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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Griffith, William (1810-1845)


Reference code(s): GB 0068 WGR

Held at: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Title: Griffith, William (1810-1845)

Date(s): c.1830-1845

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 21 volumes, Private papers, Manuscript papers and illustrations

Name of creator(s): Griffith | William | 1810-1845 | botanist


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Griffith was born in Ham Common, near Petersham, Surrey, on 4 March 1810. He was apprenticed to a surgeon in the West End of London, and completed his medical studies at University College, London, where he attended classes in botany by J Lindley. He continued his studies in anatomy under Charles Mirbel in Paris and in medical botany at the Chelsea Physic Garden. In 1832 he was appointed as an assistant surgeon with the East India Company and left for Madras.

Griffith was first based on the coast of Tenasserim, but in 1835 he was transferred to the Bengal presidency and served as botanist in an expedition exploring Assam. Between 1835 and 1841, he made many adventurous and dangerous journeys across the Company's territories and collected many specimens. He explored the Indian territory from Sadiya to Ava, then from Assam to Ava and Rangoon. In 1837 he was appointed surgeon to the embassy to Bhutan. In 1839 he was in Quetta, attached to the army of the Indus and penetrated into the eastern part of Afghanistan.

Griffith was appointed to Malacca as civil assistant surgeon in 1841, but recalled to Calcutta the following year to act as superintendent for the Royal Botanic Garden. He seized this opportunity to introduce his own concepts of a botanical garden and rearranged the plants according to a natural classification. At the end of 1844 the superintendent resumed his post and Griffith left Calcutta for Malacca. Shortly after his arrival, in January 1845, he contracted hepatitis and died on 9 February 1845. He was buried in Malacca. In September 1844 he had married Miss Emily Henderson. He was a friend of Sir W J Hooker and regularly sent specimens to Kew Gardens.

Griffith published very little in his lifetime, as he preferred to gather data for what he intended to be a comprehensive account of the Indian flora on a geographical basis. After his death, Griffiths' papers, which were not in a fit state for publication, were edited by his friend J McClelland, a geologist, and published by the East India Company.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of William Griffith, c.1830-1845, comprising botanical notes and drawings, journals of travels into the Indian peninsula and Afghanistan and lists of plants


Language/scripts of material: English and Latin

System of arrangement:

The collection has been arranged into three series and a separate file. GRI/1 contains the bulk of Griffith's preparatory notes, GRI/2 contains the journals of his many journeys and GRI/3 catalogues and notes on plants collected. The last file GRI/4 is a preparatory manuscript to a lecture on Rhizanteae. The papers were arranged by John McClelland when preparing the publication of Griffith's manuscripts. The order of the manuscript volumes is approximately the same as the one of the published Griffith's Works.

Conditions governing access:

Unrestricted - surrogates to be used where available.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue available, contact the archives for more details.


Archival history:

At his death, W Griffith bequeathed his papers and specimens to the East India Company. After the publication, his manuscripts and collections were stored in the cellars of the Company in London where they were rescued by Joseph Hooker who transferred them to RBGK in 1858.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Joseph Hooker transferred the papers to RBGK in 1858.


Related material:

Many specimens in Herbarium Correspondence with Sir W J Hooker, Director's Correspondence (DC): DC 4, ff 268-269; DC 54, ff 225-234.


Archivist's note: Entry transcribed by Sarah Drewery, March 2011. Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Rules or conventions: General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: March 2011


Personal names

Corporate names