Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hooker, William Jackson
HOOKER, Sir WILLIAM JACKSON (1785–1865), director of Kew Gardens, was born, on 6 July 1785, at Norwich, where his father was then in business. His father, Joseph Hooker, who was lineally descended from John Hooker [q. v.], the historian, the uncle of Richard Hooker [q. v.], was a native of Exeter, and devoted his leisure to the cultivation of rare plants and to reading, especially travels and German literature. Hooker was educated under the Rev. Dr. Foster at the Norwich grammar school, and having at an early age inherited landed property from his godfather, William Jackson of Canterbury, he determined to devote himself to travel and natural history. He lived for some time with Mr. Paul, a gentleman farmer, at Starston, Norfolk, and, being a keen sportsman, formed a fine collection of the birds of the county. An intimate acquaintance with Kirby, Spence, and Alexander Macleay led him to the study of entomology. The discovery of a rare moss near Norwich brought him under the notice of Sir James Edward Smith, at whose suggestion he devoted himself to botany. In 1806, in the company of his future father-in-law, Dawson Turner, F.R.S., and afterwards in that of William Borrer, F.L.S., he botanised in the wilder parts of Scotland, and in 1809, on the advice of Sir Joseph Banks, he visited Iceland. Here he made collections in all branches of natural history, which were, however, lost by the burning of the ship on the return voyage, when Hooker himself had a narrow escape. In 1811 he printed privately his ‘Recollections of Iceland,’ describing the island and its natural history, mainly from memory; the book was reprinted in 1813. He then determined to accompany Sir Robert Brownrigg, recently appointed governor, to Ceylon, and with this object sold his land, unfortunately investing the proceeds in stocks which declined in value. The disturbed state of Ceylon prevented his carrying out his intention. In 1814 he undertook a nine months' botanical tour in France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy, forming the acquaintance of most of the continental, as he had already made that of the English botanists, and pursuing an extensive correspondence. In the following year he married Maria, eldest daughter of Dawson Turner, F.R.S., banker, of Yarmouth, and settled down at Halesworth, Suffolk. Here he began the collection of his extensive herbarium, and produced between 1816 and 1820 his first four botanical works; but an increasing family and a decreasing income led him in 1820 to accept, at Banks's advice, the regius professorship of botany at Glasgow. His success as a lecturer with large classes and useful botanical excursions secured the increase of the endowment of the chair from 50l. to 150l., and of the fees from 60l. to over 700l. He maintained intimate relations with the admiralty, colonial, and India offices, secured former pupils as correspondents in many parts of the world, and organised the sending out of numerous collectors. In 1836 he was made a knight of Hanover for his services to botanical science. Among his correspondents was John, sixth duke of Bedford, who was desirous that the royal gardens at Kew should be turned to account as a national institution, and after the death of the duke in 1839, and a report in favour of this scheme by Lindley, Lord John Russell was able to carry out his father's wishes by obtaining for Hooker the appointment of director of the royal gardens, on the resignation of W. T. Aiton in 1841. Here Hooker's great administrative talent showed itself: during the remaining twenty-four years of his life a garden of eleven acres was extended to seventy-five acres of botanic garden and 270 acres of arboretum and pleasure-ground, and ten old conservatories and hothouses were replaced by twenty-five houses of modern construction and considerably greater size. Of these, two, the palm house and temperate house, have no rivals in point of dimensions combined with successful cultivation. He also founded in 1847, with the aid of Professor John Stevens Henslow [q. v.], a museum of economic botany, the first and most complete in the world, occupying three buildings. A queen's private garden had thus become an unrivalled botanic establishment. The opening of the gardens to the public and a liberal system of exchange with other gardens, both public and private, were amongst his earliest reforms.
During the first ten years of his directorate he occupied a private house, West Park, in the adjoining parish of Mortlake, to which he had transported his vast herbarium and library from Glasgow, having hired a Leith smack for the purpose. In 1857 a crown house attached to the gardens having become vacant, he was instructed to occupy it, and as it did not afford sufficient accommodation for his herbarium, which had occupied twelve rooms at West Park, he was permitted to deposit this in a larger house at Kew that had been in the occupation of the king of Hanover. This herbarium, by far the richest ever accumulated in one man's lifetime, was after his death purchased by the nation.
Hooker always rose early, went little into society, and retired late. He was able, in addition to purely official duties, to produce either as author or editor about one hundred volumes devoted to systematic and economic botany. These contain descriptions of many thousand species, and are illustrated by about five thousand plates. Until 1835 the drawings were mostly executed by himself; after that date by Mr. Walter Fitch. Hooker's descriptions are singularly accurate, and he always completed the works that he planned. In addition to his own work, he liberally assisted younger botanists, and did much to advance the science by persuading the treasury, the admiralty, and the Indian and colonial governments to produce local floras. Of these the flora of British North America was by himself, and those of New Zealand, Australia, the British West Indies, the Cape colonies, and tropical Africa were inaugurated by him, and for the most part elaborated in his herbarium and library.
During his whole lifetime his library and herbarium were liberally thrown open to botanists, and his duplicates and publications distributed to scientific men and institutions all over the world. By his enormous correspondence and prompt acknowledgment of assistance, he maintained friendly relations with the Indian and colonial governments, which in their turn reaped lasting benefits from the distribution of plants from Kew, especially in the case of the cinchona in India, Ceylon, and Jamaica. Hooker died at Kew on 12 Aug. 1865 of a disease of the throat then epidemic there, leaving a widow, two married daughters, and one surviving son, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, O.M. (b. 1817). He was elected fellow of the Linnean Society in 1806, and of the Royal Society in 1812; he was one of the founders of the Wernerian Society at Edinburgh; was LL.D. of Glasgow, and from 1845 D.C.L. of Oxford; was corresponding member of the Institute of France, and companion of the Legion of Honour. In person he was tall, erect, good-looking, agile. Darwin, writing to Hooker's son, spoke of Sir W. J. Hooker's ‘remarkably cordial, courteous, and frank bearing.’
