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Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865)

Born in Norwich, England, on July 6th, 1785, died in London, England, on August 12th, 1865. Director of the Royal Gardens at Kew and father of Joseph Dalton Hooker.

Detail from a Victorian engraving depicting
the interior of the Palm House at Kew.William Jackson Hooker was born in Norwich, England and was educated at the local grammar school and later at Starston Hall where he learned estate management. His godfather, William Jackson, left him a considerable fortune, allowing the young man to pursue his interest in botany.

When Hooker discovered a new moss, Buxbaumia aphylla, subsequently confirmed by the botanist Dawson Turner as a new species, his career as a botanist began. When he was elected a Fellow of the Linnaean Society at the age of twenty-one, he was introduced to Sir Joseph Banks, as well as many other prominent naturalists. Banks sponsored Hooker in an expedition to Iceland, all expenses paid, and even offered the young man his own largely unpublished notes from his own expedition in 1722, as almost all of Hooker's collections and notes had been destroyed in a shipboard fire from which he had barely escaped with his life. He would later turn down an invitation from Banks to travel to Java, which probably saved his life, as the island was rife sickness and fevers that often proved fatal.

William Jackson Hooker was a singularly social creature who cultivated many important friendships and maintained life-long correspondences with many of them. Despite disappointing Banks by declining an opportunity to act as collector for Kew in Java, this apparently did not damage his reputation or affect his relationship with Banks. His relationship with Dawson Turner was also a close one that grew closer when he married Turner's eldest daughter, Maria, in 1815.

With Joseph Banks' support, William Hooker was able to obtain the Chair of Botany at Glasgow University in 1820. During the twenty-one years of his tenure he revitalised the botany department as well as the city's botanical gardens. When his son Joseph was six years old, he would accompany his father to the university almost every day and attend his lectures. Although he was immensely popular as a professor, William Hooker found that his income was not sufficient to support his growing family.

It was by exercising his many connections and influences that in 1841 he took over management of Kew and was appointed as Director. Despite the complex and protracted machinations to secure the position, and deny his serious competitor John Lindley the honour of the Directorship, the two men remained friends and Hooker even went on to implement many of Lindley's suggestions for revitalising the garden. His other rival for the position, the foreman at Kew, John Smith, was within the year promoted to Curator of the garden and supplied with a relatively generous salary and a house. Men who are so secure in their success, and magnanimous with their opponents, are indeed rare in history.

Over the years Hooker was able to use his considerable charm and tact to expand the garden by acquiring many of the surrounding royal grounds, as well as initiate the construction of several glasshouses, including the famous Palm House, and organize the garden's beds in a more logical and scientific manner. He was also largely responsible for opening a greater portion of the garden for public viewing.

He maintained his position as director until his death in 1865, at which time his son, Sir Joseph Hooker, took over as Director.

Sir William Jackson Hooker

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker

For more detailed information on the extraordinary life of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker...

 

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