Tradescant, John (1608-1662) (DNB00)

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TRADESCANT, JOHN (1608–1662), traveller and gardener, son of John Tradescant (d. 1637?) [q. v.], was born at Meopham, Kent, on 4 Aug. 1608 (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. v. 266). In 1637 he was in Virginia ‘gathering all varieties of flowers, plants, shells, &c.,’ for the collection at Lambeth (Brown, Genesis of the United States, p. 1032). He appears from his epitaph to have succeeded his father as gardener to Queen Henrietta Maria. In 1650 he seems first to have made the acquaintance of Elias Ashmole, who records in his ‘Diary’ that in that year he, with his wife and Dr. Thomas Wharton [q. v.], visited Tradescant at South Lambeth, and that in the summer of 1652 he and his wife ‘tabled at Mr. Tredescants.’ In 1656 Tradescant published his ‘Museum Tradescantianum: or a Collection of Rarities, preserved at South Lambeth, near London,’ dedicated to the president and fellows of the College of Physicians. Probably the book had been printed some time before, since in the preface the writer says: ‘About three years ago … I was resolved to take a catalogue of those rarities and curiosities which my father had sedulously collected. … Presently thereupon my onely son died,’ in 1652 (Ashmole, Diary). He was assisted by two friends, Ashmole and Wharton. Among the donors to the museum, besides Ashmole and Wharton, figure ‘Sir Dudly Diggs, Sir Nathanael Bacon, Mr. William Curteene, Mr. Charleton, merchant; and Mr. George Thomasin;’ and among the visitors those of Charles I and his queen, Robert and William Cecil, earls of Salisbury, George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, and Archbishop Laud. The frontispiece, consisting of the Tradescant arms, is followed by Hollar's portraits of the two Tradescants. The book, which comprises 179 pages (12mo), contains lists of birds, quadrupeds, fish, shells, insects, minerals, fruits, war instruments, habits, utensils, coins, and medals, followed by a catalogue in English and Latin of the plants in the garden. ‘The wonderful variety and incongruous juxtaposition of the objects,’ says Sir William Flower (Essays on Museums, 1898, pp. 4, 5), ‘make the catalogue very amusing reading.’ ‘Among “whole birds” is the famous “Dodar from the Island Mauritius; it is not able to flie, being so big.” This “stuffed Dodo,” of which the head and foot are still preserved in the University Museum of Oxford, was seen by Willughby and Ray, as we learn from their “Ornithology”’ (1678). The collection naturally became famous. Herrick alludes to ‘Tradescant's curious shells’ in an epigram upon Madame Ursly in his ‘Hesperides;’ and Thomas Flatman in some verses ‘To Mr. Sam. Austin of Wadham Col. Oxon. on his most unintelligible Poems,’ writes:

    Thus John Tradeskin starves our greedy eyes
    By boxing up his new found Rarities

(Poems, ed. 1674 p. 89, ed. 1682 p. 147). On 12 Dec. 1659 Ashmole notes in his ‘Diary:’ ‘Mr. Tredescant and his wife told me they had been long considering upon whom to bestow their Closet of Curiosities when they died, and at last had resolved to give it unto me.’ This is followed by the entry under date 14 Dec.: ‘This Afternoon they gave their Scrivener Instructions to draw a Deed of Gift of the said Closet to me;’ and, under the 16th, ‘5 Hor. 30 Minutes post merid. Mr. Tredescant and His Wife sealed and delivered to me the Deed of Gift of all his Rarities’ (the entry on the subject in Evelyn's Diary, under 17 Sept. 1657, is an erroneous interpolation by a later hand; cf. Bray, Advertisement to his edition of Evelyn, 1850).

Tradescant died on 22 April 1662. He was twice married, his first wife, whose name was Jane, dying in May 1634 (Churchwardens' Account of St. Mary's, Lambeth). She is erroneously described on the existing tomb in Lambeth churchyard as the wife of his father. By her he had two children—Frances, who married Alexander Norman and at the date of her father's death was a widow; and John, born in 1633, died on 11 Sept. 1652, and ‘buried in Lambeth Church Yard by his Grandfather’ (Ashmole, Diary). Tradescant married, secondly, in 1638, Hester Pooks, described as ‘of St. Bride's, London, maiden’ (‘Register of St. Nicholas Cole-Abbey, London,’ quoted in Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 513), by whom he had no issue. In his will, dated 4 April 1661, and proved on 5 May 1662, he makes his wife sole executrix, requests to be ‘interred as neere as can be to my late deceased Father … and my sonne,’ bequeaths 10l. to his daughter Frances Norman, 5s. each to his ‘namesakes Robert Tredescant and Thomas Tredescant of Walberswick,’ and adds, ‘Item, I giue, devize, and bequeath my Closet of Rarities to my dearly beloued wife Hester Tredescant during her naturall Life, and after her decease I giue and bequeath the same to the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, to which of them shee shall think fitt at her decease’ (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. v. 367).

