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Hooker, Sir Joseph Dalton (1817–1911)

by Winifred M. Curtis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), by unknown photographer

Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9596508

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), botanist and explorer, was born on 30 June 1817 at Halesworth, Suffolk, England, second son of the distinguished botanist, Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865), and his wife Maria Sarah, eldest daughter of Dawson Turner, banker and naturalist of Norwich. His father, later director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was, from 1820 to 1841 Regius professor of botany in the University of Glasgow and Joseph was educated at Glasgow Grammar School. At 15 he began to attend classes at the University of Glasgow, at first in classics and mathematics and later in medicine (M.D., 1839). He already had a wide knowledge of botany based on work in his father's herbarium and on extensive plant-collecting in the British Isles. His degree enabled him to join the Naval Medical Service and to accompany a scientific expedition to the Antarctic. The expedition, commanded by James Clark Ross, sailed in 1839 in two ships, Erebus and Terror: Hooker was assistant surgeon and naturalist in the former. They visited Ascension, St Helena, the Cape, Kerguelen, Van Diemen's Land, New Zealand, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands, and sailed along a vast extent of the coast of Antarctica. Van Diemen's Land was visited twice, during August-October 1840 and March-May 1841, and there was a brief stay at Port Jackson. The expedition returned to England in 1843.

The results of Hooker's botanical explorations of these lands were published under the general title The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage, in three large and important volumes: Flora Antarctica (1844-47), Flora Novae-Zelandiae (1853-55) and Flora Tasmaniae (1855-60). Local naturalists helped by sending large collections of plants to Kew and the valuable aid of Ronald Gunn and William Archer from Tasmania was acknowledged in the dedication of the third volume. These works, splendidly illustrated by the botanical artist, Walter Hood Fitch, are distinguished by Hooker's insight into morphological problems and by the importance of his theories developed in the introductions. The books, reprinted in 1963, remain indispensable for the study of plants of these southern lands; they are also especially significant because they belong to a critical period in the history of biology. In 1858 the assumption that species of plants and animals were unchanging was challenged by Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin; their historic paper was presented to the Linnean Society of London jointly by Hooker and the geologist Charles Lyell. It was followed on 24 November 1859 by the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Darwin's views on evolution had long been known to Hooker: their friendship dated from 1839. But while Hooker in Flora Novae-Zelandiae notes the problems raised by the variability of plants and by the facts of plant geography, for practical reasons he accepts the permanency of species. In the introductory essay to Flora Tasmaniae he supports the theory of evolution as brought about by variation and natural selection. This essay, the first published statement in support of Darwin's theory, is based on Hooker's independent studies of plants and particularly on their geographical distribution.

Hooker was a pioneer plant geographer. After returning from the Antarctic and working on fossil plants as a member of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, he sought an opportunity to study the vegetation of mountains in the tropics. In 1847, helped by a small grant from the Treasury, he sailed for India. In 1848-49, from headquarters at Darjeeling in the north-eastern Himalayas, he explored Sikkim and eastern Nepal, reaching the Tibetan passes. Hooker's versatility and keen observation in many fields is shown in his Himalayan Journals, first published in 1854: this is an outstanding travel book appealing to scientists in many fields. Of his extensive collections of plants the rhododendrons were especially notable and many species were for the first time introduced into cultivation in England. He also carried out a detailed topographical survey of the area and this formed the basis for subsequent official maps.

Hooker returned to England in 1851. In 1855 he was appointed assistant director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and in 1865 succeeded his father as director. He combined administration with research, wrote and edited many scientific papers, prepared important colonial floras, and collaborated with George Bentham in producing the classic Genera Plantarum (1862-83). A further aspect of the work at Kew was the distribution of plants grown in its nurseries; one result was that seeds of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, were obtained from Brazil, young plants raised, and sent to Ceylon and Malaya, thus founding the rubber industry in Asia. Hooker also engaged in botanical exploration in Lebanon in 1860, Morocco and the Atlas Mountains in 1871 and North America in 1877.

Hooker's outstanding achievements were recognized by many awards including C.B., 1869; K.C.S.I., 1878; K.G.S.I., 1897; and O.M., 1907. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1842 and of the Royal Society in 1847 and had the high distinction of being president of the Royal Society from 1873 to 1878. He also received degrees and honours from many British universities and from learned societies in Britain and the Continent. In 1885 he retired and made his home at Windlesham, near Sunningdale, Berkshire, where he continued to work on the Indian flora and on the genus Impatiens (Balsam). He died at his home on 10 December 1911 and was buried in the churchyard of St Anne's Anglican Church at Kew Green.

In 1851 Hooker married Frances Harriet, daughter of Rev. John Stevens Henslow, rector of Hitcham and professor of botany in the University of Cambridge; they had four sons and three daughters. After the death of his wife in 1874 Hooker married, in 1876, Hyacinth, daughter of Rev. William Samuel Symonds and widow of Sir William Jardine: they had two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Huxley, Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (Lond, 1918)
  • W. B. Turrill, Pioneer Plant Geography. The Phytogeographical Researches of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (The Hague, 1953)
  • W. B. Turrill, Joseph Dalton Hooker. Botanist, Explorer and Administrator (Lond, 1963)
  • M. Allan, The Hookers of Kew, 1785-1911 (Lond, 1967).

Citation details

Winifred M. Curtis, 'Hooker, Sir Joseph Dalton (1817–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hooker-sir-joseph-dalton-3789/text5993, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), by unknown photographer

Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9596508

Life Summary [details]

Birth

30 June 1817
Halesworth, Suffolk, England

Death

10 December 1911
Windlesham, Berkshire, England

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
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