Another Meme: A Favorite Historical Figure of Mine

I was tagged for this meme by John at Thoughts in a Haystack, a while ago. I just can’t write about Darwin for my favorite historical character. I mean, that’s all I share anyways. So I am going to offer 7 random/weird, or just interesting, things or quotes about one of Darwin’s colleagues and friends, the botanist, biogeographer, traveler, and Kew Gardens administrator, Joseph Dalton Hooker.

1. An interesting anecdote from his childhood as recalled later in life (1887):

… my father used to take me on excursions in the Highlands, where I fished a good deal, but also botanised; and well I remember on one occasion, that, after returning home, I built up by a yheap of stones a representation of one of the mountains I had ascended, and stuck upon it specimens of the mosses I had collected on it, at heights relative to those at which I had gathered them. This was the dawn of my love for geographical botany.

2. And from the same 1887 speech:

… my great delight was to sit on my grandfather’s knee and look at the pictures in Cook’s ‘Voyages’. The one that took my fancy most was the plate of Christmas Harbour, Kerguelen Land, witht he arched rock standing out to sea, and the sailors killing penguins; and I thought I should be the happiest boy alive if ever I would see that wonderful arched rock, and knock penguins on the head.

3. Hooker is usually referred to as a botanist, a traveler, and an administrator, as the titles of two biographies attest – Joseph Dalton Hooker: Botanist, Explorer, and Administrator and Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker: Traveller and Plant Collector. A forthcoming book will stress the imperialist nature of Hooker’s career – that as a botanist, traveler, and administrator of a government-funded institution, Hooker contributed to Britain’s imperial ambitions, especially in the manner of colonial and economic botany. Another work in progress stresses that along with being a respectable traveler and explorer, Hooker was a first rate mountaineer. When on the glaciers at the base of Kinchinjhow in the Himalayas, Hooker had attained the highest elevation of any European in history, surpassing Alexander von Humboldt’s near-summit ascent of the 19,275 ft. Chimborazo in Chile in 1802. So then, an uber-title for a biography: Joseph Dalton Hooker: Botanist, Explorer, Traveller, Plant Collector, Administrator, Imperialist, and Mountaineer.

4. Hooker, quite possibly the first non-family member to hear of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and instrumental in urging Darwin to publish what become On the Origin of Species, was the first naturalist to collect botanical specimens in a new world armed with the theory of evolution through natural selection. Also, in the introductory essay of his Flora Tasmania (published in December of 1860), Hooker ‘confessed’ his conversion to Darwin’s ideas.

5. The surgeon and official naturalist aboard H.M.S. Beagle while Darwin was aboard (and whom left the voyage in Brazil) was also the surgeon Hooker was assistant to on the 1839-1843 Antarctic voyage of H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror, the same retro-fitted ships that were part of the unsuccessful Franklin Expedition to navigate the Northwest Passage later in the 1840s. Oh, the surgeon was Robert McCormick, and he was also part of an unsuccesful expedition in search of Franklin.

6. Hooker, along with American botanist Asa Gray, took part in a botanical survey in the Rocky Mountains in 1877, headed by Ferdinand V. Hayden (of Yellowstone National Park fame), head of the U.S. Geological Survey. Quite luxurious accomodations for the Englishman (see photo).

7. From historian Michael Reidy:

After his successful attempt to climb above 19,000 feet, the narrative changes to one of imperial adventure, a topic that has excited past historians. From the Donkia Pass, Hooker literally fled into Tibet, out-riding the Sikkim guards sent to the border to deter him. His violation on entering Tibet placed the Sikkim Rajah in a difficult position, as he was perpetually fearful of angering his Chinese neighbors. Upon Hooker’s return, the Sikkim authorities arrested Hooker’s climbing companion, Archibald Campbell, who alerted Hooker by yelling “Hooker! Hooker! the savages are murdering me!” Campbell was bound, beaten, and tortured. Though Hooker was never actually arrested, his guides were bound and placed in stocks, and Hooker was “retained.” He refused to leave his companion behind. As he put it, “I kept as near as I was allowed, quietly gathering rhododendron-seeds by the way.” Campbell was eventually freed, and the British used the episode to annex further territory from Sikkim.

Much of this information on Joseph Dalton Hooker comes from this biography, and a paper my advisor presented at a conference last year.


And now I bestow this task to these blogs:

A. Lincoln Blog

3 thoughts on “Another Meme: A Favorite Historical Figure of Mine

  1. Dear God – I mean Michael – *snicker* – now you’ve forced my hand. I’m going to have to write something!

  2. An excellent choice! Hooker, like Gray, is underappreciated and underbiographied.

  3. Hey Michael,

    I’ve answered your tagging that has been nagging at me since you stuck it to me. You can find my response at here.

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