Burnett, Gilbert Thomas (DNB00)

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BURNETT, GILBERT THOMAS (1800–1835), botanist, was born on 15 April 1800, his father, Gilbert Burnett, a London surgeon, being a descendant of Bishop Burnet. He was educated by Dr. Benson at Hounslow Heath. Commencing medical study at the age of fifteen, he made medical botany his favourite pursuit, at a time when, in his own words, ‘the study entailed both on teacher and on pupil sarcasm and contempt.’ Soon after commencing practice as a surgeon he gave lectures on medical and general botany in the Great Windmill Street School of Medicine, and was made honorary professor to the Medico-Botanical Society. Becoming a popular lecturer, he frequently lectured at the Royal Institution, and gave a regular course at St. George's Hospital. On the opening of King's College, London, in 1831, he was chosen the first professor of botany, and was very zealous and successful as a teacher. He published in 1835 ‘Outlines of Botany,’ in 2 vols., written in too diffuse a style, having previously edited Stephenson and Churchill's ‘Medical Botany,’ in 3 vols. In 1835 he was elected professor of botany to the Apothecaries' Society, and gave a course of thirty lectures at their Chelsea garden; but it had scarcely ended when he died, worn out by multiplied literary, lecturing, and professional labours, on 27 July 1835. A large series of ‘Illustrations of Useful Plants employed in the Arts and Medicine,’ in 4 vols. 4to, beautifully drawn and coloured by his sister, M. A. Burnett, with text chiefly by Gilbert Burnett, was published (1840–9) after his death. Slight and delicate in person, with dark and sparkling eyes, Burnett was most vivacious and interesting in style, modest and prepossessing in manners, accurate and precise, yet endowed with exquisite sensibility, and enthusiastic for his science.

Besides the above works, Burnett published two ‘King's College Introductory Lectures,’ 1832 (British Museum, King's College Lectures), and numerous papers in the ‘Journal of the Royal Institution’ and ‘Quarterly Journal of Science,’ 1828–30.

[Annual Biography and Obituary (1836), 264–75.]

G. T. B.