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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Hill, Sir Arthur William (1875-1941)


Reference code(s): GB 0068 AWH

Held at: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Title: Hill, Sir Arthur William (1875-1941)

Date(s): c.1895-1941

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 6 series, 79 files

Name of creator(s): Hill | Sir | Arthur William | 1875-1941 | Knight | botanist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir Arthur William Hill was born on the 11 Oct 1875, the only son of Daniel Hill. Daniel Hill was a keen amateur horticulturalist and inspired his son from an early age to learn sound practical knowledge about gardening.

Hill attended Marlborough School from 1890 until 1894. It was at school that Hill began to take an active interest in field botany, inspired by his teacher [who was an amateur naturalist] Edward Meyrick. Hill later talked of the Marlborough Downs as the place where he first found orchids to examine. Hill showed his appreciation to the College by bequeathing them money.

From Marlborough School Hill continued his education at Kings College Cambridge in October 1894 on an award. His success in gaining the award was due to an appeal from Marlborough School based on his botanical knowledge, enthusiasm and promise. At Cambridge Hill studied Natural Sciences, for which he obtained a 1st in 1897. Hill continued to study at Cambridge but specialised in Botany and received a 1st in 1898. At this time the Chair of Botany was Henry Marshall Ward who had a great influence on Hill; Ward introduced him to Walter Gardiner [Cambridge lecturer until 1898]. Gardiner invited Hill to collaborate with him on research on plant histology for the Royal Society. This led to Hill being offered a post at Cambridge University as a Demonstrator in Botany in 1899. Hill was successful in his post and was awarded a fellowship in 1901, a lectureship in 1904 and the position of Dean of Kings College in 1907. As a lecturer he contributed much through his travels as he would return to Cambridge and describe the flora and fauna he had observed in its natural ecosystem. He helped to modernise the Botany School through his use of field trips, which took students out of the classroom to the plants in their natural environment. This achievement was acknowledged by Kings College in 1932 when he was granted an honorary fellowship.

In 1907 Hill left Cambridge to become the Assistant Director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to the then Director Sir David Prain. Prain wrote that he chose Hill because of his travelling experiences [especially Hill's trip to the Andes which Hill financed himself], his businesslike mind and ability to work at any level. One of Hill's prime duties as Assistant Director was to attend meetings and trips to Imperial countries at the government's behest. Hill was very interested in the spread of knowledge and relished these trips, where he could gather specimens and in return offer advice to the host nations. Thus, under him the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew developed its worldwide network of associates. He was also concerned that the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew should develop its research side and improve in everyway possible.

In 1922 Prain retired leaving Hill to take over the Directorship of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Hill took full advantage of the opportunities offered to the Gardens by the British Empire and he successfully campaigned for the government to view Kew as a national asset that could be used to improve colonial relationships. Hill was concerned that the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew should continue and extend its economic links within the Empire. For example, he created a greenhouse in which bananas on route to Jamaica could be quarantined in. Hill's commitment to commercial activities of this nature led the government to ask the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1931 to officially disseminate information on economic plants and their sources around the Empire. This led to the first inventory of plants in the British Empire. Hill was also much concerned with the Gardens on a domestic scale and under his guidance the number of plants that were exhibited was increased. He was a keen amateur landscape gardener and had a tremendous knowledge of plants which he used to enrich the Gardens as a visitor attraction. He was especially keen to see plants growing in as natural and beautiful a setting as possible and so changes were made to planting methods. Hill toured the gardens every morning and would order any changes he felt necessary to enhance artistic effect. Major alterations included: a new vista to the lake, the extension of the rock garden and the improvement of the avenue from the lake to the pagoda. In addition to this, Hill constructed the Sherman Hoyt Cactus House in 1935. Perhaps most significantly though, was Hill's extension in 1930 of the Herbarium so that scientific study could be extended into new areas.

Much of Hill's horticultural and botanical knowledge was informed by his travels abroad. On his travels Hill would collect material for study. Thus, he obtained grants from the Empire Marketing Board from 1927 onwards that allowed him to travel more than any other Director before him.

Sir Arthur William Hill died in the Deer Park in Richmond the 3 Nov 1941. His death is recorded by a number of obituaries all of which lament the passing of Britain's most accomplished botanist.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir Arthur William Hill, c.1895-1941 comprising six series. The first consists of travel diaries and notebooks that contain observations on the flora and fauna of the places Hill visited in the Americas, Africa, India, Europe, the West Indies and Australia; the second series is made up of various correspondence and papers; the third series is comprised of scientific notebooks and sketchbooks that include notes from Hill's time working at Cambridge University; the fourth series consists of photographs and slides; the fifth series consists of lecture and speech notes and the sixth series consists of plant lists from Hill's travels.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Arranged in six series.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue available, contact the archives for more details.


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

It is believed that Sir Arthur William Hill's papers were transferred to Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew at his death in 1941.


