuals of his day and was given the most elaborate state funeral of any scientist of the Enlightenment just prior to the outbreak of the Revolution.[2]

Science & Revolution

This prestigious institution survived both the monarchy and the French Revolution. After the fall of the Bastille the Jardin- and Cabinet du Roi were renamed the Muséum National d’histoire Naturelle in 1793. The position of intendant was abolished and the professorships were increased from three to twelve of equal rank meeting as a council and electing a yearly director: staff did not change under the new regime. It was situated in the grounds of what was now France’s premier garden, the Jardin des Plantes, which had started out, like so many similar institutions, as a physic garden, the Jardin Royal des Plantes Médicinales – established by Louis XIII in 1635. Buffon worked to reduce the medical function of the Jardin although many of the naturalists were trained physicians. As a champion of the Enlightenment Buffon launched France into a golden age of natural history that lasted through the first three decades of the nineteenth century. In France natural history’s pre-eminence in the 18th century depended in large part on the patronage relationship between Buffon and his protégés and patrons.[3] All finances at the Jardin had to be approved by ministers and administrators of the king’s household and Buffon knew and worked the system well.[4] Though the Jardin survived the Revolution well, formal and pleasure gardening in general did not as land was transferred and grand estates deteriorated with the privations of conflict gardens became used more functional often as a supply of food.[5] There was a revival after 1800 but the English Romantic style, much less demanding on resources and capturing the spirit of the times, had won the day.

‘The award of posts in the Jardin always depended on personal relationships between individuals: candidates and their patrons, patrons with ministers, and ministers with the king. Such relationships were often familial, geographical, or tutelary.’[6]

(? to patronage – The Revolution ended the Royal Academie (replaced by the Socity of Natural History (a revival of the old Linnean Society) and the Philomathematical Society – part of the Institute of France founded in 1795 under the Directory but gave rise to others that maintained French supremacy in science.)

In 1802 the first issue of Annals was published by the Museum, becoming the primary means of communication about natural history in France.

The museum enjoyed a heyday in the early 19th century, attracting Darwin’s early teacher Robert Grant for a period as wll as his later enemy Richard Owen. As Darwin was mulling over his new theory this museum was where comparative anatomy formed the battleground for George Cuvier (‘conditions of existence’) faced off against Etienne Saint-Hilaire (‘unity of type’) who both lived in the grounds of the museum. A major scientific event at this time was Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt from 1798 to 1802.

Two plant people at the Museum stand out, the head gardener André Thouin and the plant taxonomist Laurent de Jussieu (and his family of plant scientists).

André Thouin

Botanist André Thouin (1747–1824) who held the position of head gardener at the Jardin from 1764 to 1793 the son and successor to head gardener Jean-André Thouin (Head Gardener from 1745 to 1764) was certainly the most widely-known French horticulturists of the later 18th century. Rousseau corresponded with André whose family lead an exemplary simple Rousseauesque lifestyle, his home an annex to the hothouses at the Jardin du Roi.[7][8] His correspondence and reports show him to have been an extremely popular, intelligent, energetic and loyal.[9] André, like other naturalists of his day, built up a correspondence network of more than 400 people, both botanists and the wealthy seized by Botanophilia, this being an effective way of setting up an exchange system for plants and seed from around the world with botanical gardens and their greenhouses acting as acclimatization centres.[10] He was responsible for the development of the gardens nursery and from 1774 to 1786 the number of seeds sown in the gardens increased from 1,096 to 2,200.[11] Correspondence from his peers would often include a Desiderata (list of plants required) accompanied by a catalogue of the plants held in the correspondents garden available for exchange. This procedure was part of what became the International Seed Exchange System that is used by many of the world’s botanic gardens to this day. (In 1785 Laperouse visited Buffon before his ill-fated voyage. The meeting was reported by Thouin who recommended taking a gardener, choosing one of his bright students, Jean Collignon, to mind the plants on the voyage while assisting in collection and preservation of plant specimens with the botanist(s). He prepared journals and lists for his traveling gardeners, handing out the same instructions on collection, packaging, preservation and care of specimens to each, recommending that they read on the voyage esp. the works of Linnaeus and travel accounts. (see Duyker) One major acclimatization goal was the introduction of Breadfruit to the West Indies, especially after the failure of the British Bounty to do so. Gardener Felix Delahaye was selected as the person for the job and was dispatched with the d’Entrecasteaux expedition.



