Tag Archives: Taxonomy

Harry Bolus

1834 – 1911

Harry Bolus - botanist
Harry Bolus was born at Nottingham on the 28th of April, 1834, and went out to the Cape, as a poor apprentice, when he was just sixteen years old. He began the study of botany in 1864, on the death of his first child. This hobby he pursued wholeheartedly, making excursions up the mountains in search of plants, which he described carefully with pencil and pen.

He corresponded with Sir Joseph Hooker, and sent a large number of succulents and bulbs alive to Kew Garden in London. South African botanists, among whom were Professor MacOwen and Guthrie, became his friends.

For fifteen years Harry Bolus lived at Graaf Reinet, in the centre of the Cape Colony. His career there was varied indeed. First a boy with a few shillings in his pocket, then a volunteer in a local war, later an insurance secretary, and later still a sheep-farmer. In 1874 he joined his brother in Cape Town as a broker. He retired twenty years later with a considerable fortune.

The heaths and orchids of the Cape specially attracted Harry Bolus after his retirement from business. As a result, he published The Orchids of the Cape Peninsula in 1888, and his two-volume Icones Orchidearum Austro-Africanarfum, Extra Tropicarum, comprising two hundred and descriptions of living plants found in South Africa, followed between 1892 and 1911. Two years after his death a third volume of a hundred plates was issued. With the help of his friend Dr. Guthrie, he monographed the genus Erica for the Flora Capensis. In 1903 he issued, in collaboration with Major A.H. Wolley-Dod, a List of the Flowering Plants and Ferns of the Cape Peninsula.

Bolus visited Kew Garden in 1876, bringing a large collection of plants for comparison with those in the Kew Herbarium. He left duplicates behind, and on the return journey he had the misfortune to lose all his specimens, as well as much information gained on the visit, through the wreck of his ship the Windsor Castle, in Table Bay.

His enterprise was such that many fine books, some now unprocurable, became his. These included complete sets of the Botanical Magazine, Botanical Register, Refugium Botanicum, and the large folios of Redout‚ Jacquim, Bauer and Masson. He founded the Harry Bolus Professorship of the Cape University and bequeathed 48.000 Pounds for scholarships, besides leaving his rich herbarium and library to the South African College. The University conferred on him the honorary degree of D.Sc. In recognition of his scientific work and of his liberality endowing the Professorship. He became a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1873, and he was one of the original Members of the South African Philosophical Society.

This man of the strenuous, adventurous nature was withal quiet and unassuming. Professor Pearson tells of the answer Bolus made, when giving evidence before a parliamentary commission, and he was asked: “You are a botanist?”. His answer was: “I do not call myself a botanist, but I have studied botany in my leisure hours”.

Harry Bolus died at Oxford, Surrey, on the 25th of May, 1911. His name is commemorated in the genera Bolusia, Bolusafra, Neobolusia, Bolusanthus and Bolusiella.

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George Thorncroft

1857 – 1934

George Thorncroft was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, on 22nd May, 1857. After serving his apprenticeship there as a grocer he left London in the sailing vessel “”The Zulu Chief””, on the 14th February, 1882, to arrive in Durban, Natal, after a voyage of 68 days.


George Throncroft

In 1886 he married Charlotte Jordan in Pietermaritzburg. On 23rd October the same year they left the town for the De Kaap Gold Fields, traveling by train as far as Colenso and then by Taylor and Gills ox-wagons. Their long trek started on Saturday 31st October, and they did not reach Barberton until 18th January 1887, 79 days later.

Until February 1893, he was in charge of the Ivy Hotel and store, at Moodies, on a share basis with Messrs. Fowley and Moore. Then he went back to Durban to open up a grocery business in partnership with Mr. Payne at 422 West Street, Durban. While there their two children, Ivy Gladys and Joseph Norton, were born.

After the Anglo-Boer War, Thorncroft sold his shares to his partner and came with his family back to Barberton in 1902, where he worked for 25 years for the Winter Bros., Fred and William, after which they liquidated the business and all retired. George Thorncroft died on 18th July 1934, at the age of 77 years.

