George Bentham

Last updated

George Bentham
George Bentham
Born(1800-09-22)22 September 1800
Stoke, Plymouth, England
Died10 September 1884(1884-09-10) (aged 83)
London, England
Spouse(s)Sarah Jones
Awards Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1859
Clarke Medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1879
Scientific career
Fields botany
Institutions Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Author abbrev. (botany) Benth.

George Bentham CMG FRS FLS (22 September 1800 – 10 September 1884) was an English botanist, described by the weed botanist Duane Isely as "the premier systematic botanist of the nineteenth century". [1] Born into a distinguished family, he initially studied law, but had a fascination with botany from an early age, which he soon pursued, becoming president of the Linnaean Society in 1861, and a fellow of the Royal Society in 1862. He was the author of a number of important botanical works, particularly flora. He is best known for his taxonomic classification of plants in collaboration with Joseph Dalton Hooker, his Genera Plantarum (1862–1883). He died in London in 1884.



Bentham was born in Stoke, Plymouth, on 22 September 1800. [2] [3] His father, Sir Samuel Bentham, a naval architect, was the only brother of Jeremy Bentham to survive into adulthood. His mother, Mary Sophia Bentham, was a botanist and author. [4] Bentham had no formal education but had a remarkable linguistic aptitude. By the age of seven, he could speak French, German and Russian, and he learned Swedish during a short residence in Sweden while still a child. The family made a long tour through France, staying two years at Montauban, where Bentham studied Hebrew and mathematics in the Protestant Theological School. They eventually settled near Montpellier where Sir Samuel bought a large estate. [5]

While studying at Angoulême, Bentham came across a copy of A. P. de Candolle's Flore française, and became interested in the analytical tables for identifying plants. He immediately tested them on the first plant he saw. The result was successful and he applied it to every plant he came across. In London in 1823, he met English botanists. His uncle pushed him to study law at Lincoln's Inn. He was called to the bar and in 1832 held his first and only legal brief. [5] However, his interest in botany never flagged and he became secretary of the Horticultural Society of London from 1829 to 1840. [6]

In 1832, he inherited the property of his uncle, Jeremy Bentham. Having inherited his father's estate the previous year, he was now sufficiently well off to do whatever he wanted, which was botany, jurisprudence and logic.

Bentham married Sarah Jones (1798–1881), daughter of Sir Harford Jones Brydges, on 11 April 1833; they did not have children. [7]

Bentham died at his London home on 10 September 1884, aged 83. [3] He was interred in Brompton Cemetery.


Views on evolution

Bentham's life spanned the Darwinian revolution, and his young colleague Joseph Dalton Hooker was Darwin's closest friend and one of the first to accept Darwin's ideas. Until then, Bentham unquestioningly believed that species were fixed. In 1874 he wrote that "Fifteen years have sufficed to establish a theory of evolution by natural selection". [8] Bentham's conversion to the new line of thought was complete, and included a change from typology in taxonomy to an appreciation that "We cannot form an idea of a species from a single individual, nor of a genus from a single one of its species. We can no more set up a typical species than a typical individual." [9]

Honours and awards

Bentham was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1859 and elected a Fellow in 1862. [10] He served as president of the Linnean Society of London from 1861 to 1874. [11] He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1866. [12] He was appointed CMG (Companion of St Michael & St George) in 1878. His foreign awards included the Clarke Medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1879.


