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All the way from Australia: a descendant of Kew's first Director visits the Kew archive

Fiona Green
16 June 2014
Fiona Green, a recent visitor to Kew's Library, Art and Archives, describes what she and her niece - a direct descendant of Sir William and Joseph Hooker - discovered about their illustrious family history through the Kew collections.

Earlier this month, my cousin's daughter, Emily Jovanovski, came to London following her graduation in Melbourne, Australia. Her main aim for coming was to visit the archives of her great-great-great-great grandfather, Sir William Jackson Hooker and his son, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. Between them these gentlemen were Directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for over 45 years and were incredibly significant in establishing it as one of the foremost botanic gardens in the world as well as for helping establish other botanical gardens overseas and enabling the cultivation of economic crops across the empire. It is not too much to say that during their Directorships, Kew was the botanical hub of the world.

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Photo of Emily Jovanovski
Emily Jovanovski

Emily is related to these venerable men via her maternal grandfather: Reginald Dalton, Joseph Hooker's grandson. My uncle, Harry B. Heathcote. married his daughter, Jill Dalton.

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Photo of the Dalton family tree
The Dalton family tree, with a few handwritten additions

Joseph Hooker's son (Reginald's father) Brian Hooker, went out to Australia as a mining engineer in the late-19th century, while our Heathcote family were Australian pioneers. My own excitement was to see the drawings and paintings, because I am an artist.

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Photo of Emily Jovanovski in the Library
Emily Jovanovski looking at exhibits in the library

Neither Emily nor I were prepared for what we were to be shown. A huge wealth of material was made available to us:

  • the delicate drawings
  • the lovely watercolours painted in situ in the Himalayas
  • the early photographs
  • the extraordinarily frank letters - especially the derogatory one about the female gardeners!
  • the maps and journals
  • the ephemera Hooker used to collect and identify the samples he found

He gave so much to the English nation in terms of the thousands of hitherto unknown species which his friend, Charles Darwin, gave him great credit for.

I was also impressed by the herbarium rooms at Kew where all the plant specimens are kept, including those collected by the Hookers.

Outside the Gardens, on Kew Green, are some interesting places to see, including the Directors' House.

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Photo of Emily outside the Hookers' house on Kew Green
Emily outside the Hookers' house on Kew Green. To this day it remains the residence of the Director of Kew.

And the family grave at St Anne's church on Kew Green.

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Photo of the Dalton gravestone in the graveyard of St Anne's
The Dalton tomb in the graveyard of St Anne's

Inside the Gardens, Emily went in search of the rhododendrons which Hooker introduced as a new species from India and helped to populrise among English gardeners. Sadly, they were not in bloom but, while we were in the gardens, she was photographed by the local press (The Richmond & Twickenham Times).

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Photo of Emily being photographed by the Richmond & Twickenham Times
Emily being photographed by the Richmond & Twickenham Times

Virginia Mills, project officer for the Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project based in the Kew archive, was a wonderful hostess and a great fount of knowledge.

Thank you to Virginia and Kew Gardens for making this visit so special and enjoyable.

- Fiona Green -

P.S. Since our visit, friends have told me about a botanical trail around the town of Joseph Hooker's birth; Halesworth in Suffolk. A marvellous way to discover some more about the Hooker family's history!

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