An oil portrait of him by T. Phillips, R.A., is in the possession of his son, and another, by Gambardella, is at the Linnean Society. A marble bust by Woolner is in the Kew Museum, and a Wedgwood medallion, also by Woolner, is in a tablet in Kew Church. A copy of this tablet is in the South Kensington Museum. There is also a lithograph by Maguire in the Ipswich Museum series. He is commemorated by Sir James Smith in the name Hookeria, a genus of mosses.
Lady Hooker, who for fifty years had acted as her husband's secretary and amanuensis, died at Torquay on 26 Sept. 1872, in her seventy-fifth year.
Hooker's chief works are: 1. ‘British Jungermanniæ,’ 1816, 4to. 2. ‘Plantæ Cryptogamicæ coll. Humboldt et Bonpland,’ 1816, 8vo. 3. ‘Muscologia Britannica,’ with Dr. Thomas Taylor, 1818–27, 8vo. 4. ‘Musci Exotici,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1818–20. 5. ‘Flora Scotica,’ 1821, 8vo, arranged both on the Linnæan and on the natural system. 6. The continuation, vols. iv. and v. of Curtis's ‘Flora Londinensis,’ 1821–8, fol. 7. ‘Botanical Illustrations,’ 1822, 4to. 8. ‘Exotic Flora,’ 3 vols., 1823–7. 9. ‘Account of Sabine's Arctic Plants,’ 1824, 4to. 10. ‘Catalogue of Plants in the Glasgow Botanical Garden,’ 1825, 8vo. 11. ‘Botany of Parry's Third Voyage,’ 1826, 8vo. 12. ‘Icones Plantarum,’ 10 vols. 8vo, 1827–54, with about one thousand plates, drawn by Walter Fitch. 13. ‘The Botanical Magazine,’ 38 vols., 1827–65, with 2,700 coloured plates also by Fitch, and descriptions. 14. ‘Icones Filicum,’ with R. K. Greville [q. v.], 2 vols., 1829–31. 15. ‘Characters of Genera from the British Flora,’ 1830, 8vo. 16. ‘British Flora,’ 2 vols., 1830–1, 8vo, with subsequent editions in 1831, 1835, 1838, and 1842, after which date he transferred the editorship to Dr. Arnott, who succeeded him at Glasgow. 17. ‘Botanical Miscellany,’ 3 vols., 1830–3, 8vo. 18. ‘Supplement to English Botany,’ 4 vols., 1831–49, 8vo, with plates by James de Carle Sowerby. 19. ‘British Flora; Cryptogamia’ (exclusive of fungi), 1833, 8vo. 20. ‘Flora Boreali-Americana,’ 2 vols. 4to, 1833–40. 21. ‘The Journal of Botany,’ 4 vols. 1834–42, followed by ‘The London Journal of Botany,’ 7 vols., 1842–8, and ‘The Journal of Botany and Kew Garden Miscellany,’ 9 vols., 1849–57. 22. ‘Companion to the Botanical Magazine,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1835–6. 23. ‘Letter to Dawson Turner on the Death of the Duke of Bedford,’ 1840, 4to. 24. ‘Botany of Beechey's Voyage,’ with Dr. Arnott, 1841, 4to. 25. ‘Genera Filicum,’ 8vo, 1842, with plates by Francis Bauer. 26. ‘Notes on the Botany of the Voyage of the Erebus and Terror,’ 1843, 8vo. 27. ‘A Century of Orchideæ,’ 1846, 4to. 28. ‘Species Filicum,’ 5 vols., 1846–64, 8vo. 29. ‘Guide to Kew Gardens,’ 1847–65, 16mo. 30. ‘Niger Flora,’ 1849, 8vo. 31. ‘Admiralty Manual of Scientific Inquiry’ (botanical portion), 1849, 8vo. 32. ‘Victoria Regia,’ 1851, fol. 33. ‘A Century of Ferns,’ 1854, 8vo. 34. ‘Guide to the Museums of Economic Botany at Kew,’ 1855, 8vo. 35. ‘Filices Exoticæ,’ 1857–9, 4to. 36. ‘British Ferns,’ 1861–2, 8vo. 37. ‘A second Century of Ferns,’ 1861, 8vo. 38. ‘Garden Ferns,’ 1861–2. 39. ‘Synopsis Filicum,’ with J. G. Baker, 1868, 8vo, of which a second edition appeared in 1874. In the Royal Society's Catalogue (iii. 422) eighty-three papers are enumerated, of which Hooker was author wholly or in part.
Hooker, William Dawson (1816–1840), eldest son of Sir William Jackson Hooker, was born in Glasgow on 4 April 1816, and educated there for the medical profession, graduating M.D. in 1839. After a trip to Scandinavia he printed in 1837 an octavo volume for private circulation, entitled ‘Notes on Norway,’ which was reprinted in 1839. In the same year he also brought out an ‘Inaugural Dissertation on Cinchona’ just before starting for the West Indies. He formed a considerable ornithological collection, but published nothing on the subject. He died at Kingston, Jamaica, on 1 Jan. 1840.
[Britten and Boulger's Biographical Index of Botanists, Journal of Botany, 1889, p. 116; Journal of Botany, 1865, pp. 326–8, with bibliography, Proc. Linn. Soc. 1865–6, vol. lxvi.; Proc. Royal Soc. xv. 1867, pp. xxv–xxx; Gardeners' Chronicle, 1865, pp. 793, 818; Darwin's Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, iii. 39; information from Sir J. D. Hooker.]