All his life George Thorncroft was interested in flowers. While in London he spent most of his spare time at Kew Gardens. During his journey by ox-wagon to Barberton he collected seeds of wild flowers, which he sent to interested people in England. He was one of the Foundation Members of the Botanical Gardens in Durban and collected botanical specimens for Durban Herbarium and the Government Herbarium in Pretoria for many years. He corresponded with people and institutions all over the world including Cambridge University, Kew Gardens, and others in America and Japan.

A whole genus and many species of plants were named after him.

Road to Barberton

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Richard Irwin Lynch

1850 – 1924

RICHARD LYNCH was born on the 1st of June, 1850, at St. Germans, Cornwall, where his father was Head Gardener to
the Earl of St. Germans.

He went to Kew Gardens at the age of seventeen after an apprenticeship under his father, who was himself Kew trained.
Promoted to the post of Foreman of the Herbaceous Department in 1871, he later became Senior Foreman on his transference to the Tropical Department.

Important economic plants were propagated and despatched to the Colonies during this last period of his service at Kew, one of them being the Para rubber, Hevea brasiliensis.

In 1879 Richard Lynch was appointed Curator of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, where he had a deservedly successful career. His enthusiasm was tremendous, and the Garden became quite transformed. The collection was built up to such purpose that, twelve years after his appointment, it contained representatives of more than a quarter of the genera in Bentham and Hooker’s Genera Plantarulli. This brought the Botanic Garden second only to Kew among English public gardens.

Owing to the necessity for economy, nearly all the plants acquired by Lynch during his forty years at Cambridge were received in exchange for others. A large number of those which he succeeded in flowering were found worthy of a place in the Botanical Magazine.

Richard Lynch raised numerous hybrids, including the beautiful race of plants obtained by crossing Gerbera Jamesonii with other species of the genus.

Many papers from his pen appeared in the horticultural press, but his most valuable contribution to plant literature was The Book of the Iris, which he published in 1904. He also, in 1886, translated Correvon’s Les Plantes des Alpes for the Gardeners’ Magazine.

The Linnean Society elected Lynch an Associate in 1881. In 1901 he gained the Veitch Memorial Medal. The Victoria Medal of Honour was awarded to Richard Lynch in 1906, and in 1923 the Royal Horticultural Society again honoured him by the award of the Veitch Memorial Gold Medal ‘for his work in horticulture’. The University of Cambridge conferred on him, in 1916, the honorary degree of M.A., which, in the words of Professor Seward, ‘he thoroughly appreciated and richly deserved.’

After forty years of efficient service and great achievement he was forced by ill-health to retire from the Cambridge curatorship.

The end for Richard Lynch came at Torquay, Devonshire, on the 7th of December, 1924, after a rather long period of suffering.

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Source: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine

Carl von Linné

1707 – 1778

Carl von Linne‚ (or Linné; Carolus Linneaus in Latin) was born on 23 May 1707 in Sweden. He died at the age of 71, on 10 January 1778. He was the natural scientist, who developed the basis for today’s taxonomy.

His family had already planned young Linné’s future: A life in the service of the church, just like his father and his grandfather on his mother’s side. However, he showed very little interest in this career, his interests lay in botany. This impressed the local doctor and so Carl was sent to study at the university of Uppsala.

During this time, Carl von Linne became convinced that the pistils and stamen of the flower were the basis for classification of plants. He wrote a small dissertation, which earned him the position of extraordinary professor. In 1732, the Academy of Science in Uppsala financed an expedition to Lappland, which before then was almost completely unknown. The result of this expedition was a book published in 1737 on plant life in Lapland, Flora Laponica.

After that, Von Linne moved to the mainland. During his stay in Holland, he met Jan Frederic Gronovius and showed him a draft of his work on taxonomy, the Systema Naturae. In this draft, he had replaced the compilation definitions, such as physalis emno ramosissme ramis angulosis glabis foliis dentoserrtis with systematic double- barrel names that are still in use today, e.g. Physalis angulata. That first name is the name of the species, the second name of the variety. Higher groups were created in a simple and orderly manner.

