George Bentham (1800-1884)
Born near Plymouth in 1800, George Bentham spent his childhood
in Russia and France. His father was the naval architect Sir Samuel
Bentham, and his uncle the political economist Jeremy Bentham.
His early plant collecting in the south of France formed the basis
of his herbarium. Although Bentham studied law and qualified as
a barrister, inheritances from his father and uncle enabled him
to devote his life to botany.
In 1829 he became Secretary to the Horticultural Society (later
the Royal Horticultural Society) and with the help of John Lindley,
turned its fortunes around, sponsoring plant hunters and introducing
the Society’s Chiswick Horticultural Fetes.
In 1854 Bentham presented his herbarium to Kew, by which time it
numbered more than 100,000 specimens. Bentham spent most of his
retirement working at Kew: in addition to his colonial floras, such
as the Flora Hongkongensis and Flora Australiensis, he also produced
the Handbook of the British Flora (1858), which promoted botany
as a pastime for amateurs and became a classic.
In 1883 the Genera Plantarum was completed, the fruit of a 21-year
collaboration with Sir Joseph Hooker. This monumental work outlined
what became known as the Bentham-Hooker classification system for
flowering plant, which was then adopted as the system used in the
Herbarium at Kew.
On to: Darwin