Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Botanists: the Illustrators

Quakers had an insatiable interest in the natural world around them.  Their broad education often enabled them to become distinguished in more than one field of science and the natural sciences in particular.  This was often accompanied by work on social issues.  Many Quaker botanists were talented illustrators.  Their work was particularly valuable because of their attention to detail and the care that they took to accurately represent the plants that they drew.

Sydney Parkinson (c1745-1771), was a young Scottish botanist and plant illustrator who came to the London nursery of James Lee, who allowed him to spend time drawing the plants.  James Lee’s own daughter Ann was also an excellent botanical illustrator.  Joseph Banks, the scientist, and John Fothergill heard about Captain James Cook’s plans for a voyage to the South Seas aboard his Majesty’s research vessel The Endeavour.  It was planned to include plant hunting so they recommended that Sydney Parkinson should join the voyage as one of the two plant illustrators that were to be engaged.   Fothergill acted as a patron for Parkinson and helped him financially. Parkinson amazed his fellow crew members with his diligence and the amount of work that he produced.  Unfortunately the other illustrator was taken ill during the voyage and died, so all the work fell upon Parkinson.  Through a dispute the ship was detained in the harbour at Rio de Janeiro and the crew and passengers were forbidden to disembark.  Parkinson and colleagues slipped off the ship, evaded the sentry and under cover of darkness and went on plant collecting missions bringing   back over 300 species including the passionflower (Passiflora) and sensitive plant  (Mimosa pudica).  The voyage continued through various Pacific islands, New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. On 29th April 1770 the ship landed at a bay in Australia.  The plant hunters on board brought back over 300 new species of plants from their searches.  Captain Cook consequently named the area Botany bay. The voyage lasted over three years, and Parkinson sketched over 900 specimens and produced 280 paintings of plants that had never been seen before by Europeans.   In addition to his sketches he also wrote a journal entitled “A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty’s Ship the Endeavour”.    On the way back the ship stopped at Jakarta for repairs and many of the crew, including Parkinson, contracted illnesses. Parkinson died and was buried at sea. When Joseph Banks reached London he engaged artists to complete Parkinson’s work and eighteen volumes of the drawings and engravings were given to the British Museum.

William Bartram (1739-1823), the son of John Bartram (often called the father of American botany), was an excellent plant illustrator. His father sent some of his drawings of plants and flowers to Peter Collinson who was delighted with them and encouraged William to produce more.  When the Duchess of Portland saw them she offered twenty guineas for him to produce some more for her.  He also received several other commissions for illustrations.  John Fothergill became a patron and Bartram collected plants and seeds for him and also sent him illustrations of the specimens that he found.

William Weston Young (1776 -1847), a keen botanist, and skilled illustrator, worked for Lewis Weston Dillwyn, at the Cambrian Pottery.  The illustrations he designed for the pottery were to make the pottery famous. They included beautiful illustrations of flowers and leaves sometimes including their taxonomic names.  Young and Dillwyn became great friends through their mutual interest in botany.

Graceanna Lewis (1821 -1912) an American botanist, ornithologist, scientist and abolitionist was commissioned to paint 50 watercolour representations of leaves of forest trees of Pennsylvania for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.  She was awarded a bronze medal for this. The paintings were highly regarded and exhibited again. Much of her life was spent teaching botany in schools in Philadelphia, New York and Boston.  At the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition of 1904 she was given a gold medal for her original plant illustrations.

Print this article

Further Reading and Credits

Image of a plate showing work by William Weston Young photographed by Phil Smith copyright applied for.