Miers, John (DNB00)

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MIERS, JOHN (1789–1879), engineer and botanist, was born in London 25 Aug. 1789. His early years were spent in business with his father, John Miers, a jeweller and miniaturist, a good miniature of Robert Burns by whom is extant; but he devoted much attention to mineralogy and chemistry, and his first contributions to science were three papers, published in Thomson's ‘Annals of Philosophy,’ in 1814, on the composition of azote. In 1818 Lord Cochrane invited Miers to join him in developing the copper and other mineral resources of Chile, and they accordingly sent out a large quantity of machinery; and, in 1819, accompanied by his newly-wedded wife, Miers sailed for Buenos Ayres. He crossed the Pampas and the Cordilleras into Chile, and there devoted his attention to natural history. He made important observations on the geology of the Cordilleras, on earthquakes and on the rising of the coastline, and collected birds, insects, and plants. Though not a trained botanist, by careful dissection and accurate drawing, he amassed at this time much material for his future work. In 1825 he visited England for a few months, made the acquaintance of Robert Brown and John Lindley, and began the scientific study of botany. During this visit he also prepared his first independent work, ‘Travels in Chile and La Plata.’ After again crossing South America he settled for some years at Buenos Ayres, where he erected a mint for the government, and then removed to Rio, where he did the same for the Brazilian government, and practised for seven years as an engineer. He returned to England in 1838, settled in London, and devoted himself to working out his botanical materials. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1839, and in 1841 published in its ‘Transactions’ the first of nearly eighty papers, dealing mainly with the description of South American plants. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1843, and served as a juror in the Brazilian section of the International Exhibition of 1862, for which, and other services to Brazil, he was made grand cross of the order of the Rose. Miers died, 17 Oct. 1879, at Addison Road, Kensington. He bequeathed his fine herbarium of over twenty thousand specimens, together with his voluminous notes and numerous drawings, to the British Museum, his duplicates having been previously presented to the Kew herbarium. A lithographic portrait of Miers is prefixed to the detailed memoir of him by Mr. W. Carruthers in the ‘Journal of Botany’ for 1880, and a coloured photograph is preserved at the rooms of the Linnean Society. Lindley dedicated to him the genus Miersia, a Chilian group of plants.

Besides the ‘Travels in Chile and La Plata,’ 2 vols. 1825, Miers's chief works are the reissue of his various botanical papers, which were in quarto form, and were mostly illustrated by lithographs made by himself from his own drawings. Of these there are six volumes, viz.: ‘Illustrations of South American Plants,’ vol. i. 1850, vol. ii. 1857; ‘Contributions to Botany,’ vol. i. 1861, vol. ii. 1869, and vol. iii., containing his monograph of the order ‘Menispermaceæ,’ perhaps his most important work, 1871; and ‘Apocynaceæ of South America,’ 1878. Among these papers, in addition to monographs of many orders and genera, are some dealing with the structure of the seed and its importance in classification, which are of general botanical interest. In the ‘Professional Papers of the Royal Engineers,’ vol. v. (1842), is a ‘Description of the Machinery employed in Deptford Dockyard for spinning Hemp and manufacturing Ropes,’ by Miers, illustrated by seventeen double-page quarto plates of the machinery.

[Journal of Botany, 1880, pp. 33–6; Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers, iv. 382, viii. 402.]

G. S. B.