In naming, Linne trusted in common sense. In this way, he named the human being, Homo sapiens, the knowing human being. He also described a second human species, Homo tryglodytes, respectively Homo nocturnus, caveman, by which he probably meant the previously described chimpanzee. Mammals were named after the mammary gland, Mammelia, as he wished to encourage women to breast-feed their children.

In 1739, Carl von Linne‚ married Sahra Morea, the daughter of a doctor. Two years later, he was given the chair of medicine at Uppsala, which he, however, soon changed for the chair of botany. He continued with his classifications and extended it to animals as well as minerals. Even though this method of classifying of minerals sounds strange to us today, 100 years before Darwin’s theory of evolution, it was an easy way to catagorize the whole of nature.

1775 Carl von Linne‚ was knighted for his services. His botanical garden can still be visited today in Uppsala.

As Linnaeus was born in May 1707, the ever great National Geographic published an article on him and his taxonomy:
National Geographic – Carl von Linne

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Ernest Galpin

1858 – 1941

Ernest Galpin was born in Grahamstown on 6th December, 1858. His father was Henry Carter Galpin, a civil engineer, who came out to the Cape in 1848 on a recuperative voyage following pneumonia, caught by standing all day in the bogs of Kildare during a railway survey, followed by exposure during shipwreck in the Channel. He liked the Cape where he practiced for a time as an architect and decided to stay. He fell in love with Georgina Maria Luck, daughter of a wealthy Cape Town merchant, and they were married in Stellenbosch against her father’s wishes. He promptly disinherited her.

They moved to Grahamstown where H.C. Galpin followed his boyhood hobby of clock making and jewellery and founded a business as watchmaker and jeweler, which flourished. Here he designed and built the first multiple-storeyed building in the Eastern Cape, a four-storeyed structure above ground with one floor below ground-level, “”The Observatory””. On top of the building her erected a camera obscura and a observatory with a large reflecting telescope with 1000x magnification. He had the family characteristic of requiring only a few hours sleep a night and frequently rose at 2 or 3 a.m. to study the stars.

Ernest Galpin

Ernest Galpin

Ernest Galpin was the fifth of seven sons born here and one of the earliest scholars at Andrew’s College. He left school at the age of fourteen and took charge of the business owing to his father’s ill health and his elder brother’s absence studying in Europe. On their return he joined the Oriental Banking Corporation in Grahamstown (this was later taken over by the Bank of Africa, then the National Bank, later Barkleys Bank and today First National Bank). After two spells in the Kaffir Wars, he went to Middelburg as accountant in the Bank of Africa. He began a serious study of Botany, in which they had been encouraged as children by their mother, as well as entomology and natural history.

After service with the Bank in Bethulie, Aliwal North, Beaufort West and again as manager in Grahamstown, Ernest Galpin was sent to Johannesburg in 1888 as sub-manager of the Bank of Africa. The rapid growth of the town had created many difficulties: the only accommodation he was able to obtain was a tumble-down wood-and-iron shack next to the Law Courts; the Bank was housed in a large single-roomed wood and iron building, and business had outgrown it and the staff. All available space was taken and the ledgers were stacked on the floor. The staff struggled on from 8.30 a.m. until late at night, frequently passed midnight, to keep pace with the position and usually had to work Sunday mornings as well. He was, however, able to get out on Sunday afternoons and made extensive plant collections from the Parktown and Kensington hills, which were then virgin veld.

Relief came early in 1889 when Galpin had to catch the coach at a moment’s notice to take over the managership of the Bank in Barberton, which had been considered the more promising goldfields. The Bank was on the ground floor of the Lewis and Marks Building, and he was able to purchase a comfortable double rondavel on the lower slope of the Saddleback Mountain overlooking the town.