Vasculum of Professor Gérard Aymonin
Honorary Professor of Botany at the Botany Museum, Jardin des Plantes, Paris
A vasculum is a metal box to keep plants cool when collecting in the field
Photo: Roger Spencer – 23 June 2014


French use of miniature glasshouses on board preceded by several decades the British use of the Wardian case.[12] The gardener was expected to find new correspondents for Thouin and to deliver and receive desiderata and catalogues. As a gardener Thouin in the 1790s was also a key figure in French agricultural improvement being appointed professor of culture in 1793, developing a wide respect that meant giving talks to eager landowners and plant lovers at six o’clock in the morning.[13] His modesty was widely respected: being elected to the Academie in 1786 and awarded the the cross of the Legion d’Honeur he never wore its insignia “A ribbon would not be suitable to my gardener’s blouse; and pride, inseparable from any distinction, could make me forget the pruning-hook and the spade, which have been my consolation, my fortune, and must suffice for my ambition”.[14]

”Buffon and Rousseau’s writings had made the study of nature and the appreciation of its beauties an essential part of a civilized upbringing”.[15]

(Thouin’s work and horticultural school produced a generation of former Jardin protégés (sent on voyages and/or given senior posts in influential regional gardens) that were strongly influenced by Thouin’s teaching and explicitly sought to model their gardens on the newly formed Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, one gardener, Schweykert, even being posted to Kew under William Aiton.[16] Kew itself has a long tradition of educating gardeners who have found their way to posts in colonial gardens, this being especially true of Australia where Kew-trained gardeners find employment to the present day.

Horticultural tradition ran in parallel at Kew and the Jardin des Plantes. Gardeners were definitely of the lower class and answerable to botanists on the voyages of scientific exploration. Both institutions issued extensive rules and procedures to be observed on these trips. It has been noted that the French intention was that the plants collected on these voyages should be spread around the world while Banks insisted on a close guard of all botanical booty, destined mostly for Kew Gardens alone.

Thouin had worked with Jussieau from 1773-1774 in replanting the Jardin du Roi to demonstrate the de Jussieau classification system.

de Jussieus

Five members of the de Jussieu family contributed to science. Antoine (1748-1836), Bernard (1699-1777) and Joseph (1704-1779) were the three sons of an apothecary from Lyons. The elder brothers studied under Magnol at Montpelier, exploring Spain and Portugal together. Antoine succeeded Tournefort in 1708. Joseph joined the Condamine scientific expedition to Peru, remaining in South America for 36 years sending seeds back to Bernard in Paris. Bernard was called to Paris by Antoine to succeed Vaillant as a demonstrator at the Jardin des Plantes. In 1759 he was asked to set up a system garden in the La Trianon garden at Versailles where he called on the assistance of nephew Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1748-1836) who would emphasise the relative weighting of plant characters in devising classifications rather than simply counting them. After 15 years work he produced a classification system that bears a close in-principle resemblance to the one we use today. In 1826 he resigned as professor, handing over to his son Adrien (1797-1853) whose text book Botanique was translated into many European languages.

Antoine de Jussieu

Statue of Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu
by Jean-François Legendre-Héral in 1842, in the Botanic Museum of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris
Photo: Roger Spencer – 23 June 2014


Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu (1748–1836), who was professor of botany at the Jardin from 1770 to 1826, was one of four sons of an apothecary who, as nephew to Bernard, received instruction while staying at his house.[17] His work built on the classification system of his famous uncle, the botanist Bernard de Jussieu (1699–1777) who had trained at Montpellier (which was strongly influenced by Pierre Magnol (1638-1715) and the teaching of his son Antoine which laid the foundations for a classification system based on natural families) and the ideas of Scottish-French botanist Michel Adanson. In 1722 Bernard moved to the Jardin du Roi where he supervised the gardens and greenhouses and taught botany in the field: by 1725 he had joined the Académie des Sciences.

One of Bernard’s uncles was Antoine de Jussieu who held the post of professor of botany at the Jardin until his death in 1758. ??Another uncle, Bernard, became a guard to the natural history cabinet before becoming an exceptionally inspiring and knowledgeable demonstrator of plants.[18] Antoine-Laurent had received money from his uncle and supplemented this with some medical work: he joined his uncle Bernard at the Jardin in 1764, succeeding him as demonstrator in 1778. Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu firmly established for the future the principle of natural classification (méthode naturelle) in botany through the system he expounded in Genera Plantarum (1789) which was published less than a fortnight before the fall of the Bastille, the new natural arrangement being demonstrated in the Jardin du Roi.[19] In 1773 he had recommended this planting claiming that his natural order would make it possible to determine medicinal virtues of plants from their external appearance since plants with similar natural characteristics would have similar properties.[20] He endorsed Adanson’s principle of using multiple characters to define groups and his practical botanical ability is demonstrated through the fact that 76 of the 100 families he recognised still remained 200 years later in 1981.[21] (influence of Tournefort) It was Antoine-Laurent who took responsibility for the conversion of the Jardin du Roi to the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle after the Revolution.

