This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Last week it was our melancholy duty to announce the decease of one who throughout the long period of nearly half a century has been universally recognized as the first of living botanists; one, moreover, who has proved himself to be second to Linnaeus alone of all his predecessors in that department of science. We should be wanting both in respect to the memory of Robert Brown, and in our duty if we neglected to record the principle events of his scientific career, and to add our tribute of regret at the passing away from amongst us of a man for whose talents and labors we ever entertained the most profound esteem.
To some who have worked as his cotemporaries in the great metropolis of science, and to whom his name is no less familiar from its constant recurrence in every botanical work in this century, than from the habitual deference with which it is pronounced by the scientific men of every country, it may seem strange that we should think it necessary to dwell upon some of those features of his history which should be best and most widely known; but, owing partly to the length of time that has elapsed since his great discoveries were made, partly to the quiet and unostentatious manner in which they were announced, partly to the brevity of his style, and the comparatively small bulk of his published works, and most of all to his singularly retiring and unobtrusive disposition, it so happens that many of our intelligent readers, especially among young gardeners, are quite unaware of the real extent and merits of Robert Brown's labors, and of the vast indirect influence they have had upon their own pursuits.
Nor are they singular in the want of information; the general ignorance of the educated classes in England of the very existence of their late countryman had become a reproach to us amongst the scientific men of the continent, who boast that his name stands at the head of the list of honorary fellows of more scientific academies than that of any other individual whatever, not even excepting Humboldt; and that an Emperor, on hearing of his arrival at one of the capitals of Europe, placed a carriage at his disposal: whereas when his name was announced in the British Parliament as the recipient of a pension, information was demanded as to who was Robert Brown; and that on the occasion of his receiving the degree of Doctorship of Laws at one of the English universities, his name was greeted with a laugh and a jeer from the assembled alumni. Such taunts are current on the continent, and whether strictly true or not, are sufficiently suggestive, and to some extent merited; the time has however passed, when science was regarded as an inferior department of human knowledge, and time will eventually show that no one has really done more to raise it to a dignified position than this distinguished botanist, though his personal influence in this respect was during his lifetime scarcely felt by the public at large.
Dr. Robert Brown, or Mr. Brown as he preferred being addressed, was born December 21, I773, at Montrose, where his father was a non-juring clergyman, of the Scottish Episcopalian Church. He was educated at the Montrose Grammar School, where he was a schoolfellow of Joseph Hume. He afterwards studied medicine first at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and subsequently at Edinburgh, where his love of botany was fully developed.
Having taken his diploma, he was appointed surgeon and ensign to a regiment of Scotch Fencibles stationed in the north of Ireland, where he pursued his botanical studies with great ardor, and formed a friendship with an equally enthusiastic botanist, the late Captain Dugald Carmichael, then serving in the same country. At this period Mr. Brown became known to Sir Joseph Banks, we believe through the discovery of a rare and curious Moss, the Glyphomitrion Daviesii, and a friendship was thus commenced between these eminent men which only terminated with death, and which has materially influenced the progress of botanical science in England.
At the close of the last century the Admiralty were induced to fit an expedition for the survey and exploration of the coast of Australia, and Mr. Brown was selected by Sir Joseph Banks to accompany its commander, Com. Matthew Flinders, R, N., as Naturalist in H.M.S. Investigator. Mr. Brown was accompanied by Ferdinand Bauer as botanical draughtsman, and by Mr. Good as gardener; and the expedition further included as landscape painter the late eminent artist Wm. Westall, and among the midshipmen Sir John Franklin, with whom Mr. Brown formed a most intimate friendship. The Investigator sailed in 1801; and after touching at Madeira and the Cape of Good Hope, arrived in the following year at King George's Sound, on the south-west coast of Australia. During the three weeks devoted to the survey of that harbor, Mr. Brown collected no fewer than 600 species of plants, the great majority of which were entirely new to science; the flora of that quarter of Australia being more peculiar and local than that of any other part of the globe.
After botanizing at various other points along the south coast, Mr. Brown landed at Port Jackson, and remained there several weeks.