Bentham's first publication was his Catalogue des plantes indigènes des Pyrénées et du Bas Languedoc (Paris 1826), the result of a careful exploration of the Pyrenees in company with G. A. Walker Arnott (1799–1868), afterwards professor of botany in the University of Glasgow. In the catalogue Bentham adopted the principle from which he never deviated, of citing nothing at second-hand. This was followed by articles on various legal subjects: on codification, in which he disagreed with his uncle, on the laws affecting larceny and on the law of real property. But the most remarkable production of this period was the Outline of a new system of logic, with a critical examination of Dr Whately's Elements of Logic (1827). [13] In this the principle of the quantification of the predicate was first explicitly stated. This Stanley Jevons declared to be undoubtedly the most fruitful discovery made in abstract logical science since the time of Aristotle. Before sixty copies had been sold the publisher became bankrupt and the stock went for wastepaper. The book passed into oblivion, and it was not till 1873 that Bentham's claims to priority were finally vindicated against those of Sir William Hamilton by Herbert Spencer. [5]

In 1836 he published his Labiatarum genera et species. In preparing this work he visited, between 1830 and 1834, every European herbarium, several more than once. The following winter was passed in Vienna, where he produced his Commentationes de Leguminosarum generibus, published in the annals of the Vienna Museum. In 1842 he moved to Pontrilas in Herefordshire. His chief occupation for the next few years was his contributions to the Prodromus Systematis Naturalis Regni Vegetabilis , which was being carried on by his friend, A. P. de Candolle. In all these dealt with some 4,730 species. [5]

In 1844, he provided the botanical descriptions for The Botany of the Voyage of H.M.S. Sulphur. [14] The editor, Richard Brinsley Hinds, had been surgeon on HMS Sulphur 1835-41 while she explored the Pacific coast of the Americas. [15]

In 1854 he found the maintenance of a herbarium and library too expensive. He, therefore, offered them to the government on the understanding that they should form the foundation of such necessary aids to research in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. At the same time, he contemplated the abandonment of botanical work. However, he yielded to the persuasion of Sir William Jackson Hooker, John Lindley and other scientific friends. In 1855 he took up his residence in London, and worked at Kew for five days a week, with a brief summer holiday, from this time onwards till the end of his life. [5]

In 1857, the government sanctioned a scheme for the preparation of a series of Floras or descriptions in the English language of the indigenous plants of British colonies and possessions. Bentham began with the Flora Hongkongensis in 1861, which was the first comprehensive work on any part of the little-known flora of China and Hong Kong, including Hong Kong croton. This was followed by the Flora Australiensis , in seven volumes (1863–1878), the first flora of any large continental area that had ever been finished. His greatest work was the Genera Plantarum, begun in 1862, and concluded in 1883 in collaboration with Joseph Dalton Hooker. [16] His most famous work, however, was the Handbook of the British flora, begun in 1853 and first published in 1858. This was used by students for over a century, running into many editions. After his death, it was edited by Hooker, and was known simply as Bentham & Hooker. He is most famous for his extensive and excellent classification of plants, especially angiosperms, along with Hooker, forming the "Bentham & Hooker system", which was published in three volumes as Genera Plantarum between 1862 and 1883. [5]

Selected publications


Benthamiella patagonica, one of several plants named in Bentham's honour Benthamiella patagonica 150418.jpg
Benthamiella patagonica , one of several plants named in Bentham's honour

The following plants have been named in his honour:



See also

Related Research Articles

Joseph Dalton Hooker British botanist, lichenologist, and surgeon (1817–1911)

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker was a British botanist and explorer in the 19th century. He was a founder of geographical botany and Charles Darwin's closest friend. For twenty years he served as director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, succeeding his father, William Jackson Hooker, and was awarded the highest honours of British science.

William Jackson Hooker 18th/19th-century English botanist

Sir William Jackson Hooker was an English botanist and botanical illustrator, who became the first director of Kew when in 1831 it was recommended to be placed under state ownership as a botanic garden. At Kew he founded the Herbarium and enlarged the gardens and arboretum. The standard author abbreviation Hook. is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.

René Louiche Desfontaines French botanist (1750-1833)

René Louiche Desfontaines was a French botanist.

John Lindley English botanist, gardener and orchidologist (1799–1865)

John Lindley FRS was an English botanist, gardener and orchidologist.

