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George Bentham

George Bentham CMG FRS (22 September 1800 10 2

September 1884) was an English botanist, characterised
by Duane Isely as the premier systematic botanist of the
nineteenth century.[1]

Views on evolution

Benthams life spanned the Darwinian revolution and,

moreover, his young colleague Joseph Dalton Hooker was
Darwin's closest friend and one of the rst to accept Darwins ideas. Bentham was until then an unquestioning adherent of the dogma of the constancy of species. In 1863
he had still not converted to the new ideas, but by 1874 he
was able to write: Fifteen years have suced to establish
a theory, of which the principal ponts, so far as they affect systematic botany... [continues in familiar Darwinian
manner, variation, dierential survival and heredity producing new varieties and species].[6]

Formative years

Bentham was born in Stoke, Plymouth, on 22 September

1800.[2] His father, Sir Samuel Bentham, a naval architect, was the only brother of Jeremy Bentham to survive
into adulthood. George Bentham had neither a school nor
a college education, but at an early age acquired the power
of giving sustained and concentrated attention to any subject that occupied him. He also 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 when little older. At the close
of the war with France, the Benthams made a long tour
through that country, staying two years at Montauban,
where Bentham studied Hebrew and mathematics in the
Protestant Theological School. They eventually settled in
the neighbourhood of Montpellier where Sir Samuel purchased a large estate.[3]

Benthams conversion to the new line of thought was remarkably complete, and included a change from 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.[7]

2.2 Publications

George Bentham became attracted to botanical studies

by applying to them his uncles logical methods, and not
by any special interest in natural history. While studying at Angoulme he came across a copy of A. P. de
Candolle's Flore franaise, and he became interested in
the analytical tables for identifying plants. He immediately proceeded to test their use on the rst plant he
saw. The result was successful and he continued to apply it to every plant he came across. A visit to London in
1823 brought him into contact with the brilliant circle of
English botanists. In 1826, at the pressing invitation of
his uncle, he agreed to act as his secretary, at the same
time entering Lincolns Inn and reading for the bar. He
was called in due time and in 1832 held his rst and last
brief.[3] However, his interest in botany never agged and
he was secretary of the Horticultural Society of London
from 1829 to 1840.[4] In 1832, Jeremy Bentham died,
leaving his property to his nephew. Having inherited his
fathers estate the previous year, he was now in a position
of modest independence, and able to pursue wholeheartedly his favourite studies. For a time these were divided
between botany, jurisprudence and logic, in addition to
editing his fathers professional papers. He married Sarah
Jones (17981881), daughter of Sir Harford Jones Brydges, on 11 April 1833.[5]

Benthams rst publication was his Catalogue des plantes

indignes des Pyrnes et du Bas Languedoc (Paris 1826),
the result of a careful exploration of the Pyrenees in company with G. A. Walker Arnott (17991868), afterwards
professor of botany in the University of Glasgow. It is
interesting to notice that in it Bentham adopted the principle from which he never deviated, of citing nothing at
second-hand. This was followed by articles on various legal subjects: on codication, in which he disagreed with
his uncle, on the laws aecting larceny and on the law
of real property. But the most remarkable production
of this period was the Outline of a new system of logic,
with a critical examination of Dr Whatelys Elements of
Logic (1827).[8] In this the principle of the quantication
of the predicate was rst explicitly stated. This Stanley
Jevons declared to be undoubtedly the most fruitful discovery made in abstract logical science since the time
of Aristotle. Before sixty copies had been sold the publisher became bankrupt and the stock went for wastepaper. The book passed into oblivion, and it was not till
1873 that Benthams claims to priority were nally vindicated against those of Sir William Hamilton by Herbert
In 1836 he published his Labiatarum genera et species. In

