Joseph Hooker Correspondence

Explore the correspondence

Hooker had an extensive network of correspondents, including many of the great Victorian scientists, most famously Charles Darwin. The formation of this online repository of Hooker's letters, comprised largely of previously unpublished archive material, is intended chiefly to facilitate academic research. Kew also hopes to bring knowledge of Joseph Hooker to a wider audience and to extend awareness of the extent and significance of his work.

Joseph Hooker letters in the Kew Archive

Kew's Joseph Hooker collections are some of the most frequently consulted documents in Kew's archive collection and have long been a priority for conservation and digitisation.

Discover Joseph Hooker’s life and work through our digital collection of his letters

Currently available online are:

  • Letters from Hooker’s Expedition to India (1847-1851), including accounts of his pioneering exploration and plant hunting in the Himalayas.
  • A series primarily composed of letters from Hooker to pre-eminent American botanist Asa Gray, with whom he went on a plant hunting tour of America in 1877 and shared a lifelong scientific dialogue.
  • Letters written by Hooker during his time as assistant surgeon and unofficial botanist to James Clark Ross’s expedition of discovery to Antarctica (1839-1843).

Browse the letters or search for keywords. For search tips and a list of some of the letters online refer to our guide:

Guide to reading and searching Hooker's letters online (pdf) 

The collection includes letters from Hooker's time as Director of the Gardens but also correspondence pre- and post-dating his Directorship. The bulk of Joseph Hooker's letters in the archive are classified as 'personal papers' . As well as letters to family members the personal papers section covers 'private' letters between Hooker and many eminent scientists, including Charles Darwin, and cover a broad range of scientific subjects. By and large they do not relate to the matters of administration carried out by Hooker in his capacity as Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Copies were, perhaps surprisingly, not routinely made of the official correspondence sent out by Hooker or the Director's office, at least no such copies survive. There is of course still much discussion of Kew within Hooker's letters, especially those to his father, Sir William Jackson Hooker, who preceded him as director of Kew and to his son in law Sir William Thiselton-Dyer who was his successor.

The official papers relating to the institutional history of Kew contain an extensive amount of material relating to Joseph Hooker and the pivotal role he played in expanding and defining the role of Kew as a public institution. This material is most often reports, memorandums and press cuttings. It does also contain inward and outward correspondence, but as this part of the collection is not generally as rich in correspondence from Hooker as the personal papers, it is not one of the first priorities for inclusion in the correspondence project.

A full list of the volumes contained in the Joseph Hooker personal papers collection, with information on their provenance, can be obtained by contacting the Correspondence team.

We currently have a selection of letters available to view through the Kew website and can be found by searching in the 'Search Kew' tab in the upper right hand corner of this screen. By entering 'JDH' as a search term you will be supplied with a list of links to the individual letters currently available to view.

An alternative way of searching for material is by using the 'Letter Series' links provided on our 'Browse the Letter series' page, which can be linked to here and below.