Chateaux de Petit Trianon

Chateaux Trianon was always a favourite of Louis XV and in the 1750s the adjacent grounds were developed to include elaborate gardens and a menagerie, the site becoming known as Petit Trianon of Versailles in 1759. It included a kitchen garden (potager), pavilion, ménagerie, and hothouses for exotic ornamental and food plants. In the same year it was decided that Bernard should supervise the planting of a botanical garden using his own classification system combined with Linnaean binomial nomenclature. Unfortunately it was not open to the public and could not be used for instruction.[22]


Queen’s Garden at Petit Trianon Versailles
Watercolour and ink plan by Thomas Magloire Daussy (1758-1826)
The Queen’s Garden was originally a gift to Marie-Antoinette from Louis XVI: it was designed by Richard Mique and construction began in 1776. The illustration shows the Jardin Anglais with meandering stream.
The garden later passed to Empress Josephine Bonaparte
Photo from touring exhibition, Melbourne 2016
Louis XVI in 1774 gifted Petit Trianon to Marie-Antoinette and at her request a fashionable English garden was installed, plants from the botanical garden being transferred to the Jardin du Roi where Thouin and Antoine-Laurent Jussieu were converting the demonstration garden from the classification system of Tournefort to that of Bernard Jussieu.[23] Then from 1774 to 1785 a Queen’s Garden was laid out including Anglo-Chinese parkland designed by French architect Richard Mique to flow around the Petit Trianon as a meandering river and winding alleys in the fashionable informal jardin anglais style. Mique was probably assisted in this projects by the painter Hubert Robert and sketches by the Comte de Caraman. Mique also designed the Hameau de la Reine, a mock farming village built around an artificial lake at the northeastern corner of the estate. During the Revolution Mique and his son were arrested for conspiracy to save the life of Marie Antoinette (he was her favourite architect) then summarily tried and executed.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle, & Alphonse de Candolle

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1778 published the first Flora of France of any substance, a three volume work using binomial nomenclature and introducing the dichotomous keys so useful for plant identification that they are still used by botanists today. To revise the third edition of the Flore Françoise Lamarck chose Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle using Jussiaean classification. De Candolle went on to produce, between 1824 and his death in 1841, seven volumes of the monumental Prodromus Systematis Naturalis Regni Vegetabils, a massive attempt to summarise the advance in European knowledge of the plant kingdom that had occurred since the time of Linnaeus. A further 10 volumes were completed by his son Alphonse between 1841 and 1873 using Jussiaean natural classification and doubling the number of plant families that Jussieu had recognized.


In the 18th century British gardens attracted the European nobility with their naturalistic landscapes of winding paths, water features and scattered trees, very different from the formal artistic genius of Le Nôtre’s splendid creation at Versailles. Britain’s institutions were largely the work of two Enlightenment entrepreneurs: the Museum of Hans Sloane and gardens of Joseph Banks.

British Museum

Physician and keen natural historian Hans Sloane was a major formative figure in the world of British natural history. A prodigious collector of curiosities and books he was born in 1660, the same year as the foundation of the world’s most respected scientific society, the Royal Society, which numbered among its eminent members the father of British Botany John Ray (1627-1705), elected in 1685 as successor to Sir Isaac Newton as President, holding the post from 1727 to 1741 and editing the Philosophical Transactions for 20 years, steering it away from mathematics and physics towards natural history. Sloane’s first love was botany, influenced no doubt by his association with he founding of the Chelsea Physic Garden and Society of Apothecaries in 1673. He was one of an informal group of London botanists that met at the Temple coffee House.[28] In 1683 he had studied in Paris at the Jardin du Roi where he befriended de Tournefort. Linnaeus visited him in 1736 but did not like his method of permanently binding herbarium specimens. A voyage to Jamaica had yielded all kinds of natural history specimens, also a patent for milk chocolate. His lucrative medical practice, chocolate patent, and marriage to a wealthy heiress meant that he died an extremely wealthy man in 1753 aged 93.

With a deep concern for the permanent protection of his extensive library and natural history specimens Sloane willed them to the nation and they formed the nucleus of collections that constituted the British Museum founded by Act of Parliament on 7 June 1753.