preparing this work he visited, between 18301834, ev- 4 Plants named

ery European herbarium, several more than once. The
following winter was passed in Vienna, where he pro4.1 Genera
duced his Commentationes de Leguminosarum generibus,
published in the annals of the Vienna Museum. In 1842
Benthamia A.Rich.
he moved to Pontrilas in Herefordshire. His chief occupation for the next few years was his contributions to the
Benthamiella Speg.
Prodromus Systematis Naturalis Regni Vegetabilis, which
was being carried on by his friend, A. P. de Candolle. In
all these dealt with some 4,730 species.[3]
4.2 Species
In 1854 he found the maintenance of a herbarium and
library too expensive. He therefore oered 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 scientic friends. In
1855 he took up his residence in London, and worked at
Kew for ve days a week, with a brief summer holiday,
from this time onwards till the end of his life.[3]
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 rst comprehensive work on any part of the little-known ora of China
and Hong Kong, including Hong Kong Croton. This
was followed by the Flora Australiensis, in seven volumes
(18631878), the rst ora of any large continental area
that had ever been nished. His greatest work was the
Genera Plantarum,[9] begun in 1862, and concluded in
1883 in collaboration with Joseph Dalton Hooker. His
most famous work, however, was the Handbook of the
British ora, begun in 1853 and rst 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 classication of
plants, especially angiosperms, along with Hooker, forming the "Bentham & Hooker system", which was published in three volumes as Genera Plantarum between
1862 to 1883.[3]


in his honour

Acanthocephalus benthamianus Regel

Andropogon benthamianus Steud.
Gardenia benthamianus F.Muell.
Croton benthamianus Mll.Arg.
Distemonanthus benthamianus Baill.
Nicotiana benthamiana Domin
Pinus ponderosa ssp. benthamiana Hartw.

5 References
[1] Isely, Duane (1994). One hundred and one botanists (1st
ed.). Ames: Iowa State Univ. Press. pp. 163166. ISBN
0813824982. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
[2] Oxford University Press. (1999). A Dictionary of Scientists. ISBN 0192800868
[3] Chishlm 1911.
[4] Lankester Botanical Garden (2010).
(PDF). Lankesteriana 10 (2/3): 183206, pages 183184.
Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 May 2014.
[5] A Genealogical and Heraldic History of The Landed Gentry of Great Britain, Burke, John Bernard, Sir., London,
[6] Green, J. Reynolds 1914. A history of botany in the United
Kingdom from the earliest times to the end of the 19th century. Dent, London. p498
[7] Reynolds Green, op cit, p499.

Honours and awards

Bentham was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1859 and elected a Fellow in 1862.[10] He served
as president of the Linnean Society of London from 1861
to 1874.[11] He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in

[8] George Bentham, Outline of a new system of logic: with a

critical examination of Dr. Whatelys Elements of Logic
(1827); Thoemmes; Facsimile edition (1990) ISBN 185506-029-9
[9] G. Bentham and J.D. Hooker, Genera plantarum :ad
exemplaria imprimis in Herberiis Kewensibus servata
denita, London, (3 volumes, 18621883). On line.
[10] Library and Archive Catalogue. Royal Society. Re-

He was appointed CMG (Companion of St Michael & St

trieved 27 December 2010.
George) in 1878. His foreign awards included the Clarke
Medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1879. [11] George Bentham. Botanical Gazette. JSTOR 2994865.

[12] Book of Members, 17802010: Chapter B (PDF).

American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15
June 2011.
[13] Author Query for 'Benth.'". International Plant Names

This article incorporates text from a publication now
in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911).
"Bentham, George". Encyclopdia Britannica 3
(11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Marion Filipuik ed 1997. George Bentham, autobiography 18001843. University of Toronto Press.
ISBN 0-8020-0791-0
J. Reynolds Green 1914. A history of botany in the
United Kingdom from the earliest times to the end of
the 19th century. Dent, London.
Duane Isely 1994. One hundred and one botanists
Iowa State University Press p163-6.
B. Daydon Jackson 1906. George Bentham.
Bettany, George Thomas (1885).
George". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National
Biography 4. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

External links
Bentham, George at Botanicus Missouri Botanical
Garden Library
Bentham, George (18391857). Plantas Hartwegianas.
Googlebooks volume Genera plantarum

See also
Benthams taxonomic arrangement of Adenanthos
Benthams taxonomic arrangement of Banksia


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