Tradescant was buried at the south-east end of the chancel, in Lambeth churchyard, the original tomb being described in Aubrey's ‘Surrey’ (1719, i. 11–12). The rhyming epitaph printed by Aubrey, though intended for the monument, was preserved at Oxford, and not placed upon it (Ducarel, Letter to William Watson, M.D., 1773). In 1773 the tomb, being in a state of decay, was repaired by public subscription, and the epitaph was then added, the lines stating that the monument was erected by Hester Tradescant being omitted (Nichols, Appendix to Ducarel's Hist. of Lambeth, 1785, p. 68). The four sides of the tomb were engraved by Basire from the original drawings, preserved in the Pepysian Library at Cambridge, for the paper by Dr. Ducarel in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (1773, lxiii. 79–88), these engravings being reprinted in Nichols's ‘History of Lambeth,’ with another plate including copies of the two portraits by Hollar, published in 1793 by N. Smith, and issued also with Lysons's ‘Surrey’ (p. 289) and Pennant's ‘London’ (3rd edit.). In 1853 the existing new tomb was erected by public subscription, from the drawings in the Pepysian Library (Gent. Mag. 1852 i. 377, 1853 i. 518). The top slab of the 1773 tomb was, after some changes of ownership, presented by Colonel North, M.P., to the Ashmolean Museum (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. iii. 512).

In Easter term 1664 Ashmole ‘preferred a Bill in Chancery against Mrs. Tredescant, for the Rarities her Husband had settled on me’ (Diary, 30 May 1662; cf. Notes and Queries, 1st ser. v. 367). The cause was heard on 18 May 1664 before Lord-chancellor Clarendon, who gave effect to the asserted terms of the deed of gift, adjudging Ashmole to ‘have and enjoy’ the Closett or Collection of Rarities as catalogued in the ‘Museum Tradescantianum,’ ‘subject to the trust for the defendant during her life,’ and appointing Ashmole's two brother-heralds, Sir Edward Bysshe and Sir William Dugdale, with Sir William Glascock, master in chancery, as commissioners to see that everything was forthcoming. Ashmole built a large brick house near Lambeth adjoining that which had been Tradescant's, and records in his diary on 26 Nov. 1674: ‘Mrs. Tredescant being willing to deliver up the rarities to me, I carried several of them to my house.’ A few days later he removed the remainder, and about this date they seem to have been visited by Izaak Walton (Universal Angler, 5th edit., 1676, p. 31; cf. Ducarel, History of Lambeth, ed. Nichols, p. 97). In 1677 Ashmole announced his intention of presenting the collection to the university, provided a suitable building were erected to receive it. On 4 April 1678 he enters in his diary: ‘My wife told me that Mrs. Tredescant was found drowned in her pond. She was drowned the day before about noon, as appeared by some circumstance.’ On the 6th he records: ‘She was buried in a vault in Lambeth Church Yard, where her Husband and his Son John had been formerly laid;’ and on the 22nd: ‘I removed the pictures from Mrs. Tredescant's house to mine.’ Mrs. Tradescant bequeathed 50l. to the poor of Lambeth (Lysons, Environs of London, i. 307). The requisite building at Oxford was erected by Sir Christopher Wren, the collection was transferred to it in 1683, and, as Pulteney says (Sketches of the Progress of Botany, i. 179), ‘the name of Tradescant was unjustly sunk in that of Ashmole’ (cf. Evelyn, Diary, 23 July 1678).

There is a fine portrait, by an unknown artist, of the younger Tradescant at the National Portrait Gallery, he being represented with a skull by his side. In the Ashmolean collection at Oxford there are three original portraits of him: one a half-length in his garden, his hand resting on a spade, probably by William Dobson (1610–1645) [q. v.]; another, with his friend Zythepsa, the fictitious name of a quaker brewer at Lambeth, in his cabinet at Lambeth, with exquisitely painted shells in the foreground, probably the work of the same artist; and a third, much inferior, dated 1656, and therefore not by Dobson, with Tradescant's second wife, in his fiftieth and her forty-eighth year. There are also in the same collection four other pictures, all probably by Dobson—one, painted probably between 1640 and 1645, of Hester Tradescant and her stepson and daughter; another, dated 13 Sept. 1645, of Hester in her thirty-seventh year and her stepson, aged 12, of which there is a proof engraving in the Pennant collection in the British Museum; and separate portraits of the stepson and daughter, both in orange-coloured Vandyke dresses. Hollar's engraved portrait of Tradescant, in the ‘Museum Tradescantianum,’ was copied by N. Smith in 1793, and outlined in Allen's ‘History of Lambeth’ (1827). In the Pennant collection is an engraved medallion portrait of Hester Tradescant, from the 1656 painting at Oxford, of which another engraving is in a copy of Dr. Ducarel's ‘Letter to Sir William Watson’ in the Grenville Library.

Sir William Watson, with other fellows of the Royal Society, visited the site of Tradescant's garden in 1749, which he styles (Philosophical Transactions, xlvi. 160) ‘except that of Mr. John Gerard, the author of the “Herbal,” probably the first botanical garden in England;’ and he enumerates a few plants then surviving. Loudon gives a list (Arboretum Britannicum. pp. 49–50) of the trees and shrubs introduced by the two Tradescants, which includes the lilac, the acacia, and occidental plane, and many others less familiar.

[Knight's English Cyclopædia of Biography, vi. 149, the fullest and only accurate account hitherto published; the works cited above; and information kindly given by the officers of the Ashmolean Museum.]

G. S. B.