Thomas Edmonston.

Edmonston's flora of Shetland : comprehending a list of the prevalent wild-flowers, horse-tails, club-mosses and ferns of the Shetland Isles online

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Online LibraryThomas EdmonstonEdmonston's flora of Shetland : comprehending a list of the prevalent wild-flowers, horse-tails, club-mosses and ferns of the Shetland Isles → online text (page 1 of 4)
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Professor of Botany in the Andersonian University of Glasgow ^
Naturalist on H.M.S. " Herald" 1845

36Mnbur0b anfc Xonfcon








M. E. SAXBY . . . .11


Dicotyledons . . . .49

Monocotyledons . . . .85

Gymnospermae . . . .96

Cryptogamia ... 97




As the first edition of this " Flora" stood, it
was almost valueless from many points of
view. The general arrangement was obsolete,
the nomenclature was in many cases different
from modern terms owing to change of
opinion concerning species and variety.
There were several inaccuracies of detail,
natural to the age of the young author, and
attributable also to the state of botanical
knowledge in his day.

The chief value of the work lay in the
fact that it was the first attempt to syste-
matically study the Flora of the islands ; and,
while one cannot deny the fact that errors
of identification and judgment crept into
the pages, we cannot but admire the energy
and enthusiasm which prompted a mere lad
to undertake such a tremendous task.

Strange to say, although botanists galore
have within recent years made annual visits
to Shetland, and much valuable information

Editorial Preface

has been given by them in botanical journals,
no systematic study seems to have been
made from month to month by any resident
or visitor, and no handbook has been pub-
lished as in the case of almost every other
Scottish county.

It is therefore necessary that attention
should be directed to the fact that Edmond-
ston's "Flora" published in 1845, and the
present edition fifty-eight years later, are
the only attempts of the kind in existence,
as far as the editor can ascertain.

Owing to the writer's unfamiliarity with
several of the islands, the confirmation of
much of Edmondston's notes has been re-
ferred to the notes of others published in
the aforementioned scientific journals.

This work has been greatly assisted by
advice from Dr I. B. Balfour, F.R.S., etc.,
Edinburgh, G. S. Boulger, F.L.S., F.G.S., Pro-
fessor in City of London College, Bryant
Sowerby, F.R.S., and W. H. Beeby, F.L.S.

While gratefully acknowledging the letters
of advice sent by each of these gentlemen,
special thanks are due to Mr Beeby, who not
only advised, but also lent a set of his pub-
lished notes for comparison.

Editorial Preface 9

Mr Beeby has done much to make known
the Flora of Shetland, and his notes include
many plants that were neither included in
Edmondston's list nor observed by the writer,
whose visits to the islands were unfortunately
not at the best season for botanical research.

Where it has been possible, without incor-
porating too much of the eminent botanist's
original matter, the most important of these
additions have been included in the present
list, followed by his name : and there they
may perhaps be allowed to remain until super-
seded by the work on the same subject which
we hope his more experienced pen will soon
give to the world. One or two little ad-
ditions have also been made to the catalogue
by the editor, but he wishes it to be under-
stood that, as far as it has been possible,
the "Flora" has been left in its original form,
with the exception of the introduction. He
exercised the editorial right only to confirm
by authorities, augment and translate; but
where an individual opinion is expressed,
it has been given so as to leave no doubt
as to the author.

It only remains to add that the bio-
graphical sketch is compiled from a " Life

i o Editorial Preface

of Thomas Edmondston " published many
years ago, the work of his mother. His
sister, Mrs Saxby, undertook this part of
the work, hoping that it may add a little
value to the young botanist's " Flora."


ALMOST all to whom the author of this
little " Flora " was personally known have
passed into the Silent Land. The home of
his birth has gone through a rapid and
startling progress, and is no longer removed
from all that goes to make up modern

When Thomas Edmondston was born (2Oth
September 1825) the Shetland Isles was a
terra incognita almost. Since then it has
become one of the principal fishing depots
of Britain. Scientists have exploited the
isles, literati have advertised them, commerce
has enriched them, and the touring fraternity
have robbed Shetland life of much that
gave it charm.

