|AdminHistory||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.
The Department of Botany was subsumed into the Department of Life Sciences (along with the Department of Entomology and the Department of Zoology) as part of the restructure of Science by the Director of Science in 2012. As part of the restructure, the position of Keeper no longer exits and the equivalent team is the Division of Algae, Fungi & Plants, and the collections manager is the Principal Curator in Charge. The collection sections remain largely the same, e.g. Algae, Cryptogamic Herbarium etc.
British Museum (Natural History), 1904. The history of the collections contained in the natural history departments of the British Museum. Volume 1.
Gunther, A E, 1980. The founders of science at the British Museum 1753-1900. The Halesworth Press.
Stearn, W T, 1981. The Natural History Museum at South Kensington. Heinemann. Chapter 16.
KEEPERS OF BOTANY
Robert Brown 1827-1858
John Joseph Bennett 1859-1870
William Carruthers 1871-1895
George Robert Milne Murray 1895-1905
Alfred Barton Rendle 1906-1930
John Ramsbottom 1930-1950
George Taylor 1950-1956
James Edgar Dandy 1956-1966
Robert Ross 1966-1977
John Francis Michael Cannon 1977-1990
Stephen John Blackmore 1990-2000
Richard Bateman 2000-2004
Johannes C Vogel 2004-2012
Philip Stephen Rainbow (Acting) 2012