Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ker, John Bellenden

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KER, JOHN BELLENDEN (1765?–1842), botanist, wit, and man of fashion, was the eldest son of John Gawler of Ramridge, near Andover, Hampshire, and of the Inner Temple (d. at Bath 24 Dec. 1803, aged 77). His mother was Caroline, eldest surviving daughter of John, third baron Bellenden (d. 1740). John Gawler (as he was at first called) obtained a commission in the second regiment of life-guards; was appointed captain 20 Jan. 1790, and was senior captain in the regiment in 1793, when he was compelled to quit the army owing to his displays of sympathy with the French revolution. On 5 Nov. 1804 George III, out of regard for Gawler's mother, and at the instance of his second cousin, William, seventh baron Bellenden and fourth duke of Roxburgh, granted him a license to take the name of Ker Bellenden in lieu of Gawler; but he was invariably known as Bellenden Ker. William, fourth duke of Roxburgh, died in 1805 without direct heir. During his lifetime he sedulously endeavoured to divert the succession in favour of Ker, and entailed his estates upon him. But both the entail and Ker's claim to the title were, after much litigation, set aside by the House of Lords in favour of James Innes-Ker, fifth duke of Roxburgh [q. v.] on 11 May 1812 (cf. 2 Dow's Reports). Ker was long known as a wit and man of fashion in London. Many stories were told of the charm of his conversation, and he was the hero of some ‘affairs of gallantry.’

His attention must, however, have been early turned to botany, for in 1801 he brought out anonymously his ‘Recensio Plantarum,’ a review of all the plants figured up to that time in Andrews's ‘Botanist's Repository.’ About the same date he began to contribute occasional descriptions of new plants to Curtis's ‘Botanical Magazine,’ then under the editorship of Dr. Sims, who highly commended Ker in the preface to the fifteenth volume. In 1804 he printed an important memoir on a group of plants, the Iridaceæ, in König and Sims's ‘Annals of Botany.’ In 1812 the ‘Botanical Register’ was started in opposition to the ‘Botanical Magazine’ [see Edwards, Sydenham Teak], and Ker became the first editor. He held the office till about 1823, when Dr. Lindley took sole control. When freed from botanical journalism, he revised his memoir on the Iridaceæ of 1804, and brought out his ‘Iridearum Genera,’ Brussels, 1828, 8vo, which was his last important work on botany. An illness supervened, and on resuming work he busied himself on ‘An Essay on the Archæology of Popular English Phrases and Nursery Rhymes,’ Southampton, 1834, 8vo, which reached a second edition, London, 1835–7, 2 vols. 12mo. Supplemental volumes are dated 1840 and 1842. Until within twenty years before his death he wrote occasional articles in the gardening papers.

During the later period of his life Ker lived at Ramridge, where he died in June 1842. The genus Bellendena commemorates him. He was married. His son, Charles Henry Bellenden Ker [q. v.], is separately noticed.

A painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds of Ker and his brother Henry Gawler (afterwards of Lincoln's Inn) as boys, was engraved by J. R. Smith. The picture was sold in 1887 for 2,415l. (Times, 5 May 1887).

[House of Lords, Roxburgh Succession, Ker and others appellants, &c., 1808, &c.; Douglas's Peerage of Scotland, ed. Wood, ii. 453–4; Gent. Mag. 1842, pt. ii. p. 220; information kindly supplied by Mr. M. I. Fortescue Brickdale, and Mr. J. Savill Vaizey of Lincoln's Inn.]

B. D. J.