Munby, Giles (DNB00)

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MUNBY, GILES (1813–1876), botanist, born at York in 1813, was the youngest son of Joseph Munby, solicitor and under-sheriff of the county, but lost both his parents when still very young. At school Munby evinced a taste for natural history, especially for botany and entomology. On leaving school he was apprenticed to a surgeon in York, named Brown, and was most assiduous in attending the poor during the cholera epidemic of 1832. Entering the medical school of the university of Edinburgh, he attended the botanical lectures and excursions held by Professor Graham, gaining the professor's gold medal for the best collection. Munby then ‘walked the hospitals’ in London and, in 1835, in Paris, where began a lifelong friendship with John Percy [q. v.], the metallurgist. Together they studied under Adrien de Jussieu and his assistants, Guillemin and Decaisne, and Munby passed the examinations for the degree of M.D. at Montpellier, though he never took up the diploma. They visited Dijon and, after returning to Edinburgh, started once more, in 1836, for the south of France. Notes on the botany and entomology of these trips, contributed to Loudon's and Charlesworth's ‘Magazine of Natural History’ (1836, ix. 113, and new ser. 1837, i. 192), were Munby's first publications. Soon after he took up his residence at St. Bertrand de Comminges, in the department of Haute-Garonne, acting as curator of the museum of a M. Boubée and giving lessons in botany; but in 1839 he accepted the offer of a free passage from Marseilles to Constantinople. Unfavourable winds landed him at Algiers, where he resolved to stay and investigate the flora. With occasional visits to England, he lived in Algiers from 1839 to 1844, collecting plants, cultivating oranges, shooting, and practising medicine among the Arabs and French soldiers. On his marriage he settled at La Senia, a small estate near Oran; but in 1859 his wife's health caused his removal to Montpellier, where she died in 1860. Munby then returned to England, settling first at Wood Green, and in 1867 at the Holt, near Farnham, Surrey. There he devoted himself to the cultivation of Algerian plants and bulbs, and there he died of inflammation of the lungs on 12 April 1876.

Munby married, first, in 1844, Jane Welsford, daughter of her majesty's consul at Oran, who died in February 1860, leaving two sons and three daughters; and, secondly, in 1862, Eliza M. A. Buckeridge, who survived him.

Munby was a skilful vegetable anatomist, as well as a most industrious collector and an acute discriminator of living plants. He distributed several centuries of ‘Plantæ Algerienses exsiccatæ,’ and at his death his herbarium was presented to Kew. Munby was an original member of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, and in his later years he joined the Royal Horticultural Society, becoming a member of the scientific committee. His two principal works were the ‘Flore de l'Algérie’ and the ‘Catalogus Plantarum in Algeriâ … nascentium.’ The ‘Flore de l'Algérie,’ Paris, 1847, 8vo, contains eighteen hundred species arranged on the Linnæan system, with six plates from drawings by his sister. Two hundred of his species, belonging to thirty genera (ten of them being new to science), were unnoticed in Desfontaines's ‘Flora Atlantica,’ 1804. The ‘Catalogus Plantarum in Algeriâ … nascentium,’ Oran, 1859, 8vo, contained 2,600 species, of which 800 were new; and the second edition, London, 1866, 8vo, contained 364 additional. At the time of his death he was engaged upon a ‘Guide du Botaniste en Algérie.’

There is an engraved portrait of Munby in the ‘Gardeners' Chronicle’ (1876, ii. 260–2). The name Munbya has been given to two genera of plants, both now merged in others.

[Gardeners' Chronicle, 1876, ii. 260-2 (by Sir J. D. Hooker); Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, xiii. 13.]

G. S. B.