Thwaites, George Henry Kendrick (DNB00)

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THWAITES, GEORGE HENRY KENDRICK (1811–1882), botanist and entomologist, was born at Bristol in 1811. He began life as an accountant, but devoted his leisure to entomology and microscopical botany, chiefly that of the cryptogams. In 1839 he became local secretary for Bristol of the Botanical Society of London, and soon became so recognised as a competent biologist as to be engaged by Dr. William Benjamin Carpenter [q. v.] to revise the second edition of his ‘General Physiology’ (1841). An acute observer and expert microscopist, especially skilful in preparing microscopic objects at a time when students of the structure of cryptogams were so few in England that many of his discoveries were overlooked and subsequently attributed to later continental workers, his most important observations at this period were those on the conjugation and algal nature of diatoms, which organisms had been previously regarded as animals. This discovery led J. François Camille Montagne in 1845 to dedicate to him the algal genus Thwaitesia. That Thwaites did not confine his attention to flowerless plants, though he worked also at desmids and lichens, is shown by a list of the flowering plants within a ten-mile radius of Bristol, which he communicated at this period to Hewett Watson for his ‘Topographical Botany.’ He was also one of the early contributors to the ‘Gardeners' Chronicle,’ and one of the first of his discoveries having a direct bearing on horticulture was the raising of two distinct varieties of fuchsia from the two embryos in a single seed. In 1846 he was lecturer on botany at the Bristol school of pharmacy and afterwards at the medical school, and in 1847 he was an unsuccessful candidate for one of the chairs of natural history in the new Queen's colleges in Ireland.

In March 1849, on the death of George Gardner [q. v.], Thwaites was appointed superintendent of the botanical gardens at Peradeniya, Ceylon. His duties were at first mainly scientific, and, turning his attention to the flowering plants, between 1852 and 1856 he contributed numerous descriptions of Cingalese plants to Hooker's ‘Journal of Botany,’ including twenty-five new genera; but from 1857, when the title of his post was changed from superintendent to director, he became more and more engrossed by the less congenial duties of investigating the application of botany to tropical agriculture. In 1858 he began the printing of his only independent book, the ‘Enumeratio Plantarum Zeylaniæ,’ which was published in five fasciculi (pp. 483, 8vo, 1859–64). On the completion of this work he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 1 June 1865 and received the degree of doctor of philosophy from the Imperial Leopoldo-Carolinian Academy, while in 1867 Hooker dedicated to him the beautiful genus of Cingalese climbing plants Kendrickia; but he never himself considered his work as other than a prodromus to a complete flora and a catalogue of the extensive sets of dried plants which he communicated to the chief herbaria. In the preface he announced his adhesion to the Darwinian view of the nature of species. In 1860 Thwaites established the cinchona nurseries at Hakgala, the success of the cultivation of these plants in Ceylon being largely due to his efforts. His successive official reports deal also with the cultivation of vanilla, tea, cardamoms, cacao, and Liberian coffee. In 1869 he sent the Rev. Miles Joseph Berkeley the first specimens of Hemileia vastatrix, the coffee-leaf fungus, and his reports from 1871 to 1880 deal with it and the suggested preventives, repudiating, in face of much popular opinion, any hope of external cures. After the completion of the ‘Enumeratio’ he returned to the study of cryptogams, sending home more than twelve hundred fungi, which were described by Messrs. Berkeley and Broome (Journal of the Linnean Society, 1871, xi. 494 et seq.), besides mosses, which were published by Mr. Mitten in 1872, and lichens, some of which were described by the Rev. William Allport Leighton [q. v.] in 1870. Thwaites's health began to fail in 1867; and, Dr. Henry Trimen [q. v.] having arrived in 1879 to take his place, he retired in the following year on a pension, and purchased a pretty bungalow named ‘Fairieland’ above Kandy.

Thwaites died, unmarried, in Kandy, on 11 Sept. 1882, his funeral taking place on the following day. He became a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1854, and was made a companion of the order of St. Michael and St. George in 1878. His notes form the most valuable portion of Mr. Frederick Moore's ‘Lepidoptera of Ceylon’ (3 vols. 1880–9). A portrait of him accompanies a brief memoir in the ‘Gardeners' Chronicle’ (1874). Thwaites was a frequent contributor to scientific journals, among others to the ‘Transactions’ of the Entomological Society, to the ‘Phytologist,’ and to the ‘Annals and Magazine of Natural History.’

[Journal of Botany, 1882, p. 351; Proceedings of the Linnean Society, 1882–3, p. 43; Gardeners' Chronicle, 1874, i. 438.]

G. S. B.