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People & Organisations

Stainton, J.D.A.

  • STA
  • Person
  • 1921-1991

Born London 1921; died 1991
J D A (Adam) Stainton was educated at Winchester College and Oxford University where he read history. He joined the Scots Guards in 1940, serving in North Africa, Italy and Northern Europe. After the war he returned to Oxford, completing his degree in 1948. He then worked as a barrister until 1952, but with family wealth abandoned this career to become a plant collector. Having consulted the British Museum (Natural History) on botanical travel he joined, totally at his own expense, Museum expeditions to Nepal in 1954 1956. He went on further collecting trips to Chitral, Greece, Turkey and North Borneo between 1958 and 1961; and from 1962 to 1972 to the Himalayas. Self taught in botany and ecology, Stainton was the author of ‘Forests of Nepal’ (1972) and the photographically illustrated field guides ‘Flowers of the Himalayas’ (with Oleg Polunin 1984) and Supplement (1988). Stainton identified Meconopsis autumnalis, the Nepalese Autumn Poppy and 36 species, mainly from Nepal, bear his name.
Source: WT Stearn ‘Taxon’ International Association for Plant Taxonomy

Smith, Sir William Wright

  • GB/NNAF/P147009
  • Person
  • 1875-1956

Born Dumfriesshire 1875; died Edinburgh 1956
William Wright Smith graduated MA from Edinburgh University in 1896 and, with a teaching diploma from Moray House, taught in Edinburgh schools for 6 years while developing an interest in natural sciences. He lectured at Edinburgh University in advanced botany between 1902 and 1907 before being appointed keeper of the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta in 1907. The following year he became acting superintendent with responsibilities including the Botanic Garden in Darjeeling and the quinine factory at Mungpoo. Smith spent 4 years in India, officiating as Director of the Botanical Survey of India, plant collecting in the remoter regions of the Himalayas up to 14,000 ft. and gaining a wide knowledge of the flora of India, the Himalayas and Burma. In 1911 Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour appointed him Deputy Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, a post he held until Bayley’s retirement in 1922 when he succeeded to the dual post of Regius Keeper of the Garden and Regius Professor of Botany at the University. During the Second World War Wright Smith’s work for the timber supply department stimulated his interest in forestry and through his links with the newly formed Forestry Commission he was responsible for establishing the first specialist garden of the Royal Botanic Garden at Benmore on the Cowal Peninsula, a site suitable for rhododendrons and conifers. Wright Smith also made considerable contributions to taxonomy specialising in Sino-Himalayan plants, particularly Primula and Rhododendron. Known for his ‘homely’, humorous and kindly disposition, Wright Smith received many honours during his long career. On the occasion of his 70th birthday he was presented with two portraits, one by Stanley Cursiter RSA. He was knighted in 1932 and held the post of Keeper for 34 years until his death in 1956.
Sources: R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists); HR Fletcher and WH Brown ‘The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 1670-1970’; Deni Bown, ‘4 Gardens in One’; press cuttings

Smith, Sir James Edward

  • SJE
  • Person
  • 1759-1828

English Botanist and founder of the Linnean Society

Sinclair, James (1913-1968)

  • GB/NNAF/P148690
  • Person
  • 1913-1968

born at Bu of Hoy, Orkney on 29th November 1913, and died at Kirkwall, Orkney, 15th February 1968, James Sinclair obtained a BSc at Edinburgh University in 1936, became a teacher on Orkney where he also studied algae. He worked as a botanist at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh between 1946 and 1948, moving to become Curator of the Herbarium of the Botanic Gardens in Singapore between 1948 and 1963. He collected plants in Malaya, Borneo, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Sibbald, Sir Robert

  • SIB
  • Person
  • 1641-1722

Born Edinburgh 1641; died Edinburgh 1722
Robert Sibbald was educated in Cupar, at Edinburgh High School, and at the university there when he was awarded an MA in 1659. From 1660 to 1661 he studied anatomy and surgery and botany and chemistry at Leiden before moving to Paris and then Angers where he graduated MD in 1661. Returning to Edinburgh to practise as a doctor he was appalled at the state of medicine in the city and initially established a private garden to cultivate medicinal herbs. In 1670, with his friend and distant cousin Andrew Balfour, he leased a small plot belonging to Holyroodhouse at St. Anne’s Yards to assemble a collection of between 800 and 900 plants. This, together with a second (physic) garden at the Trinity Hospital acquired 6 years later, became a major site for plants of use in material medica and a teaching resource for medical students. Sibbald was a joint founder of a medical virtuoso club which in 1681 became the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. He was knighted in 1682, appointed physician in ordinary to Charles II and made geographer royal for Scotland. In 1684 he produced a ‘Pharmacopeia Edinburgensis’ and the following year he became the first professor of medicine at Edinburgh University. However hostility to his conversion to Catholicism (which he later renounced) meant he had to flee temporarily to London. On his return to Edinburgh he developed a deepening interest in natural history, geography and antiquarianism and from 1682 became involved in compiling information from a range of sources on the geography and natural history of Scotland, resulting in the publication of ‘Scotia Illustrata’ in 1684, with a second edition in 1696. Drawing on his various interests, Sibbald contributed to early Enlightenment discourses on the economic potential of the nation. As a physician he explored the efficacy of botanical cures by extracted from Scottish plant life and his botanical work was admired by Linnaeus who named the genus Sibbaldia in his honour.
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography; HR Fletcher and WH Brown ‘The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 1670-1970’; Deni Bown, ‘4 Gardens in One’; (R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists).

Sherriff, George

  • GB/NNAF/P137301
  • Person
  • 1898-1967

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’.

Sherriff, Betty

  • Person
  • ?-1979

Betty Sherriff nee Graham was born at the turn of the century in British India in the Himalayan foothills. She was the youngest daughter of a Scottish vicar and missionary. Dr. Joh nAnderson Graham, who had founded the St. Andrew's Colonial Homes (now the Kalimpong Homes) on behalf of needy Indian children. She had previously been married and had a degree in Botany from Oxford.

Sources: Lost in Tibet: The Untold Story of Five American Airmen, a Doomed Plane, and the Will to Survive by Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt

Primula by John Richards

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