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George Sherriff attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and fought in the First World War in France in 1918, where he was gassed. In 1919 he was sent to India and served on the north-west frontier. In 1927 he was appointed British vice-consul in Kashgar, Chinese Turkestan and while there travelled widely. In 1929 he met Frank Ludlow and their shared interests in ornithology, travel and plants started a lifelong friendship. During the 1930s they went on a series of plant and bird collecting expeditions working eastward along the main Himalayan ranges. In 1933, for example, they travelled to Tibet, Nang-kartse, Gyantse and back to India making 500 gatherings of plants and seeds; their collections included 69 species of rhododendron, 15 new to science. Sherriff resumed his military service during the Second World War, first in Assam and later in Sikkim and in 1943 he succeeded Frank Ludlow in charge of British Mission in Lhasa. After the war he continued collecting in south east Tibet, again with Ludlow. In 1949 both retired from India and went a final expedition to Bhutan to gather alpine and temperate flora. George Sherriff funded virtually all his expeditions himself and, as well as collecting, took thousands of photographs. He was one of first plant collectors to send specimens in crates back by air to Kew, Edinburgh and Wisley and his best plant introductions were rhododendrons, primulas, and peonies. On retirement Sherriff bought an estate near Kirriemuir in Angus where he grew many Himalayan plants with great success. In his later years he served in the Home Guard, on the county council and as session clerk of his local church.
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography; R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists; obituary folder; H.R. Fletcher ‘A Quest for Flowers’.
- GB/NNAF/P276148; VIAF ID: 20473671 (Personal); ISNI: 0000 0001 0877 3903
Born Manchester 1885, died London 1958
Frank Kingdon-Ward took part one of the natural sciences tripos at Cambridge but was forced to leave university after 2 years when the death of his father left the family impoverished. After teaching in Shanghai, in 1909 he joined an American zoological expedition up the Yangtze to the borders of Tibet which gave him a lifelong passion for exploration. Through a family contact he became a professional plant collector for AK Bulley of Bee’s Nursery (replacing George Forrest), setting off to south west China for a year long expedition in 1911. A second commission saw him returning to the Himalayas in 1913-14 before moving west into Burma, Assam and Tibet. After serving in the army in the First World War he returned to collecting with a successful fifth expedition in the upper section of the Brahmaputra in 1924-25 where he collected 97 different rhododendrons as well as the elusive blue poppy <i>Meconopsis betonicifolia</i> which became one of the most prized garden plants. As a botanist Kingdon-Ward had an excellent knowledge of several plant groups including primulas, lilies and gentians as well as rhododendrons and poppies and also published on plant geography. A plantsman and horticultural ‘connoisseur’ with a flair for collecting good flower forms, he was a keen observer of scenery and an excellent photographer. His main reputation however was as an explorer and one of the last great plant collectors (he went on 25 expeditions in total, latterly with his second wife) with the temperament and resilience to work, usually alone, in challenging and largely uncharted country.
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography; Gardeners Chronicle 1958; obituary folder; (R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists).
Born 1863; died 1943
Alex Cowan was the grandson of Alexander Cowan, a papermaker and local benefactor of Valleyfield House, Penicuik, Midlothian. Educated at Loretto School and Cambridge University he developed a love of the flowers and ferns which grew in the gardens of Valleyfield House and his home, Dalhousie Castle as well as the family’s country seat at Logan. He acquired plants while travelling in Europe and established an important fern collection. Cowan was made a fellow of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh in 1900 and was later its President from 1937 to 1939. He was secretary of the Alpine Botanical Club between 1903 and 1924 and, reflecting his knowledge of and interest in ferns, was President of the British Pteridological Society from 1909 to 1920. In his later years he developed an interest in breeding sheep in his farms in the Pentland Hills. Following the family tradition of public service he was Provost of Penicuik Town Council for nine years and served on Midlothian County Council for forty.
Sources: R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists’; Transactions of Botanical Society of Edinburgh obituary 1943
RBGE Foreman. Anna Pavord's obituary for Bill Mackenzie from The Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-bill-mackenzie-1578479.html
Economic Botanist: Particular interests in India Rubber and Gutta Percha
Curator Royal Pharmaceutical Society Library and Museum, London 1868-1872
Curator Raffles Library and Museum, Singapore 1874-1877
Fellow of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh