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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