Dawson Turner

Dawson Turner was born on 18th October, 1775, in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, His parents were the merchant and banker James Turner, and his wife Elizabeth.

He was educated at the Paston Grammar School in North Walsham, Norfolk (Horatio Nelson was a pupil there around a decade earlier) and then was tutored by Robert Forby at Barton Bendish. Forby was a respected botanist and encouraged his interest in studying plants. Turner went to university at Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1792 but left 2 years later when his father became terminally ill.

In 1796, he joined the family bank, Gurney and Turner's Bank in Great Yarmouth, and married Mary Palgrave (born 1774, died 1850). They had 11 children, 8 of whom survived infancy. Dawson involved his family in his interests outside banking (botany, antiquities and art), and ensured that they could assist him usefully. For example, he engaged a couple of the best landscape painters to teach his wife and children to draw and paint: John Crome (born 1768, died 1821) who was also the Gurney family's drawing master, and subequently John Sell Cotman (born 1782, died 1842). Mary and the children, as well as Cotman, contributed illustrations for Dawson's papers and books.

Turner's botanising focused on algae, lichens and mosses (the latter being an interest that he shared with his friend and son-in-law, William Jackson Hooker). He wrote a number of papers and books on botany over a period of around 40 years.

When he remarried a much younger widow, Rosamund, just a year after the death of his first wife, Turner fell out with his family, and many of his friends and colleagues. He and his second wife moved to London where, not having space for all of his paintings and books, he sold the paintings and half of his library.

He died in Old Brompton on 20th June 1858. The rest of his library and manuscripts were sold after his death, his correspondence with William Hooker going to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Fraser, Angus. "Turner, Dawson (1775-1858)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/27846>. [accessed 9 Jan. 2009]

Further reading

Turner, Dawson, A Synopsis of British Fuci, 2 volumes (1802).

Turner, Dawson, Muscologiae Hibernicæ spicilegium, (Yarmouth, 1804).

Turner, Dawson and Dillwyn, Lewis Weston, The Botanist's Guide through England and Wales (2 volumes, London, 1805).

Turner, Dawson, Fuci; sive plantarum fucorum generi a botanicis ascriptarum icones, descriptiones et historia. Fuci; or, colored figures and descriptions of the plants referred by botanists to the genus Fucus. Lat. & Eng. Copious MS. notes [by D. Turner] (4 volumes, 1808 - 1819).

Turner, Dawson, The Botanist's Guide through England and Wales, (1809).

Turner, Dawson, Account of a Tour in Normandy, (2 volumes, 1820).

Turner, Dawson, Specimen of a Lichenographia Britannica (1839).