Plant hunters – John Lindley


Born in 1799 he originally wanted to join the army but his father couldn't afford to buy him a commission (in those days of ancestral privilege, members of the aristocracy were able to 'buy' a position as an officer in the British Army). Instead he travelled abroad as the agent of a seed merchant (a kind of plant hunter in a way). In 1819 he published his first botanical work Observations on the Structure of Fruits and Seeds.

Eventually, he met Sir Joseph Banks who employed him as an assistant in his library and herbarium. John Lindley flourished in this horticultural world. After publishing a number of important works, he became the University of London's first professor of botany (1829-60). He reformed botanical nomenclature and established the foundations of orchidology (the study of Orchids – family Orchidacae). He oversaw the creation of the Chiswick garden of the Horticultural Society. Rising in the ranks of the Society (which he and George Bentham had rescued from bankruptcy in 1830), he organised the first annual flower show in Britain. He continued to produce important horticultural works: his Elements of Botany (1841) textbook was widely used throughout Europe. He also acted as editor for the Botanical Register (1826-47), and the Journal of the Horticultural Society (1846-55).

However, as far as the story of the Sequoia is concerned, his most important work was The Gardener's Chronicle, a publication he founded with Charles Wentworth Dilke and Sir Joseph Paxton, which he edited from 1841 till his death.

Sir Joseph Paxton

Born the son of a gardener, who followed in his father's footsteps but rose to become a celebrated Victorian landscape gardener and architect. He played a major role in creating the gardens at Chatsworth House and Birkenhead Park (which later influenced the designer of Central Park, Manhattan); established his own monthly publication Paxton's Magazine of Botany; co-founded a daily newspaper which was edited by Charles Dickens; designed the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibition hall, which earned him a knighthood (according to one reputable source, among the exhibits was the bark from a Sequoia known as the Mother of the Forest, which had a girth of some 31ft, and bark to a height of 120 ft was removed and erected on a frame at the exhibition. However, this seems at odds with the rest of the account – unless it was from a Coastal Sequoia, or an exhibition at a later date. A letter to The Times, published in February 1859, does refer to wood samples from a Wellingtonia at Crystal Palace with matching measurements)...are just a few of his many achievements. He was a friend of Lindley for many years and had helped him out financially.

After William Lobb sped back to England with precious specimens and seeds of the Giant Sequoia, he went to John Lindley with his (or rather Augustus Dowd's) discovery. Within a fortnight, in the Christmas Eve 1853 edition, the news was published on the frontpage of The Gardener's Chronicle. As previously mentioned, it was Lindley who gave the tree its first scientific name Wellingtonia gigantea – in honour of the recently deceased Duke of Wellington, who had towered above other men.

John Lindley died in 1865. His death was thought to have been hasten due to chronic mecury-poisoning – a substance he used to preserve specimens). He remains one of the horticultural greats of the Victorian age.


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