Robson, Stephen (DNB00)

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ROBSON, STEPHEN (1741–1779), botanist, second son of Thomas Robson, linen manufacturer, of Darlington, Durham, and Mary Hedley, his third wife, was born at Darlington on 24 June 1741. He succeeded to his father's business on the death of the latter in 1771, together with the freehold of the house and shop in Northgate, Darlington, where he also carried on a grocery. Though entirely self-taught, he became a good Latin, Greek, and French scholar, and was especially interested in botany, astronomy, and heraldry. Among his intimate friends was Robert Harrison (1715–1802) [q. v.], of Durham, the orientalist, and he corresponded with William Curtis (1746–1799) [q. v.], the botanist. He printed privately ‘Plantæ rariores agro Dunelmensi indigenæ’ (Dawson Turner and L. W. Dillwyn, The Botanist's Guide, 1805, i. 247), which is now very scarce, and he wrote some poems, all of which he burnt. His chief book was ‘The British Flora … to which are prefixed the Principles of Botany’ (York, 1777, 8vo, with three indexes and five plates illustrating structure). This work, which is in English and evinces a thorough knowledge of botanical literature, coming as it does between the two editions of the ‘Flora Anglica’ of William Hudson (1730?–1793) [q. v.], and arranged upon the Linnæan system, is of great merit and considerable historical interest. The original manuscript, together with the author's ‘Hortus Siccus,’ in three folio volumes, is still preserved by his descendants. He died at Darlington on 16 May 1779 of pulmonary consumption, induced by his sedentary life. Robson married, on 16 May 1771, Ann, daughter of William Awmack, who survived him, dying on 20 July 1792; by her he had one son, Thomas, and two daughters, Hannah and Mary.

Edward Robson (1763–1813), eldest son of Stephen Robson's elder brother Thomas, and his wife Margaret Pease, was born at Darlington on 17 Oct. 1763. He is described as ‘an accomplished botanist and draughtsman’ (Hylton Longstaffe, History of Darlington, p. 369); he was a correspondent of William Withering and of Sir James Edward Smith; contributed various descriptions to the latter's ‘English Botany,’ the lists of plants in Brewster's ‘Stockton’ and Hutchinson's ‘Durham,’ the description and figure of an earth-star (Geaster) in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for February 1792, and the description of Ribes spicatum in the ‘Transactions of the Linnean Society’ (iii. 240). He was elected one of the first associates of that society in 1789. He died at Tottenham, Middlesex, on 21 May 1813, and was buried at Bunhill Fields. He married, on 4 July 1788, Elizabeth Dearman (d. 8 Jan. 1852), by whom he had two sons and a daughter.

[Information furnished by the great-granddaughters of Stephen Robson; Backhouse's Family Memoirs, privately printed; Smith's Annals of Smith of Cautly, privately printed; Green's Cyclostyle Pedigrees, 1891; Longstaffe's History of Darlington; Britten and Boulger's Biographical Index of British Botanists.]

G. S. B.