WILLIAM JACKSON HOOKER (1785-1865)

William Jackson Hooker

William Jackson Hooker

I have already done several blogs mentioning Sir James Edward Smith (1759-1829), the Norwich born botanist. In this blog I am going to consider the career of another famous botanist and native of Norwich, Sir William Jackson Hooker. His education was at the Norwich School in the Cathedral Close; whether it was as a result of his this or not, he emerged with a great interest in natural history. He was wealthy enough to pursue this interest as an adult, and it was a rare moss which set him off on the study of botany. He was twenty years younger than Sir J. E. Smith, but the older man persuaded his younger contemporary to concentrate his mental energies on the study of plants. He had previously been as interested in birds and insects as in botany.

Although William Jackson was born in Norwich, the Hooker family was not a local one; they had been established in Devon for centuries. Richard Hooker, the sixteenth century Divine, and influential theologian, was a distant relative who had been born near Exeter. William’s father Joseph was also born in Exeter, and came to Norwich as a result of his job as a merchant’s clerk. He was an expert in German literature, and also cultivated curious plants; the foreign language seems to left his son cold, but the exotic plants must have awaken his interest.

After leaving his birthplace in Norwich in 1809, William Hooker took up residence in Suffolk for a number of years. At his home in Halesworth he established a famous herbarium, which made him a well-known expert in scientific circles. William Hooker travelled to Iceland with the eminent naturalist Sir Joseph Banks. Although the collection specimens he brought back was lost when a fire broke out on the homeward voyage, he was able write a book on the subject, largely from his memories. Later he went on a European tour where he met many knowledgeable botanists. In 1815 he married the daughter of the Yarmouth banker Dawson Turner, himself a keen student of botany. Turner was something of a polymath; besides his botanical studies he was also a well-known antiquarian and he must have known all about finance. Dawson Turner was a friend and patron of the painter John Sell Cotman, and he wrote a book on the churches of Normandy, which Cotman illustrated. His son-in-law William Hooker and his daughter Maria had five children, including Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), also a famous botanist. The son followed in his father’s footsteps.

In 1820 William Jackson Hooker was invited by the University of Glasgow to be Professor of Botany, a position he held for over 20 years. William Hooker was knighted in 1836 for his pioneering work in developing plant sciences. One of is  achievements was to be the Director of Kew Gardens. This establishment had evolved in the late eighteenth century from being one of the King’s gardens to be the principal horticultural establish of the Royal estate. Hooker was created the institution’s director upon the resignation of William Townsend Aiton in 1841. It had by then become the National Botanical Garden, largely as a result of the actions of the Royal Horticultural Society, of which William Hooker was president.

Following the generation of Sir Joseph Banks, he was the most important British botanist of the second quarter of the nineteen century. In 1865 at the age of eighty he died at Kew, following an infection. He was succeeded as Director of Kew by his son Joseph Dalton Hooker.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: