Pulteney, Richard (DNB00)

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PULTENEY, RICHARD (1730–1801), botanist, born at Loughborough, Leicestershire, 17 Feb. 1730, was the only one of the thirteen children of Samuel Pulteney who reached maturity. The father, who, with his mother, belonged to the sect known as old anabaptists, and attended a meeting-house at Sheepshead, near Loughborough, was a tailor in easy circumstances, owning some land and house property, which Pulteney inherited and held through life. His mother, Mary Tomlinson, was a native of the neighbouring village of Hathern. Pulteney was educated at the Old Free School, Loughborough, and was then apprenticed for seven years to an apothecary of Loughborough, named Harris, who, during Pulteney's apprenticeship, moved to Mountsorrel. His maternal uncle, George Tomlinson of Hathern, a life of whom he contributed to Nichols's ‘History of Leicestershire’ (iii. 846), directed his tastes in early boyhood towards natural history, and especially to botany. His apprenticeship over, Pulteney began to practise as a surgeon and apothecary at Leicester, but met with little success, owing to the prejudice that his nonconformity excited.

In 1750 he contributed his first literary work to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (vol. xx.), and afterwards became a constant contributor to that periodical. Most of his articles were either anonymous or signed with the initials R. P. They are mainly on botanical topics, such as the works of Linnæus, fungi, and the sleep of plants. Pulteney communicated several botanical and medical papers to the Royal Society, through Dr. (afterwards Sir William) Watson, and was by him introduced, among others, to Lord Macclesfield, then president of the society, and to William Hudson (1730?–1793) [q. v.], the botanist. In 1764 he accompanied his friend, Maxwell Garthshore, to Edinburgh to obtain a degree. In spite of opposition to him as a non-resident, he graduated M.D. in May 1764, his inaugural dissertation, ‘De Cinchona Officinali,’ being selected for inclusion in the ‘Thesaurus Medicus’ (1785, iii. 10). Pulteney then came to London, and was introduced by Mrs. Montagu to William Pulteney, earl of Bath [q. v.], who acknowledged him as a kinsman, and appointed him his physician, and invited him to accompany him abroad; but the earl died in the same year (1764). Thereupon Pulteney secured a practice as physician at Blandford, Dorset, where he passed the remainder of his life. His circuit included all Dorset and parts of Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Somerset, and in time he made a considerable fortune. He occupied his leisure chiefly with botany and conchology, maintaining a regular correspondence with Hudson, John Martyn, Withering, Sir James Edward Smith, Relhan, and A. B. Lambert, constantly examining the gardens of Henry Seymer of Hanford, the Rev. Thomas Rackett of Spettisbury, and other neighbours, and assisting Seymer and the Dowager Duchess of Portland in naming their collections of shells. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1762, an extra-licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians in 1765, and a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1790.

Pulteney died of pneumonia at Blandford, 13 Oct. 1801, and was buried in the neighbouring churchyard at Langton. In 1779 he had married Elizabeth, daughter of John and Elizabeth Galton of Shapwick, Dorset, who died 28 April 1820. There were no children of the marriage, but Pulteney adopted a relative of his wife as a daughter. His valuable library, many of the books in which he had indexed in manuscript, was sold by Leigh & Sotheby in 1802; but his museum of shells and minerals and his herbarium were bequeathed to the Linnean Society, to be either kept as a separate collection, or to be sold to provide funds for an annual medal. The collections were sold in 1863, but the medal was not established. The herbarium is now in the British Museum. There is an oil painting of Pulteney, by Thomas Beach, dated 1788, in the rooms of the Linnean Society, to whom it was presented by his widow. It was engraved for Nichols by J. Basire, and published in folio in 1804 in the ‘History of Leicestershire’ (iii. 848), and in octavo in 1814 in the ‘Literary Anecdotes’ (viii. 196). There is also an engraving by P. Roberts, apparently after another portrait by Beach, in the second edition of the ‘General View of the Writings of Linnæus.’ Sir James Edward Smith [q. v.] commemorated Pulteney's name in the Australian genus of papilionaceous plants, Pultenæa.

Pulteney's chief works were:

  1. ‘A General View of the Writings of Linnæus,’ 1781, 8vo. This work is said by Sir J. E. Smith, in his memoir of Pulteney in Rees's ‘Cyclopædia,’ to have ‘contributed more than any work, except perhaps the Tracts of Stillingfleet, to diffuse a taste for Linnæan knowledge in this country.’ It was translated into French by L. A. Millin de Grandmaison (Paris, 1789, 2 vols. 8vo), and, all the first English edition being sold by 1785, a second much enlarged edition, with portraits of Pulteney and Linnæus, was brought out by Dr. W. G. Maton in 1805.
  2. ‘Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England,’ 1790, 2 vols. 8vo, was meant originally to be merely prefatory to an abbreviated ‘Flora Anglica,’ giving synonyms and names of first observers; the manuscript of Pulteney's ‘Flora’ is now in the Botanical Department of the British Museum. The ‘Sketches’ were translated into German by Karl Gottlob Kuehn (Leipzig, 1798, 2 vols. 8vo), and into French by M. Boulard (Paris, 1809, 2 vols. 8vo).

In 1790 Pulteney contributed a ‘Catalogue of rare Plants found in the Neighbourhood of Leicester, Loughborough, and Charley Forest’ to Nichols's ‘History of Leicestershire,’ and in 1799, ‘Catalogues of the Birds, Shells, and rare Plants of Dorsetshire’ to the second edition of Hutchins's ‘History of Dorset,’ which Maton describes as ‘one of the most valuable provincial catalogues connected with natural history that has hitherto been published in England.’ Pulteney was revising a plate for this catalogue, representing fossils found by him at Melbury, when he was seized by his last illness. Separate copies of both catalogues were published, and an enlarged edition of the latter, with a memoir of the author, was published in 1813; but in the third edition of Hutchins's ‘History’ it is replaced by lists by Mr. J. C. Mansel Pleydell. Pulteney also contributed to Aikin's ‘England Delineated,’ and assisted Emanuel Mendes da Costa [q. v.] with his ‘British Conchology,’ and Coxe with the literary history of naturalists connected with the countries described in his ‘Travels.’ His reasons for approving of vaccination are embodied in Pearson's ‘Inquiry concerning the History of the Cow-pox’ (1798). Besides some medical papers, he contributed seven papers to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (vols. xlix–lxviii.), and three to the Linnean Society's ‘Transactions’ (vols. ii. and v.).

[Nichols's History of Leicestershire, iii. 848; Memoir by Maton in ‘General View of Writings of Linnæus,’ 2nd ed. 1805; Memoir by Sir J. E. Smith in Rees's Cyclopædia.]

G. S. B.