The Lord Treasurer of Botany

Winner of the Society for the History of Natural History's
John Thackray Medal 2017

In The Lord Treasurer of Botany, discover how James Edward Smith, the shy, diffident son of a Norwich textile merchant, took a passion for botany and forged it into a highly successful career in natural history in 1790s London, in the process becoming a focal point for the study of botany and natural history in Great Britain, Europe and beyond.

In this first complete biography, archivist Tom Kennett uses Smith's letters, publications, manuscripts and travel diary to give an honest portrayal of Smith, from his unrealised medical career to his brushes with royalty, and his close allegiances and rivalries with other leading naturalists. Personal accounts, rich in detail, help paint a vivid picture of the social structures of the time, outlining epoch-making events like the French Revolution, and foretelling the rise of the professional scientist. Find out about how Smith went on to establish the Linnean Society of London, currently the oldest biological society in the world, and how it became central to scientific study in the late 18th and 19th century.

By the end of his life Smith was one of the architects of an astonishing renaissance of botanical knowledge in Europe, knighted in 1814 by the Prince Regent (later George IV), the author of important botanical catalogues, a cosmopolitan traveller, entrepreneur, and an authoritative scientific expert at the centre of a remarkable network of botanical correspondents, and the gatekeeper to the treasures of Linnaeus. Tom Kennett’s fascinating book maps all this and more.

Professor Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University.

Tom Kennett

About the author

Tom Kennett FLS spent five years studying the life of the Linnean Society of London’s founder, Sir James Edward Smith, producing an in-depth catalogue of Smith’s correspondence held by the Society and writing several articles for Fellows’ magazine PuLSe. Cataloguing each of the 3,500 surviving letters made it clear that Smith’s extraordinary life was in pressing need of a modern interpretation, leading Tom to write the first full-length biography.

416 pages, illustrations (black and white, and colour), flexibound.
Price: £25.00.