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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Kerr, Arthur Francis George (1877-1942)


Reference code(s): GB 0068 KER

Held at: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Title: Kerr, Arthur Francis George (1877-1942)

Date(s): 1906-c.1940

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 201 volumes: Manuscript papers 49 files: Manuscript papers and published. 11 boxes: photographic material

Name of creator(s): Kerr | Arthur Francis George | 1877-1942 | botanist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Kerr was born on 7 Feb 1877 at Kinlough, County Leitrim, Ireland. His father was Dr Elias William Kerr (1849-1920) of Cerne Abbas and South Lodge, Dorchester. He was educated at Dorchester Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin where he was awarded a 1st Class Honours BA Degree in Botany in 1897. In 1901 he obtained a medical degree and obtained his first medical post on board a sailing ship bound for Australia. In 1902, he was assigned to Siam (Thailand) as assistant to Dr Hugh Campbell Highet (1866-1929) and later became physician to the British Legation in Bangkok. In 1903 he was appointed Medical Officer of Health in Chiengmai; during his time in this province, he began collecting and drawing orchids. In August 1903 he married Daisy Muriel Judd, Dr Highet's sister in law whom he had met on his journey to Siam, together they had four daughters.

During the period 1904 to 1914 he was Principal Officer of Health to the Siamese Government. In 1908, whilst on leave in Europe, he came to Kew and visited Sir David Prain, the then Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, and Dr. Otto Stapf, Keeper of the Herbarium. They urged him to collect a wide variety of plants from Siam for Kew and gave him the necessary equipment. In the 1910s, the flora of Siam had never been recorded, Sian being a practically unexplored country, never having been part of the British Empire. On his return to Siam, after his visit to Kew, he combined his tasks of medical officer, which took him to various parts of the country, with his botanical pursuits.

From 1915 to 1918 he served as a temporary captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France, being based at the Stationary Hospital in Marseilles, while his family lived in HyŤres. He became unfit due to ill health and went to live with his family for a while in the South of France. On 13 March 1919 he arrived back in Bangkok via Hong Kong, having served as a surgeon on a troop ship. After this period, there was a decline in Kerr's medical duties, until he finally resigned and went into private practice, whilst negotiations for his appointment as Government Botanist were taking place.

On the 1 Sep 1920 Kerr was appointed Director of the Botanical Section of the Ministry of Commerce of Siam a post he held until 1932; in November 1920; he returned to his old residence in Chiengmai. Each year from 1920 until 1929 he went on botanical tours beginning in the north of Siam and working his way southwards, concentrating particularly on the collection of plants of economic importance. On 13 Oct 1921 his wife died of malaria. Later on in the same month, he and his brother decided to take his daughters back to England where they were taken care of by an aunt; he then returned to Chiengmai alone on 11 March 1922. Towards the end of 1922, he left Chiengmai for good and the Botanical Section moved to Bangkok. However, he continued his plant collecting activities, travelling by various means throughout the country, carrying with him a considerable amount of equipment. He recorded in his journals everything he observed such as vegetation, the merchants encountered and the goods they sold, the crops cultivated, the number of pigs in villages as well as local industries and mines.

The official reports of these 'Tours' were published in 'The Record' a quarterly issue by the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok, which mainly recorded financial information. However, Kerr gave in these a sketchy report narrative of his tours (1920-1933) with maps, recording his observations on the way; he made 17 tours altogether. These have been reprinted in the Miscellaneous Reports Series held by the Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kerr was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London on 13 Dec 1923; on 23 June 1932 he sailed from Penang returning to live in England. In Jan-April 1933 he undertook a trip to South Africa and Madeira. He also spent time at the Kew Herbarium, working on the Florae Siamensis Enumeraito with Professor William Grant Craig. During World War Two the Admiralty became interested in his knowledge of Siam. He began working for the Air Ministry who asked him for copies of maps which he had drawn during his expeditions in Siam. However, he became too weak to continue this work and died on 21 Jan 1942 at The Street House, Hayes, Bromley, Kent, England. His remains were cremated and his name was added to the tombstone of the family grave at Ceme Abbas, Dorset.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Arthur Francis George Kerr, 1906-c 1940, comprising 28 diaries, some relating to his daily life and others are expedition diaries retracing various itnieraries, including field diaries from Siam and the Siam-Burman border; photographs of landscapes, people, vegetation and other subjects, chiefly on trips within Siam; plant records including 158 plant tag books mentioning their numbers and the areas covered; typescript and manuscript lists recording plants collected by others on behalf of Kerr; 16 files and volumes relating to the flora of Siam, some are for specific regions such as Bangkok or Kaw Tao and some for specific plants such as orchids; volumes containing Siamese local plant names; twenty three notebooks of notes taken from various Herbaria, namely Geneva, Kew, Paris and the British Museum (Natural History Museum); records of other collectors including some commissioned by Kerr; records of plants from Siam for the publication of Flora Siamensis Enumeratio; notes and correspondence relating to Siamese drugs and medicinal plants; slips for various plant groups; 11 files of correspondence, mainly related to botanical matters including the publishing of Florae Siamensis Enumeratio, one with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and seven relating to ferns, including correspondence and fern lists from Eryl Smith; and publications including reprints from The Record and reports on Botanical Tours undertaken in Siam as well as crops such as cotton and various other plants, published by The Botanical Section, Ministry of Commerce, Bangkok and volume of sketches of Orchids from Chengmai.


Language/scripts of material: English, Thai

System of arrangement:

Arranged in 6 series as follows:
Diaries: KER/1
photographic records KER/2
plant records KER/3
correspondence KER/4
publications KER/5
Orchid Drawings KER/6

The collection was sorted, boxed up and a box list made by Paul Suan Davies in March 1992. This arrangement was followed when creating this catalogue, but sub-series were created to clarify the arrangement of the records.

Conditions governing access:

This collection is subject to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew�s standard access and reproduction conditions. Access is unrestricted and by appointment but will be subject to the conditions of the Data Protection Act. Reproduction information is available on request.

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:



Archivist's note: Entry transcribed by Sarah Drewery, March 2011. Sources: M. Jacobs: Reliquiae Kerrianae (Blumea Vol. XI, N0.2, 1962 pp.427-493) includes a list of published material by Kerr, his collections and localities, as well as a detailed itinerary of places he visited and collected in.

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

Insects | Animals | Zoology
Lectures (teaching method) | Teaching methods
Scientific expeditions | Field work | Research work
Scientific research | Research
Sketches | Illustrations | Visual materials
Travel abroad | Travel
Trees | Plants | Flora | Vegetation | Botany

Personal names
Kerr | Arthur Francis George | 1877-1942 | botanist

Corporate names
British Museum (Natural History) x Natural History Museum
Royal Botanic Gardens | Kew

Myanmar | South East Asia
Thailand | South East Asia