Paid scientists would not appear in a any numbers until the 19th century as, for most of this period, science was the preserve of wealthy amateurs and the educated middle classes, notably clerics and doctors.[29]

Kew Botanic Gardens

Kew Gardens was initially the Richmond pleasure garden of the British royal family and a relative latecomer to the botanic gardens fold. Princess of Wales, Augusta, mother of the future George III had established a small botanic garden there in 1759 inspired by Scottish nobleman John Stuart, the third Earl of Bute. This was in keeping with the fashions of polite society and the 18th century interest in exotic plants. A heated glasshouse was added and Scotsman William Aiton (1731–1793), who had worked with the famous Philip Miller, director of the Chelsea Physic Garden (which had in its earlier heyday one of Europe’s finest collections of exotic plants), was appointed head gardener to oversee the development of a world-class collection of exotic plants. The 7th edition of Philip Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary in 1759 and Aiton’s catalogue Hortus Kewensis (later expanded by his son William Townsend Aiton (1766–1849) who succeeded him at Kew), were arranged according to the Linnaean system. Landscape gardener William Kent was asked to design the gardens and, later, William Chambers added fashionable architectural embellishments including an orangery and a large stove. The Princess Dowager, widow of Frederick Prince of Wales, was the first patron of Kew, dying in 1772. (Early precedents were established in Paris and Leiden and in England Kew Gardens’s precursor, the Chelsea Physic Garden under the careful ?directorship of Philip Miller, author of the most comprehensive catalogue of plants for the day, The Gardener’s Dictionary which was to evolve over the years into what was, effectively, listings of all the cultivated plants known in the British Isles.)

Joseph Banks & John Lindley

When time came to replace Lord Bute in 1772, George III chose the eminent Joseph Banks as horticultural advisor to Kew, a decision that was to have momentous consequences as Kew became the hub of a network of colonial botanic gardens, and the botanical center of acclimatization for an economically vibrant British empire. Kew already had a reputation for a fine collection of exotic plants when Banks returned from his voyage of discovery in the South Seas with Captain Cook who set off in 1768 aged 25, returning in 1771. With knowledge of the world growing and the colonial aspirations of European powers at their height Banks’s interest in the international commercial exchange of plants over the evolving English empire made his friend an appropriate choice for George III. Banks held his position for 48 years, sending out botanists and gardeners to the far reaches of the globe in search of economically useful and ornamental plants. Kew’s reputation as a world centre of botanical excellence has remained to this day. However, with the loss of patronage of Lord Bute, followed by the Princess Dowager both Banks and George III died in 1820 and the gardens went into a 20 year decline.

William & Joseph Hooker

After a commission to examine the reasons for the decline Sir William Jackson Hooker, the Prof Botany at the University of Glasgow, and before that a protégé of Banks, was appointed to launch a new scientifically based era for (seeing a revivals a public garden) the garden. When formally trained botanists were not employed then this role was often taken up by ship’s surgeons, many of them Scottish, and perhaps the most notable example being Robert Brown.

The Australian connection

European competition over the spice trade had lasted for several hundred years. It was the lure of spices and other potential riches that led the Dutch to reconnoiter the land to the south of their territory in the East Indies.

Between 1606 and 1770 more than 50 European ships are recorded as making landfall in Australia, these being mostly merchant ships of the Dutch East India Company.[30] Mariners were becoming more familiar with the seasonal and prevailing surface winds in the world’s oceans and were making use of the easterly trade winds and higher-latitude westerlies. The trade route to the Dutch East Indies took ships from Europe past the Cape of Good Hope, harnessing the gales of the ‘roaring forties’ as they ran east across the Indian Ocean before turning northward past the Australian west coast. Occasionally, by miscalculation or misfortune, ships ended up on the West Australian coast.

There were various incentives for Britain to create an outpost in the new land. Enclosure had shifted people from the country into the cities which were also swollen by soldiers returning from the American War of Independence (1775-1783) while America could no longer be used as a dumping ground. Crime increased, prisons became crowded, the excess felons housed in prison hulks (decommissioned vessels refitted and moored on the banks of the Thames). In 1773 the British government took administrative control of India from the British East India Company, a control that would last for 100 years, and it was assumed that the monopoly would be closed in the Pacific with trade opening up the region which would need new ports, a new shipping lane passing up the east coast. Banks had wondered about the economic potential of the flax and pine trees, good for ship masts, that he had seen, especially on Norfolk Island and a nearby port would be a good staging point. And then there was always the French to deter from any colonial aspirations in the region.

Reconnaissance of New Holland by the Dutch East India Company had revealed little of commercial or, indeed, any other interest. Historian Geoffrey Blainey summarises the situation as follows:

The land seemed to grow no bush or flower that Europe wanted. It seemed to yield no precious metal or mineral. It produced no animal or fish for which European merchants were willing to risk their ships in long voyages. Its Aboriginals were not ocean seafarers, nor were they traders or collectors of precious stones, and they could show visiting seamen no commodity of value … more than two centuries after European traders had invaded the Indies, Australia’s one contribution to international commerce was the sea slug

Geoffrey Blainey The Tyranny of Distance, p. 4

The English visits to the shores of New Holland and the Pacific (the last great unexplored area of the planet) in the late 17th and early 18th century signalled the rise of a new colonial world power but Britain had been slow to take an interest in the Far East because of its preoccupation with a rebellious America.

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