George Bentham

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George Bentham
Born(1800-09-22)22 September 1800
Died10 September 1884(1884-09-10) (aged 83)
London, England
SpouseSarah Jones
AwardsRoyal Medal of the Royal Society in 1859
Clarke Medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1879
Scientific career
InstitutionsRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Author abbrev. (botany)Benth.

George Bentham

classification of plants in collaboration with Joseph Dalton Hooker
, his Genera Plantarum (1862–1883). He died in London in 1884.


Bentham was born in

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

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.[7]

Bentham married Sarah Jones (1798–1881), daughter of

Sir Harford Jones Brydges, on 11 April 1833; they did not have children.[8]

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

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."[10]

Honours and awards

Bentham was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1859 and elected a Fellow in 1862.[11] He served as president of the Linnean Society of London from 1861 to 1874.[12] He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1866.[13] 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

William Hamilton by Herbert Spencer.[15]

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

A. P. de Candolle. In all these dealt with some 4,730 species.[15]

In 1844, he provided the botanical descriptions for The Botany of the Voyage of H.M.S. Sulphur.

Pacific coast of the Americas.[17]

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 until the end of his life.[15]

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.[18][15] 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.

Selected publications


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

The following plants have been named in his honour:



See also




Further reading

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by President of the
Linnean Society

Succeeded by
George James Allman
Awards and achievements
Preceded by Clarke Medal
Succeeded by
Thomas Huxley