The interest which now attaches to our
young botanist, and his remote homeland,
is not so much a personal interest as that
which is always created by the story of a
genius making its own way and setting its

1 2 Biographical Sketch

mark on time in spite of countless difficulties ;
then being extinguished in its dawn. The
subject of this brief sketch was nursed on
science and literature. His father was Dr
Laurence Edmondston, a well-known natural-
ist ; his mother was one of the group of
writers which the brothers Chambers gathered
together and introduced to the world through
their enterprising Journal. His home was
visited betimes by men of note, so that the
boy was early brought into touch with great

He was a delicate-looking, sweet-tempered
child and lad. His natural simplicity of
character, combined with quick aptitude and
shrewd reflection, also added to the singular
charm of his appearance.

When fifteen years of age he paid his first
visit to the mainland of Scotland with his
mother, who tells us that ladies of "polished
Dublin and aristocratic Edinburgh " expected
to meet a shy, countrified boy, and were
" agreeably surprised by the intelligence and
grace he displayed." Not shy but modest,
not forward but frank and at his ease.

On that occasion he made the personal
acquaintance of many scientists with whom


Biographical Sketch 1 3

he had Keen in correspondence for years
such as Sir Wm. Hooker, Professors Graham,
Hutton Balfour, and others. His youth and
magnetic personality evidently attracted those
men in a remarkable degree.

When his " Flora " was issued it had a
dedication to Professor or Dr J. Hutton
Balfour, who had become Edmondston's fast

Sir Wm. Hooker also seems to have taken
to the lad with exceptional warmth of per-
sonal attachment. We cherish books sent to
our brother and bearing Sir Wm. Hooker's

He found another valued and congenial
friend in Professor Babington, of whom he
wrote some years later : " I am particularly
engaged just now with the Botanical Society.
Babington is here, and working with us at
the foreign plants, so we must make the most
of our time while such a Shining Light coun-
tenances us."

Unlike ordinary Shetlanders, our young
botanist thought his "naked and primitive
isles " could be improved by greenery, and
his first sight of trees with shrubberies of
lilac and laburnum in full bloom gave him

1 4 Biographical Sketch

exquisite delight. The streets, the traffic, the
magnificent buildings of Modern Athens were
entirely novel, of course ; and yet not these,
nor the stately Castle, nor the noble hills
were in his thoughts so much as the woods.

" Oh, just to get to the plants on Arthur
Seat," he said.

In writing to his father at that time he said :
" The chief thing I have to tell you is that I
am acknowledged the discoverer of the Are-
naria norvegica " (as a British plant, I sup-
pose he means) " and Lathyrus maritimus. I
drank tea last night with Dr Graham, and
took some of my specimens with me. Dr
Hooker has published a new edition of his
' Flora/ and therein mentions these two plants
as found by me."

This was a fine feather in the cap of our
fifteen-year-old laddie, and remains to his
credit, although up-to-date botanists affirm
that his A. norvegica is only a variety of
another plant.

His father's friend, Professor MacGillivray,
was specially interested in the boy, who
writes : " I have been very busy all this day. I
dined at MacGillivray's yesterday. He showed
me all his most beautiful collections, and

Biographical Sketch 1 5

gave me the new volume of his work (* British
Birds ') for you. You will see yourself quoted
all through in the preface he calls you his
old and dear friend, and speaks of how you
came to him with sympathy and relief, etc.
I go again to-night to my kind friend, Dr
Balfour. I was at Roslin on Saturday botanis-
ing with Balfour and his class."

It will be noticed that the young enthusiast
speaks of the great men, when writing of
their scientific personalities, as " Balfour/'
" Hooker," etc., with the keen literary instinct
which makes one feel that titles Sir, Dr,
Mr are wholly out of place in connection
with such names. When he speaks of them
as personal friends, he falls into the usual
parlance of society.

In a wood near Glasgow Tom found grow-
ing the Linnsea borealis, and being a devout
worshipper of Carl von Linne, took for his
cognisance the flower which bears his name.

When a mere baby-boy his love of flowers
earned for him the pet-name of " Linne the

He wrote to his father continually of science
and scientists. Society and the world were
nothing in comparison.