Walter Hood Fitch

Walter Hood Fitch was a botanical illustrator, born in Glasgow, Scotland, who executed some 10,000 drawings for various publications. His work in colour lithograph, including 2700 illustrations for Curtis's Botanical Magazine, produced up to 200 plates per year.

Athroostachys is a Brazilian genus of bamboo in the grass family.

Peridiscaceae Family of flowering plants in the order Saxifragales

Peridiscaceae is a family of flowering plants in the order Saxifragales. Four genera comprise this family: Medusandra, Soyauxia, Peridiscus, and Whittonia., with a total of 12 known species. It has a disjunct distribution, with Peridiscus occurring in Venezuela and northern Brazil, Whittonia in Guyana, Medusandra in Cameroon, and Soyauxia in tropical West Africa. Whittonia is possibly extinct, being known from only one specimen collected below Kaieteur Falls in Guyana. In 2006, archeologists attempted to rediscover it, however, it proved unsuccessful.

William Turner Thiselton-Dyer British botanist (1843–1928)

Sir William Turner Thiselton-Dyer was a leading British botanist, and the third director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Bentham & Hooker system System of plant classification by Bentham and Hooker

A taxonomic system, the Bentham & Hooker system for seed plants, was published in Bentham and Hooker's Genera plantarum ad exemplaria imprimis in herbariis kewensibus servata definita in three volumes between 1862 and 1883.

Robert Wight

Robert Wight MD FRS FLS was a Scottish surgeon in the East India Company, whose professional career was spent entirely in southern India, where his greatest achievements were in botany – as an economic botanist and leading taxonomist in south India. He contributed to the introduction of American cotton. As a taxonomist he described 110 new genera and 1267 new species of flowering plants. He employed Indian botanical artists to illustrate many plants collected by himself and Indian collectors he trained. Some of these illustrations were published by William Hooker in Britain, but from 1838 he published a series of illustrated works in Madras including the uncoloured, six-volume Icones Plantarum Indiae Orientalis (1838–53) and two hand-coloured, two-volume works, the Illustrations of Indian Botany (1838–50) and Spicilegium Neilgherrense (1845–51). By the time he retired from India in 1853 he had published 2464 illustrations of Indian plants. The standard author abbreviation Wight is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.

<i>Agonandra</i> Genus of flowering plants

Agonandra is a genus of plants in the family Opiliaceae described as a genus in 1862.

Nikolai Turczaninow Botanist (1796–1863)

Nikolai Stepanovich Turczaninow was a Russian botanist and plant collector who first identified several genera, and many species, of plants.

<i>Critica Botanica</i>

Critica Botanica was written by Swedish botanist, physician, zoologist and naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778). The book was published in Germany when Linnaeus was twenty-nine with a discursus by the botanist Johannes Browallius (1707–1755), bishop of Åbo. The first edition was published in July 1737 under the full title Critica botanica in qua nomina plantarum generica, specifica & variantia examini subjiciuntur, selectoria confirmantur, indigna rejiciuntur; simulque doctrina circa denominationem plantarum traditur. Seu Fundamentorum botanicorum pars IV Accedit Johannis Browallii De necessitate historiae naturalis discursus.

Coryciinae A subtribe of flowering plants belonging to the orchid family

Coryciinae is a subtribe of orchids that has been differently defined and placed in the two classification systems that are currently in use for orchids. Genera Orchidacearum, which is currently the definitive work on orchid taxonomy, delimits Coryciinae as consisting of five genera: Disperis, Evotella, Ceratandra, Pterygodium, and Corycium, and it places Coryciinae in the mostly African tribe Diseae, along with four other subtribes: Brownleeinae, Huttonaeinae, Disinae, and Satyriinae. The genera of Coryciinae are small to medium in size and the number of species in each genus is as follows: Disperis (78), Pterygodium (19), Corycium (15), Ceratandra (6), and Evotella (1).

