Hooker, William Jackson, Sir, 1785-1865

Alternative names
Birth 1785-07-06
Death 1865-08-12

Biographical notes:

William Jackson Hooker was the premier English botanist of his time. His early interest in natural history was refined to botany by the fortuitous discovery of a rare moss. His education included travels through Europe, after which he became regius professor of botany at Glasgow. He published extensively, and founded and edited several journals; his main interests were ferns, mosses, and fungi, and he was a pioneer of economic botany. He was appointed first director of Kew Gardens, which became a leading botanical institution under his guidance. He was the key figure in English botanical studies in his day, and his legacy remains alive in the Kew Gardens complex.

From the description of W.J. Hooker letter to My dear sir, 1809 Nov. 15. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 60494885

Sir William Jackson Hooker was an English botanist and director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

From the description of Letters, 1819-1863. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122608799

Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865) was a botanist and director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

William Jackson Hooker was born at Norwich, July 6, 1785. His father, Joseph Hooker, cultivated rare plants in his leisure time.

Hooker dedicated himself from an early age to natural philosophy and travel, having inherited land from his Godfather William Jackson. An early discovery of a rare moss drew Sir James Edward Smith’s attention to young Hooker. The former was able to persuade the later to take up botany.

Hooker traveled throughout Scotland, then to Iceland making advances to all branches of natural philosophy. These finding were lost, however, when the ship he was on caught fire. Hooker himself made a narrow escape. In 1814 he toured France, Switzerland and Italy, collected specimen and adding to a growing number of scientific correspondence.

In 1815 Hooker married Maria Turner and settled at Halesworth, Suffolk, where he started his extensive herbarium. In 1820, due to a growing family and shrinking funds, he accepted a professorship of botany at Glasgow. In 1836 he was knighted in recognition of his services to botany.

In 1841 he took charge of the Gardens at Kew, a position he would hold until his death. In 1847 he co-founded a museum of economic botany, the first and largest of its kind in the world.

Able to balance a busy professional life with multiple projects, Hooker, either as editor or author, contributed to more than 100 volumes on botany throughout his life. He was well liked and respected as a teacher, and often kept in touch with students as they dispersed around the globe. His ever-growing number of scientific contacts allowed him to persuade the cultivation of rare and important plants in their natural environments around the world. His contacts also helped him cultivate an impressive herbarium and library which he generously shared with students and fellow scientists.

Hooker was fellow of the Linnean Society (1806) and the Royal Society (1812) and co-founder of the Wernerian Society at Edinburgh.

Sir William Jackson Hooker died at Kew on 12 August, 1865 of a disease of the throat. He left a widow, two married daughters and a son, Josephs Dalton Hooker.

From the guide to the Sir William Jackson Hooker letters, 1819-1863, 1819-1863, (American Philosophical Society)


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  • Plants--Collection and preservation
  • Botanists--19th century--Correspondence
  • Botany--Nova Scotia
  • Botanical gardens--England
  • Botanical gardens
  • Albany Institute
  • Botany
  • Natural history
  • Botany--England
  • Botanical specimens--Collection and preservation
  • Beyond Early America


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  • England (as recorded)
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • Nova Scotia (as recorded)
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (as recorded)