1 6 Biographical Sketch

Here is a little criticism which shows that
patronage was not closing his eyes. " I saw
Professor Jameson yesterday. He told the
porter of the Museum that I was to be ad-
mitted whenever I chose. It would take a
lifetime to master its contents. The professor
invited me to his closing lecture. He is a
rather dry lecturer, and hesitates a good deal,
but is clear and most instructive neverthe-

" I have been engaged for two days on
Donovan's ' British Shells,' in copying the
figures. It is a capital work, and I am
studying it very hard ; also other works on
various subjects, especially Mathematics, and
different branches of Natural History, but
Botany continues, and I think will to the end
of the chapter, to be my favourite."

Yet in the middle of all his " learned talk "
regarding great men and their works, we find
a very boyish letter to the brother who was
his chum and loyal admirer.

" Are you attending to our garden ? I
shall send a hoe by first opportunity, but do
not let it run over with weeds. What is poor
Ninsey" (the dog) " doing ? and our foals, and
Charlie and Bernard, and all the rest of the

Biographical Sketch 1 7

animal Creation that inhabit our domain ? I
think I told you I had got some capital
arrows. We shall have some fine shooting.
I have also got some slate pencils of a capital
sort, also a good stock of black lead ones,
and pens, and a knife for you. There are
some beautiful botanising places in this
neighbourhood, and lovely woods in which
you might wander for a twelvemonth without
getting out ; and winding rivers where you
might fish for trout and salmon for twenty
years, and not empty the place. That's a
paradise, is it not ? Endless woods and rivers
the one for botany, the other for ichthyology
which is the science for knowing, dis-
criminating, catching, cooking and eating
fish, from two Greek words signifying ' fish '
and a 'discourse.' Never fear my having a
long coat when I come home. Spare your
sneers on that point. I sport cap and jacket
as in Shetland."

Here is a shrewd bit of writing, considering
the age and experience of the writer.

"Mr Lawson is more of a theoretical
agriculturist than a practical one, but his
foreman, and his head-botanist (a German
named Kellerman) are both excellent agricul-

1 8 Biographical Sketch

turists and botanists. Mr M'Nab gave me
a number of specimens, and much informa-
tion about trees and plants. He is also, I
think, rather a hothouse and evergreen man.
What I should like would be a conversation
with a regular thorough-bred forester. All
those I have happened to fall in with are
gardeners, florists, horticulturists or nursery-
men, agriculturists, botanists, all distinct
species (I would almost say genera), being
truly and specifically distinct from your
regular practical forester. But I have done
all I could, and I have got as much instruc-
tion as possible, on every available point. I
do hope it will be productive of some bene-
ficial results on our little experiment with
the trees at Halligarth."

Although his " Flora " was arranged upon
the Linnaean system, he had evidently thought
much on the subject, and in his correspond-
ence with Professor Babington he says :

"Are you an advocate for the Jussieuan
(or natural) system ? I have been a profound
admirer of the simple and beautiful classifica-
tion of the " immortal Swede," and I cannot
but think that, with a little modification, the
Linnaean would be the more preferable of

JBiog raphical Sketch 1 9

the two r for instance, the distribution of
Moncecia, Dicecia, and Polygamia among the
other classes. But perhaps De Candolle's
natural system is better than Hooker's. I
really do think that nothing can be more
unnatural than some of the natural groups. In
the very first order, Ranunculaceae, this strikes
one very forcibly. What earthly affinity has
Thalictrum with Caltha, or Aconitum ? "

Then later he remarks : " I have some idea
of improving the artificial system by en-
grafting on that of Linnaeus the artificial
(not the natural) system of Jussieu, which
would form sub-divisions to the Linnaean
classes, the unwieldy bulk of which is their
practical difficulty."

Acting upon the advice of Sir Wm.
Hooker, Edmondston went to Edinburgh
to attend the University during the winter
session of 1841-42. His wonderful memory
made education easy for him. He scarcely
required to take notes of the lectures. His
mother said, " nothing coming before him,
however casually, was overlooked or for-
gotten. He possessed, as many earnest
students do, a great power of abstraction.
Completely absorbed in a book, while many

2O Biographical Sketch

voices might be talking around him, he
would at a moment turn to some absurd
fun, and as quickly again to the most
abstruse study." Although entering with
zest into many branches of natural science
he yet said, " botany before all." " I am
continuing the same round of occupation
classes during the day, and studying for
them at night, occasionally relieved by a
little botany, or BlackwoocTs Magazine, or
' Charles o' Malley."

