Treasure of the Month: John Stackhouse’s Nereis Britannica (1795-1801)

The Nereis Britannica: an illustrated compendium of brown algae endemic to the British seashore

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Stackhouse, Nereis Britannica (1795) - Palmetta detail
Stackhouse, Nereis Britannica (1795) - Palmetta detail

October’s “Treasure of the Month” is a bit of a diamond in the rough, and like last month’s object has links to the Cornish coast. John Stackhouse’s Nereis Britannica, published in three fascicles between 1795 and 1801, is an illustrated compendium of the species of Fuci, or brown algae, endemic to the British seashore. Stackhouse (1742-1819), a Cornwall native and Fellow of the Linnean Society, corresponded with James Edward Smith in the preparation of his magnum opus, and submitted proofs of his new edition to several Linnean Fellows for comment and review. He expresses regret over perceived inadequacies in the descriptions, and frustration that a promised second edition was not donated to the library. All these letters, plus Stackhouse’s notebooks, survive in our archive.


Stackhouse, Nereis Britannica (1795) - F. Discors detail
Stackhouse, Nereis Britannica (1795) - F. Discors detail

Time has not been kind to Stackhouse’s masterpiece. Water damage has stained the papers and weakened the binding, and the delicate watercolour plates are now entirely disbound. The presence of an additional, seemingly later copy, has confused the collation. In 2016, Ian Caldwell, a Fellow of the Society and descendant of Stackhouse, marshalled the support of nearly 25 friends and family members to finance the repair and restoration of Stackhouse’s notebook on fungi [MS 459] as part of the AdoptLINN conservation scheme. We will now add the Nereis Britannica to our “adoption” lists, in the hope attracting similar support.

Stackhouse, Nereis Britannica (1795) - plate
Stackhouse, Nereis Britannica (1795) - plate

You can read more about the Nereis Britannica, and search for other works by Stackhouse, using our library catalogue. You can learn more about our AdoptLINN conversation scheme on the Society’s website.

Will Beharrell, Librarian