William Jackson Hooker

Sir William Jackson Hooker was born on 6th July 1785 in Magdalen Street, Norwich, Norfolk, son of Joseph Hooker (born 1754, died 1845) and Lydia Hooker née Vincent (born 1759, died 1829). His father, who worked in Norwich for Baring Brothers & Company, was an amateur botanist and collected succulent plants.

Early career

After he left school around 1802, William Jackson Hooker learned about estate management at Starston Hall in Norfolk. Following his interest in natural history, he met the leading naturalists in Norfolk and Suffolk, including Sir James Edward Smith (born 1759, died 1828) and Dawson Turner (born 1775, died 1858). Smith owned the herbarium and library of the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus (born 1707, died 1778), father of the system of classifying and naming all living things. Dawson Turner, who later became his father-in-law, introduced Hooker to Sir Joseph Banks, friend of George III, President of the Royal Society and unofficial director of the Royal Gardens at Kew.

In 1805, Hooker started to make his mark in botany when he discovered a species of moss at Rackheath, a few miles outside Norwich, and became the first person to record it in Britain. On his 21st birthday in 1806, he inherited an estate from his mother's relatives, which probably helped him to pursue his botanising over the next few years.

He visited Scotland in 1806 and 1807, and was then encouraged by Sir Joseph Banks to carry out a botanical survey in Iceland in 1809. On the return voyage, a fire on the ship destroyed Hooker's specimens and notes. He was able to reconstruct his notes from memory, however, aided by Banks's notes from his previous expedition there in 1772, and wrote Journal of a tour in Iceland in the summer of 1809 (Yarmouth, 1811). From 1809 to 1820, he was employed by Dawson Turner to manage a brewery in Halesworth, Suffolk, but botany remained his prime interest.

Continental tour and marriage

Hooker spent most of 1814 on a European tour during which he met many of the leading European botanists, After initially travelling to and staying in Paris with Turner and his family, he went on alone to Switzerland, France and Italy.The following year, he married Maria Sarah Turner (born 1797, died 1872), the eldest daughter of Dawson and Mary Turner. William and Maria had two sons and three daughters, the first being born in 1816. Despite the busy family life and work at the brewery, Hooker found time for his botanical studies and writing, including Plantae cryptogamicae, quas in plaga orbis novi aequinoctali collegerunt &c. (1816), and Muscologia Britannica (British mosses, written together with Thomas Taylor) in 1818.

The Glasgow years

Sir Joseph Banks recommended him for the post of regius professor of botany at Glasgow University in 1820. The number of full-time botany students more than trebled during his time there. He also started summer courses for the public. He wrote and illustrated many books on botany, became editor of Curtis's Botanical Magazine in 1827; and started two new journals: Botanical Miscellany - Journal of Botany in 1829 (last published in 1857), and Icones Plantarum in 1834 (the title is Latin for ‘images of plants'), last published in 1990. In 1836, Hooker was knighted for his work at Glasgow University and services to botany.

Developing the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

William Hooker was appointed as the first official director of the Royal Gardens, Kew in 1841. He considered that the gardens has been sadly neglected since Sir Joseph Banks had died in 1820, and was determined to transform it into a place of scientific excellence. He promptly started a programme of repairs, development, and expansion. The size of the site increased from 11 acres (4.45 hectares) to 282 acres (just over 114 hectares) within four years. He extended opening of the gardens to weekdays, and visitor figures increased from over 9,000 in 1841 to over 330,000 a decade later, and to almost 530,000 in 1865. His other innovations included the Palm House, the Museums of Economic Botany, the Herbarium and Library.

His close relationships with the Foreign and Colonial Office, Admiralty, and the East India Company meant that he was able to recommend Kew-trained botanists for posts throughout the British Empire and on exploration expeditions. He built up a network of international contacts who provided Kew with plant material for studying and growing from all areas of the world.

In June 1855, William Hooker was finally able to get his second son, Joseph Dalton Hooker (born 1817, died 1911), appointed as assistant director at Kew. They worked together until William's death in August 1865, and Joseph subsequently succeeded him as director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

William's very extensive herbarium (over a million specimens), library and archive of correspondence were purchased for Kew in 1866 and remain part of the collections today.

Sources

‘Kew, History & Heritage' on Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew web site, http://www.kew.org/heritage/ [accessed 9th January 2009].

FitzGerald, Sylvia. "Hooker, Sir William Jackson (1785-1865)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2008. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/13699 [accessed 10 January 2009]

Further reading

Hooker, Sir Joseph Dalton, A Sketch of the Life and Labours of Sir William Jackson Hooker...Director of the Royal Gardens of Kew (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1903).

Works by Sir William Jackson Hooker include:

Hooker, William Jackson, British Jungermanniae: being a history and description with coloured figures, of each species of the genus and microscopical analyses of the parts (London, 1816).

Hooker, William Jackson and Thomas Taylor, Muscologia Britannica; containing the mosses of Great Britain and Ireland, systematically arranged and described. (London,1818).

Hooker, William Jackson, Flora Scotica: or, a description of Scottish Plants, arranged both according to the artificial and natural methods. (London, 1821).

Hooker, William Jackson, The British Flora, (1830).

Hooker, William Jackson, Icones Filicum: ad eas potissimum species illustrandas destinatæ, quæ hactenus, vel in herbariis delituerunt ... vel saltem nondum per icones botanicis innotuerunt. Figures and descriptions of ferns, etc. (London, 1829 - 31).

Hooker, Sir William Jackson, Botanical Illustrations ... designed to explain the terms employed in a course of lectures on botany, etc. (Glasgow, 1830).

Hooker, Sir William Jackson and George A. Walker Arnott, The botany of Captain Beechey's voyage : comprising an account of the plants collected by Messrs. Lay and Collie, and other officers of the expedition, during the voyage to the Pacific and Bering's Strait, performed in His Majesty's ship Blossom, under the command of Captain F.W. Beechey, R.N., F.R.S., & A.S., in the years 1825, 26, 27, and 28. (London, 1830 - 41).

Hooker, Sir William Jackson, Flora Borealis Americana: or, the botany of the northern parts of British America. Compiled principally from the plants collected by Dr. Richardson and Mr. Drummond on the late northern expedition under command of Sir J. Franklin. (London,1840).

Hooker, Sir William Jackson, Species Filicum; being descriptions of the known Ferns ... accompanied with numerous figures. (5 vol. London, 1846-64).

Hooker, Sir William Jackson, Kew Gardens: or, A popular guide to the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew (London, 1847).

Associated Places