Related material:

Letters from J.D. Hooker vol. 14 ff. 77-81 (JDH/2/1/14) Letters to H.N. Ridley vol. 3 ff. 75-76 Letters to J.D. Hooker vol. 10 ff. 276 (JDH/2/1/10) Letters from W.T. Thiselton-Dyer vol. 1 ff. 3-22 Projected Biography of W.T. Thiselton-Dyer ff. 116-131 (various authors) Kew Staff ff. 132-134/182/186/192 Miscellaneous Correspondence (indexed) W. Gardiner, An Account of the Foundation of the Botanical Museum of Cambridge F.C. Stern, Lilium Letters ff. 175 F.C. Stern, Iris Mss. Ff. 69-71 F.C. Stern, Expeditions ff. 82 F.C. Stern, Paeonia Mss. Ff. 148-152 F.C. Stern, Miscellaneous Mss. Ff. 174-179 F.C. Stern - F. Kingdon-Ward Miscellaneous Letters ff. 83-93 F.C. Stern, Purchase and Exchange of Plants ff. 538-584 F.C. Stern, Tulip Mss. ff. 83-85 F.C. Stern, Letters/Papers on Lilies The Gilbert White Fellowship, Papers and Letters ff. 7 J.D. Hooker Memoranda (Inwards Correspondence) Gamble-Hirst c. early 1900's (JDH/2/19/6) Appointment of Assistant Directors R.E. Holttum, Bouganvillea Miscellaneous Notes and Correspondence ff. 352 T.F. Chipp, Letters 1922-1948 ff. 64/69/75/115/186/199/203/235/319/362/ 393/429/431/434/440/442-445/448/451/454 Coconut Etymology Correspondence 1928-1929 Director's Correspondence vol. 109 English Letters G-J 1901-1905 ff. 799-800 Director's Correspondence vol. 122 English Letters HI-MI 1911-1920 ff. 1826 Director's Correspondence vol. 152 Japanese, Chinese & Siberian Letters 19001-1914 ff. 144 Director's Correspondence vol. 176 New Zealand Misc. 1864-1913 ff. 346 Director's Correspondence vol. 180 North African & Atlantic Island Letters 1901-1914 ff. 133-135/344/348-349 Director's Correspondence vol. 217 Brazil, Peru, Temperate S. America & Falkland Islands Letters 1901-1916 ff. 374 Director's Correspondence vol. 129 English Letters-Balfour Elwes Gamble 1894-1925 ff. 207 Kew Miscellaneous Herbarium ff. 48/51/55-56/150/352/354-355/363/365-366/428/443/460/463 Miscellaneous Reports - Nigeria 1915-1927 ff. 166-176 Miscellaneous Reports - West Indies 1896-1923 ff. 82 Miscellaneous Reports - Malay States, Department of Agriculture 1901-1916 ff. 442 Miscellaneous Reports - West Indies, Committee of Agriculture Cultural Products 1887-1917 ff. 308 Miscellaneous Correspondence, Baron FD Lugard to Sir Arthur William Hill, 22 Ap 1922 Personnel File for Sir A Hill's appointment at Kew in alphabetical Personnel Files under 'HIL'.

Old Registered Files: PRO 1/BA/3/1 British Association. Delegation to India Science Congress Assoc. Letter re Papers and Broadcast of Sir Arthur Hill 1937 RO 1/BA/3/2 British Association. Delegation to India Science Congress Assoc. Miscellaneous. Re Travelling in India A.W. Hill 1937

In The Natural History Museum Archive, Letter from A.W Hill to I.P Hill, 13 Aug 1913; two letters from UCL, 1915. In Glasgow University Archive, Letters to F.O Bower 1912-1925


Archivist's note: Entry transcribed by Sarah Drewery, March 2011.

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

Lectures (teaching method) | Teaching methods
Scientific expeditions | Field work | Research work
Sketches | Illustrations | Visual materials
Travel abroad | Travel
Teaching materials

Personal names
Braunholtz | Hermann Justus | 1888-1963 | Keeper of Ethnographical Department British Museum
Gardiner | John Stanley | 1872-1946 | zoologist
Haddon | Alfred Cort | 1855-1940 | anthropologist
Hill | Sir | Arthur William | 1875-1941 | Knight | botanist
Kenyon | Sir | Frederic George | 1863-1952 | Knight | Greek and biblical scholar, and museum director
Lynch | Richard Irwin | 1850-1924 | botanist
Ray | Sidney Herbert | 1858-1939 | schoolmaster and linguist
Thurston | Edgar | 1855-1935 | ethnographer

Corporate names
Cambridge University x University of Cambridge
Royal Botanic Gardens | Kew

Algeria | North Africa
Australia | Oceania
Barbados | Caribbean
Cameroon | Central Africa
Denmark | Northern Europe | Western Europe | Europe
Greece | Western Europe | Europe
India | South Asia
Java | Indonesia | South East Asia
Nigeria | West Africa | Africa
South Africa | Southern Africa
Spain | Western Europe | Europe
Sweden | Northern Europe | Western Europe | Europe
Switzerland | Western Europe | Europe
Tripoli | Libyan Arab Jamahiriya | North Africa
East Africa