Catalogue description Records of the Department of Botany

Details of Division within DF
Reference: Division within DF
Title: Records of the Department of Botany

Records of the Natural History Museum's Department of Botany including:

  • DF 400, Departmental correspondence
  • DF 401, Registers of departmental correspondence
  • DF 402, Departmental finance and accounts
  • DF 403, Reports to Trustees and other official documents
  • DF 404, Keeper's correspondence and papers
  • DF 405, Papers of the editors of the Journal of Botany
  • DF 406, Keeper's subject files
  • DF 407, Keeper's Staff Files and Official Diaries
  • DF 408, Annual Reports of Progress
  • DF 409, Exhibitions in the Botany Gallery
  • DF 410, Biographical index by Britten, Boulger and Rendle, papers
  • DF 411, The Island of Mull (1978), data sheets, papers and correspondence
  • DF 412, Departmental visitors' books
  • DF 413, Acquisition and loan records
  • DF 420, Correspondence and Papers of Antony Gepp
  • DF 421, Agal Section correspondence and papers
  • DF 422, Diatom Section correspondence and papers
  • DF 423, Lichen Section correspondence and papers
  • DF 424, Fern Section correspondence and papers
  • DF 425, Mycology Section correspondence and papers
  • DF 426, Cryptogamic Herbarium Visitors Books
  • DF 427, Cryptogamic Herbarium Accession Records
  • DF 440, General Herbarium Correspondence and Papers
  • DF 441, General Herbarium visitors books
  • DF 442, European Herbarium correspondence and papers
  • DF 443, European Herbarium visitors' books
  • DF 444, British Herbarium tract collection manuscripts
  • DF 445, British Herbarium, papers associated with plant collections
  • DF 460, Botany Library Accession Records
  • DF 461, Botany Librarian's correspondence

Date: 1827-1986
Held by: Natural History Museum Library and Archives, not available at The National Archives
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 30 series
Publication note:

‘The founders of science at the British Museum 1753-1900’, A E Gunther (The Halesworth Press, 1980). 'The history of the collections contained in the natural history departments of the British Museum' (British Museum (Natural History), 1904) Volume 1.

Administrative / biographical background:

The Department of Botany has its origins in the Department of Natural and Artificial Productions which was set up at the founding of the British Museum in 1756. In 1806 it was renamed the Department of Natural History and Modern Curiosities and was under the keepership of George Shaw (1751-1813) and later Charles Dietrich Eberhard Konig (1774-1851). The botanical collection at this period consisted almost entirely of the Sloane herbarium.

In 1827 the Museum acquired the herbarium of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), and with it, the services of Robert Brown (1773-1858), as 'Keeper of the Banksian Botanical Collection'. In 1835 the Sloane and Banksian collections were amalgamated to form a Botanical Branch of the Department of Natural History, and in 1856 the branch was given the status of a department, with Robert Brown as the first Keeper, and a staff of four.

Under succeeding keepers the collections held by the Department increased in size and scope, and by the time George Murray (1858-1911) retired in 1905 there was a staff of 13. A major reorganisation took place in the mid 1930s when the complement increased to 23, and the department was divided into six cryptogamic sections and five sections devoted to flowering plants, together with the library and the Keeper's Office. The Department was severely damaged during the war, and did not fully recover until the early 1960s.

Over the years the relationship of the Department with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has been scrutinised many times, on both financial and scientific grounds. Government enquiries were held in 1860, 1871, 1900 and 1960, and all recommended that the two institutions should remain independent, with the last leading to the 'Morton Agreement', which set out a division of accession and research activities.

By 1965 the Department was responsible for huge herbaria collections, and was active in research on the floras of tropical Africa, Europe, the West Indies and the Far East. The research was supported by the departmental library, which was rich in historic treasures as well as contemporary literature. The Department was also responsible, in conjunction with the exhibition staff, for displays in the botany gallery. Staff numbered 23, who between them saw to nearly 3,000 visitors, accessioned nearly 40,000 specimens, and published 30 or more papers each year.

Keepers of Botany:

  • Robert Brown, 1827-1858
  • John Joseph Bennett, 1801-1876
  • William Carruthers, 1871-1895
  • George Robert Milne Murray, 1858-1911
  • Alfred Barton Rendle, 1906-1930
  • John Ramsbottom, 1930-1950
  • George Taylor, 1950-1956
  • James Edgar Dandy, 1956-1966

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