In July, 1802, the northern survey was commenced at Sandy Bay, in lat. 25°, and continued along the northeastern and northern shores of Australia and the Gulph of Carpentaria, to the Pelew and Wellesley's Islands, (where the Livistonia australis was discovered), and then to Wessel's Islands, long. 136° E. Here the rotten state of the Investigator's timbers, the ill health of her commander, and the appearance of scurvy amongst the crew, rendered it necessary to bear up to Timor, where they obtained provisions. Thence they steered along the west and south coasts of Australia, passed a second time through Bass's Straits, and arrived at Port Jackson on June 9, 1803, having lost many of their crew by dysentery, including Peter Good the gardener, after whom the well-known greenhouse Leguminous genus Goodia was afterwards named by Mr. Brown.
At Port Jackson the Investigator was condemned as unfit for service, and Capt. Flinders sailed for England in a hired vessel, Messrs. Brown, Bauer and Allen remaining behind, with the intention of exploring the colony for eighteen months, at the end of which period Capt. Flinders hoped to rejoin them in another ship for the prosecution of the survey. On her homeward passage, however, the Porpoise was wrecked in Torres' Straits; Flinders with a few companions, escaping in an open boat, and, tracking the coast, reached Port Jackson in safety, where he obtained a small schooner, with which he returned and rescued the remainder of the crew. He then proceeded by way of Timor and the Mauritius, where the leaky condition of his craft obliging him to put into Port Louis, his vessel was treacherously seized by the French governor, who detained Capt. Flinders partly in prison and partly on parol, from December, 1803, till June, 1810.
Meanwhile Mr. Brown and his companions diligently explored the botany of the Blue Mountains and other distant parts of the New South Wales settlement, and visited the islands in Bass's Straits, and also Tasmania, where they made extensive collections, residing at Risdon, on the river Der-went, for several months, including the,period of the foundation of the town of Hobarton.
In consequence of the non-arrival of Capt. Flinders at the time fixed by him for his return to Australia, the naturalists took advantage of an opportunity for returning to England, where they arrived in October, 1805. Most of the collections and drawings reached England in safety, though an extensive suite of duplicates of the south coast plants perished in the wreck of the Porpoise, together with all the living plants obtained during the survey.
On Mr. Brown's return he was directed by the Board of Admiralty to publish the botanical results of the voyage; of these one portion appeared in the Prodromus Florae Novas Hollandiae, and another in the appendix to the narrative of Capt. Flinders' voyage, published in 1814. Soon after his return he succeeded Dr. Dryander as librarian to Sir Joseph Banks, and be also received the appointment of librarian to the Linnaean Society Of London, in which capacity he read before that Society a series of most profound and original botanical papers, to which we shall hereafter allude.
On the death of Sir Joseph Banks in 1823, Mr. Brown became, by his will, the possessor of the Banksian herbarium for his life (after which it was to pass to the British Museum), together with the remainder of the lease of Sir Joseph Banks' house in Soho Square, which had became the centre of London Scientific Society. The herbarium Mr. Brown at once offered to the British Museum, on condition that he should be appointed keeper of the Botanical Department with a suitable salary, which offer was accepted. He, however, continued until his death to occupy that portion of the house in Soho Square which looked into Dean Street, the remaining portion being let by him to the Linnaean Society until the expiry of the lease, soon after which the Society removed to Burlington House, where apartmeuts were assigned to it by the Government, as also to the Royal and Chemical Societies.
At the British Museum the Banksian collection formed the most valuable part of the national herbarium, over which Mr. Brown presided until his death.
For several years Mr. Brown held the office of President of the Linnaean Society; this he resigned in 1853, since which time he has ceased to take an active part in scientific pursuits or societies; but his interest in the progress of every department, and especially in the Linnaean and Royal Societies, continued unabated to the last; and his wonderful and almost unique powers of mind, his memory and his sagacity, remained wholly, unimpaired till the very day of his decease. In the spring of this year he was attacked with bronchitis, from which he recovered, but which left him for some weeks in a very enfeebled state. Dropsy and loss of appetite supervened, under which he gradually sunk; suffering little pain, perfectly conscious of his condition, and retaining to the end his singularly placid demeanor, his affectionate interest in all who were dear to him, and a most tranquil and peaceful frame of mind.
In a future number we shall endeavor to give some slight account of his labors and writings, and of their influence on the progress of botany. - Gardeners' Chronicle.