Botany was no study, but a favourite

In 1841 he was appointed Assistant Secre-
tary to the Edinburgh Botanical Society, of
which he says: "You consider it a sort of
Pickwick Club but I assure you it will be a
considerable feather in my cap. I read a
paper on the night of my election on the
Botany of Shetland which was well received,
so that I could hardly get on sometimes for
the cheering."

He was then sixteen years of age.

The active, all-absorbing intellect could
often leave its chief loves to glance with
keen observation at politics, and some of his
remarks were clever and humorous.

Biographical Sketch 2 1

That r year his northern home was over-
shadowed by deep sorrow. A beautiful little
sister he dearly loved lost her life through a
terrible accident. She was only seven years
of age, but seems to have been Tom's
feminine copy. Her pinafore was always
gathered up to hold a multitude of insects,
shells and flowers, which had to be identified
by her father before being carefully put away.
She could read and write well, as her letters
in existence show, and the busy little fingers
had knitted for the idolised father more than
one pair of socks. She had her brother's
sweet temper also.

Shortly after her death a baby sister was
also taken, and the double loss so saddened
the young student that his yearning for home
overcame all other considerations.

In April, we read, he took them all by
surprise by dropping out of a fishing sloop
upon the shore at Baltasound, where his un-
expected arrival brought gladness into gloom.
He remained about a fortnight, and then re-
turned to Edinburgh in his usual buoyant
spirits, rejoicing in his holiday and his sea
voyage, and eager to " start at the work of
his life."

2 2 Biographical Sketch

In 1843 he began a course of Lectures on
Botany in the little insular town of Lerwick.
When laying his scheme before his father's
friend, Principal Barclay (then parish minister
of Lerwick), he said : " I should much wish
that my feeble voice was first heard in my
native islands."

The lectures and botanical excursions were
most popular, and he said, " this lecturing
business gets me into the habit of regular
systematic working." He was always alive
to his own deficiencies (a certain want of
methodical order being one) and anxious to
correct the defect.

In 1844 we find him giving a series of
lectures on botany at Elgin and at Forres.
I give here a few extracts from papers of the

Elgin Courant. " Mr Edmondston delivered
his introductory lecture on Botany in the
Museum here to a highly select audience.
He explained in a clear and perspicuous
manner, and with much ease and energy of
delivery, and also great eloquence of lan-
guage first, the direct utility of a scientific
knowledge of plants as conducive to the
welfare of man ; and secondly, recommended

Biographical Sketch 2 3

its prosecution as an agreeable and elegant

Forres Gazette. " L'ectures on Botany. Mr
Edmondston, a talented young gentleman
from the north, has been enlightening the
lieges here upon this delightful science. His
abilities as a lecturer are of a very superior
order. He has the most perfect acquaintance
with his subjects, and he communicates his
knowledge in the most plain, pointed and
practical manner possible, and chiefly extem-

It should be borne in mind that scientists
were not such " common cattle " in that time
as they are now, and it was a rare thing to
see one so young lecturing as this juvenile
Shetlander did.

On leaving Morayshire Tom went to dream
among the Highland mountains, carrying a
note-book which he filled with lists of plants
he found, and pen-and-ink sketches. On the
fly-leaf he had written, " O ! Dei sapientia in
rebus naturalibus." And in Greek, beneath
his name, he inscribed some words meaning
" Plants are my passion."

When at home once more his parents saw
that he was so embued with the ambition to

24 Biographical Sketch

become an eminent naturalist, and so con-
fident that therein lay his strength, that they
agreed to his wish that he should devote
himself to the study of Natural Science,
giving up the medical education he had

His scientific friends seem to have warmly
seconded this, and given Tom every assistance
and counsel.

He went to Aberdeen, and under the
paternal surveillance of Professor MacGillivray
he made rapid progress as an all-round

In January 1845 ne was chosen Professor
of Botany in the Andersonian University of

Exultantly he writes to his mother and
says, " Tell baby, for her peculiar satisfaction,
that she has the distinguished honour of being
sister to a learned Professor."