Barberton, around 1890 - Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga)

Barberton, around 1890 – Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga)

Barberton opened up a new world for him. Ernest Galpin was fascinated with its glorious mountain scenery, the beauty and wealth of its flora and the collector in him rejoiced. It was a new and glorious field for botanical exploration and every spare hour of daylight and every holiday was devoted to the collection and study of its flora. He worked until late at night until every specimen was pressed and dried, written up and recorded and classified.

Gerbera Galpinii

Gerbera Galpinii

He roamed far and wide on foot and on horseback searching the countryside, diligently in every direction, making expeditions to the King’s Kraal, Horo Flats and Forest, Kamhlabane Mountains, Pigg’s Peak and Havelock Mines in Swaziland, Kaapsche Hoop and Krokodilpoort. He discoveries were innumerable and with his wonderful collector’s eye very little was missed or overlooked.

Ernest Galpin entered into correspondence with botanists and herbaria in South Africa and Europe, exchanging dried mounted specimens with Dr. Harry Bolus of Kenilworth, the Government Herberia at Cape Town and Durban, Dr. Schonland of the Albany Museum and other botanists. He also sent dries duplicates, as well as living plants and seeds to Kew and to Zrich and some to Berlin. This frequently entailed collecting six or eight specimens and he was at great pains to collect as perfect specimen as possible. He never grudged the extra labours that this incurred.

Although of slight build, he had tremendous endurance and reserves of energy. He was a tireless walker and mountaineer and believed that one should never drink any liquid during a tiring outing as, once started, it was almost impossible to stop. Frequently he would spend all day in the field only having a cup of tea on his return.

His work brought him international recognition. In 1890 Ernest Galpin was made a Fellow of the Linnean Society and in 1935 the University of South Africa conferred a Doctor of Science (honoris causa) degree upon him. Dr. Bolus referred to him as “”The Modern Burchell”” and General Smuts called him “”The Prince of Collectors””.

Lewis & Marks Building in Barberton, Mpumalanga

Lewis & Marks Building in Barberton, Mpumalanga

His botanical discoveries include half a dozen genera and many hundreds of new species of which some two hundred bear his name including two of Transvaal’s largest trees, Adina galpinii and Acacia galpinii.

Ernest Galpin was responsible for the introduction into cultivation of many indigenous plants. Well-known garden plants bearing his name are Bauhinia galpinii, Cyrthanthus galpinii, Kleinia galpinii, Kniphofia galpinii, Streptocarpus galpinii and Watsonia galpinii. And, a Gerbera species was named after him: Gerbera galpinii.

He presented his herbarium of 16.000 mounted, named and classified sheets to the Government at Pretoria and added another 6.000 odd sheets to it. This formed the nucleus of the great National Herbarium. Other renowned botanists followed his lead and left their collections to the state also.

It was in Barberton that Ernest Galpin met Maria Elizabeth de Jongh, whom he married in 1892. Her mother (neé‚ Countess Mimi von Schonnberg) was a friend of President Kruger. On his return from a visit to Barberton, Galpin told her that he was shocked that there was no school in Barberton, and demanded that she send her daughter, in whose ability he had the greatest confidence, immediately to Barberton to start the first school there. Marie was delighted as her sister and her husband, D.F. Gilfillan, a young lawyer, were living in Barberton. She was an outstanding mountaineer with a love of the veld and a keen eye for new species. This led naturally to her marriage, in Pretoria, to Ernest Galpin, and a life-long partnership of shared botanical expeditions.

Barberton - Pilgrim Street 1888

Barberton – Pilgrim Street 1888

They went on an eight months’ tour of Europe before moving off to Queenstown and pastures new. Together they climbed the mountains and explored the flats of Southern and East Africa and combed the country in the interest of botany. In 1910 they did a safari through the wilds of Kenya and Uganda, through elephant, lion and buffalo country, armed with nothing but complete confidence that the animals would do you no harm if you evinced no fear and had no ulterior purpose.

Maria Elizabeth Galpin died in 1933 – some eight years before her husband, Ernest Galpin, who died in 1941.

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