Tulipeae Tribe of flowering plants

The TulipeaeDuby is a tribe of monocotyledon perennial, herbaceous mainly bulbous flowering plants in the Liliaceae (lily) family. As originally conceived by Duby (1828), "Tulipaceae" was a tribe within Liliaceae, consisting of the genera Tulipa, Fritillaria and Lilium.

Disinae A subtribe of flowering plants belonging to the orchid family

Disinae is a subtribe of orchids that has been differently defined and placed in the two classification systems that are currently in use for orchids. Genera Orchidacearum, which is currently the definitive work on orchid taxonomy, delimits Disinae as consisting of two closely related genera, Disa and Schizodium, and it places Disinae in the mostly African tribe Diseae, along with four other subtribes: Brownleeinae, Huttonaeinae, Coryciinae, and Satyriinae. In the classification for orchids that was published by Chase et alii in 2015, Schizodium was placed in synonymy under Disa, while Pachites and Huttonaea were transferred to Disinae. In Genera Orchidacearum, Pachites and Satyrium form the subtribe Satyriinae, and Huttonaea is the sole genus in the subtribe Huttonaeinae. The transfer of Pachites and Huttonaea to Disinae by Chase et alii (2015) was done with considerable doubt, and was based upon uncertainty about the relationships of these two genera. In 2009, a molecular phylogenetic study found only weak statistical support for a sister relationship between Huttonaea and Disa.

Richard Brinsley Hinds FRCS was a British naval surgeon, botanist and malacologist. He sailed on the 1835–42 voyage by HMS Sulphur to explore the Pacific Ocean, and edited the natural history reports of that expedition.

<i>Isopogon linearis</i> Species of shrub in the family Proteaceae endemic to the southwest of Western Australia

Isopogon linearis is a small shrub in the family Proteaceae that is endemic to the southwest of Western Australia.

<i>Calyptrion</i> Genus of flowering plants in Eudicot family Violaceae

Calyptrion is a genus of flowering plants in the violet family Violaceae, with four known species.



  1. Isely 2002, pp. 163–166.
  2. Anon 1999, p. 43.
  3. 1 2 Jean-Jacques Amigo, « Bentham (George) », in Nouveau Dictionnaire de biographies roussillonnaises, vol. 3 Sciences de la Vie et de la Terre, Perpignan, Publications de l'olivier, 2017, 915 p. ( ISBN   9782908866506)
  4. Harris, Barbara Jean; McNamara, Jo Ann (1984). Women and the structure of society: selected research from the Fifth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women. Duke University Press. p. 71. ISBN   9780822306030 . Retrieved 1 August 2018. For example, the career of George Bentham, writer on botany and president of the Linnean Society from 1861 to 1874, "seems to have been largely due to his mother," Lady Mary Bentham (c. 1765-1858), who had a herbarium and was said to have been a very good botanist.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Thiselton-Dyer 1911.
  6. Cribb, Phillip (2010). "The orchid collections and illustrations of Consul Friedrich C. Lehmann" (PDF). Lankesteriana. 10 (2–3). doi: 10.15517/lank.v10i2-3.18317 . ISSN   2215-2067.
  7. Burke, John; Burke, Sir Bernard (1906). A Genealogical and Heraldic History of The Landed Gentry of Great Britain. London.
  8. Green 1914, p. 498.
  9. Green 1914, p. 499.
  10. "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 27 December 2010.[ permanent dead link ]
  11. "George Bentham". Botanical Gazette. 10 (1): 211–213. 1885. doi: 10.1086/325816 . JSTOR   2994865.
  12. "Ch. B" (PDF). Book of Members, 1780–2010. American Academy of Arts and Sciences . Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  13. Bentham 1827.
  14. Bentham 1846.
  15. "Hinds, Richard Brinsley (1812?–1847)". Royal College of Surgeons . Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  16. Bentham & Hooker 1862–1883.
  17. IPNI.  Benth.


Further reading

Academic offices
Preceded by President of the Linnean Society
Succeeded by
Awards and achievements
Preceded by Clarke Medal
Succeeded by