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Title: ‘Procurers of plants and encouragers of gardening' : William and James Sherard, and Charles du Bois, Case Studies in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century Botanical and Horticultural Patronage
Author: Riley, Margaret
Awarding Body: University of Buckingham
Current Institution: University of Buckingham
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis discusses the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century plantsman and his ‘garden for curiosity’, an encyclopaedic collection of plants accumulated for learned study and experiment. Between the mid-1680s and the 1730s standards of English horticulture were significantly raised, and the number of new exotics that were successfully acclimatized grew considerably. Before the reorganisation of the Apothecaries’ Physic Garden at Chelsea in the 1720s, however, the lead given by the country’s public institutions and the court to encourage these improvements was often insubstantial or short-term. Their efforts, in general, compared poorly to the achievements of European counterparts, such as the Jardin du Roi in Paris, or the Hortus at the University of Leiden. The initiatives of the Dutch East India Company to exploit the flora of their trading posts around the world were similarly unmatched. It is argued, therefore, that the activities of a small, pioneering group of learned, expert horticulturists were especially valuable to the development of botany and gardening in England during this period. The thesis focuses on Charles du Bois (1658-1740), treasurer of the East India Company, William Sherard (1659-1728), a diplomat with the Levant Company, and his brother James (1666-1738), an apothecary. All became well-known botanists and were members of the Royal Society. Du Bois’s garden, at Mitcham in Surrey, and the Sherards’, at Eltham in Kent, were highly regarded for the range of hardy and tender species grown in them. The German botanist Johann Jakob Dillenius (1687-1747) documented over four hundred examples from the Sherards’ collection in his Hortus Elthamensis (1732), an important pre-Linnaean work. Gardens such as Eltham and Mitcham were labour-intensive, and expensive to run. Ample leisure and a sizeable disposable income were required to keep their ranges of hothouses and beds well stocked, and maintained. It is significant that du Bois and the Sherards were from the ‘middling’ ranks of society, lacking the benefit of landed wealth to fund their pursuits. Their fortunes needed to be made. The thesis is therefore divided into two parts. The first five chapters examine the background to these men’s collecting endeavours, and their working lives. The final three attempt to reconstruct their gardens and discuss their horticultural activities. Sources drawn on included private correspondence, personal papers and diaries, company records, wills and inventories, parish records, maps and pictorial material, and herbaria. Contemporary printed works of natural history and horticulture, and a satire were additionally consulted. The thesis begins by outlining the state of botanical study in England at the end of the seventeenth century, explaining why plants in any state, dried or living, were being so avidly collected at that time. The analysis of Du Bois and the Sherards’ careers that follows considers the reasons why they created their gardens, and how they could afford to do so. It also looks at the different influences on their collecting, and why they were especially well placed to take up this interest. The second part is devoted to Mitcham and Eltham. The layout of the sites is covered, as well as the apparatus installed to acclimatize all manner of tender exotics. The gardeners employed, species cultivated, experiments undertaken, and the fate of the collections on the death of their owners, are examined. Du Bois and the Sherards’ relationships with the botanical and horticultural communities are studied, demonstrating the role that these collectors played in the spread of theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as plant material. Throughout the second half of the eighteenth century, the world of English horticulture became rapidly more sophisticated. The introduction of Linnaeus’s binomial system, furthermore, simplified the language of botany, making it far more accessible. And the royal garden at Kew, under the control of Sir Joseph Banks, emerged as an international centre of plant exchange and acclimatization. The appearance in London of new, highly successful plant nurseries was the most obvious legacy of the previous, pioneering generation of botanical and horticultural patrons, who trained their owners. The now flourishing Apothecaries’ Garden at Chelsea also benefitted from their influence, and the Sherards were instrumental in restoring the Oxford University Physic Garden, after years of neglect.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available