One of the Glasgow papers commenting on
the appointment, gave the following descrip-
tion of his personality at this time :

" He was slightly,butsymmetrically formed,
his height scarcely attaining to middle size.
Yet the shapely head, with its close brown
curls, the high intellectual brow, and the

Biographical Sketch 2 5

quick beaming eye, added to the lines which
study had imprinted on his noble countenance,
gave him the look of being older than he was
only twenty. His carnage and manners
were refined and gentlemanly, but although
he dressed well and in good taste the sombre
colours and loose fit announced the student
rather than the young man of Society."

But before he could begin his work a letter
from his friend, Professor Edward Forbes,
changed everything.

Forbes wrote : " An expedition is going
out to the Pacific and California. It sails in
a fortnight. This morning I have been sent
for to the Admiralty to say whether I could
recommend a naturalist at a moment's notice,
as Prince Albert had desired that a naturalist
should be appointed to accompany the ex-
pedition. Now it seems to me that this
would be an admirable opportunity for you,
both to pursue your scientific aims, and to
lay the basis of a distinguished reputation.
There will be no time to get any replies to
any letters of yours to Shetland, but I feel
sure your father would desire no better pros-
pect for you. Write at once, as everything
depends upon promptitude."

26 Biographical Sketch

Of course the young enthusiast accepted
such an unlooked-for and promising ap-
pointment, though in writing home he said :
" One thing only clouds the prospect.
You may easily guess how distressed I will
be to leave the country without seeing you
all. Yet I trust in the mercy of God we
may meet again. Although I write to accept,
there would likely be time for a letter to
reach me in London ; and if you wish to veto
the proceedings (which, however, I cannot
contemplate), there will be time."

A portion of his father's reply may be
given here :

" One point in your letter I fervently thank
God for. It breathes affectionate confidence
and docility. It is when you leave the veto
with us who have your honour and interest
so deeply at heart.

" We do not baulk your laudable zeal and

"Now you will find the good of Mac
Gillivray's course, mapping out to you the
boundaries and localities of Natural History.
Your previous studies in Natural Philosophy,
Medicine and Anatomy will also tell ; and
your education in Shetland, itself a kind of

Biographical Sketch 2 7

barbarous colony, all whets and matures
your own powers of observation.

" You will become what I so early * vatici-
nated,' Linne the Little, if God spares you,
and you act according to the laws of prudence
and religion. I fear the climate of the warm
parts of the Pacific, especially in surveying
lagoons and inlets. May God preserve you ;
use the means of safety, leave the result to
His Providence. My dearest son, in one sense
this is a joyous epoch for you, in another it is
solemn but God will ever be with you. Even
to the natural eye the moral nature (that is
the will and the motives) is superior to the
intellect, which is only one of its servants.

" If you should never again hear from your
father " (he never did), " take this as his last
earnest counsel, to view as the substantial
paramount business of your life to prepare
for a glorious future in the world to come.
Again, my dearest Thomas, farewell."

In those days so much of the world was a
" dread unknown " and communication was
so very uncertain, that we must not wonder
at the serious way in which young Edmond-
ston's family took the thought of his going
so far, on a vague voyage of discovery.

28 Biographical Sketch

The youth himself was full of confidence
and hope. He wrote : " All the Naturalists
here are on tiptop expectation regarding
the good things I am to bring home. The
British Museum folks are half mad about it,
as scarcely anything is known from the west
coasts. There will certainly be a splendid
coast to be examined, if God grant me life
and health for that purpose.

" I was at the Geological Society, Somerset
House, last night. Buckland, Sir Henry de
la Beche, Phillips, Sedgewick, Mansell, Lyell,
and last, not least, old Von Buch looking as
green and fresh as a daisy. I was introduced
to all these, as besides to the Marquis of
Northampton, the Bishop of Norwich, etc.,

Some of Tom's last words home are so
touching and so manly, one feels impelled to
quote from them.

" My heart is very full and I can say but
little, but God ever bless you, dearest Mamma;
think of and pray for your devotedly affec-

1 3 4

Online LibraryThomas EdmonstonEdmonston's flora of Shetland : comprehending a list of the prevalent wild-flowers, horse-tails, club-mosses and ferns of the Shetland Isles → online text (page 1 of 4)