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Spruce, Richard (1817-1893)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0117 MS/236
Held at: Royal Society
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Full title: Spruce, Richard (1817-1893)
Date(s): 1850-1863
Level of description: Sub-fonds
Extent: 68pp
Name of creator(s): Spruce | Richard | 1817-1893 | botanist
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Botanical collection begun in Yorkshire c 1833; specialized in mosses and liverworts, an interest confirmed after a visit to Dr Thomas Glanville Taylor in Ireland in 1848. Came to the attention of Sir William Hooker in 1844 and sent to the Pyrenees on an expedition (1845-6) under the sponsorship of George Bentham. Hooker, Bentham and other botanists sent Spruce to South America in 1849. At the end of that year he travelled up the Amazon to Santarem where he met zoologist Alfred Russel Wallace and lepidopterist Henry Walter Bates. His exploration at this date included plants with medicinal properties, such as the datura and coca plants. He spent three years on the Orinoco and Negro rivers, then in 1854 ascended the Amazon by steamer to Nantua in Peru and then to the Andes, where he stayed two years and collected 250 species of ferns. In 1857 he came down the Amazon and went to Ecuador, later moving to Ambato which he made his headquarters and explored the Quintensian Andes. The India Office commissioned him to collect seeds and polants of the cinchona, the source of quinine, which were later sent to India. He published his report on this in 1861. In 1867 he finally returned to England and spent the remaining twenty seven years of life sorting his collections. These included notes on twenty one Amazonian languages, many hundreds of drawings, and notes and maps of three previously unexplored rivers.


Scope and content/abstract:

Drawings from Richard Spruce's travels across Northern South America, primarily the Amazon and Orinoco river systems, throughout Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Venezeuela and the Guyana highlands. Included are several renderings of indigenous picture-writing figures Spruce found in the Guyana Highlands, with notes on their possible origin and meaning, portraits of local people from nine different nations of the Orinoco and Rio Negro with notes thereon, drawings of notable landscapes in the region, vegetation and sundry objects from local villages. Drawn on for 'Notes of a botanist on the Amazon and Andes' (1908).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to Archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

See the online collection of his specimens from the Natural History Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, at;

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Copied from the Royal Society catalogue by Sarah Drewery.

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:
Feb 2009.

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