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Burkill, Isaac Henry (1870-1965)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0068 BUR
Held at: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
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Full title: Burkill, Isaac Henry (1870-1965)
Date(s): 1892-1966
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 12 boxes, 16 volumes, 23 index boxes
Name of creator(s): Burkill | Isaac Henry | 1870-1965 | botanist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Isaac Henry Burkill was born on the 18th of May 1870 at Chapel Allerton, near Leeds. He did his school years at Repton where he started to collect plants and insects and to develop an interest for botany. He first decided to train as a doctor and following the advice of one of his Repton's masters sought admission to Caius College in Cambridge. Burkill was admitted to Cambridge in 1888, in 1891 he was awarded a scholarship and was appointed Assistant Curator of Cambridge's Herbarium. He developed his knowledge of European flora and, in 1894, was appointed a teacher. In 1894 also, Burkill joined the Linnean Society and made his first visit to RBG Kew to determine some specimens from the Western Pacific region he had found at Cambridge. On the 1st of January 1897, Burkill was appointed to RBG Kew as a Technical Assistant. Two years later he was transferred to the Director's office as a Principal Assistant. Burkill had already developped an interest for Pacific flora and tropical plants, that led to his nomination as Assistant to the Reporter of Economic Products in Calcutta. Burkill arrived in Calcutta at the beginning of 1901. There, he met Sir David Prain, Superintendant of the Calcutta Botanic Garden. He was growing many plants of the genus Dioscorea in order to study them. Burkill soon shared his interested and they started to work on them and classify them together. Burkill used his tours in India and nearby countries to collect more plants for his studies and the Botanic Garden. In 1907, Burkill's title was changed to Assistant Director to the Botanic Survey and in 1912 he was asked by the government of Strait Settlements to accept the direction of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. In Singapore, Burkill started his first card index listing all the economic products of the Malay peninsula. In May 1924, Burkill retired and left Singapore. He went back to RBG Kew to work as a researcher. He first published a guide to the Singapore Botanic Garden and, in 1935, a DICTIONNARY OF THE ECONOMIC PRODUCTS OF THE MALAY PENINSULA. After the dictionary was published, Burkill returned to former studies and published AN ACCOUNT OF THE GENUS DIOSCOREA IN THE EAST, in collaboration with Sir D Prain, in 1936 and 1938. A second card index was elaborated for that publication. He was also at that time Botanical Secretary to the Linnean Society from 1937 to 1944 and continued studies on Ranunculus and Tamus. In 1952 he was awarded the Linnean Gold Medal. He was in permanent contact with staff at RBG Kew where he would ask for some specimens to be grown or some reference to be given from the library. In 1947 he started to study African Dioscoreaceae which led to the publication of a new article in 1960 ORGANOGRAPH AND EVOLUTION OF DIOSCOREACEAE, THE FAMILY OF THE YAMS, J Linn Soc Lond Bot 56, p. 319-412. His last publication was entitled CHAPTERS ON THE HISTORY OF BOTANY IN INDIA, published between 1953 and 1963. In his old days his eyesight became weaker and weaker but he continued working almost to the end. He had married his cousin Ethel Maud Morrison in 1910 and, in 1914, they had a son, Humphrey Morrison Burkill, who inherited his father's interest for botany. He died on the 8th of March 1965, aged 94 years old.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Isaac Henry Burkil (1892-1966) comprising the preparatory notes and typescripts for Burkill's studies and publications (11 boxes), also one volume and one folder of correspondence, one folder of personnal papers, botanical journals and journals of Burkill's tours in Asia (18 volumes) and 23 boxes of index cards.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection has been arranged in four series with BUR/1 containing Burkill's correspondence and personal papers, BUR/2 consisting of Burkill's working papers, BUR/3 containing the journals of his travels in Asia and BUR/4 his index cards.

Conditions governing access:

Unrestricted - surrogates to be used where available.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Contact the archives for detailed catalogue.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

H Burkill started to donate some of his personal papers to RBG Kew in 1935 when he deposited his Indian Diary. In 1947, he gave a collection of botanical papers to the library. In 1959, he sent his index of cultivated plants. In 1961 he sent a large collection including:

5 drawers of literature for his proposed work on the "origin of cultivated plants"

2 files of references to literature on Nympheaceae

1 file of reference to botanists in Asia and Indian names of plants

Papers and manuscripts refering to Francis Hamilton


Mendel's paper

Foxworthy's mansucript of "Trees of the Tropical Asiatic Region"

Manuscript notebook held at Cambridge

Manuscript volume of references to botanical literature

Miscellaneous maps

Sample of timber of Zizyphus and 3 bundles of slips of references to Zizyphus and Lotos

A large collection of separates and reprints, as well as two copies of ORGANOGRAPHY AND EVOLUTION OF DIOSCOREACEAE, THE FAMILY OF THE YAMS and his slip index of economic plants.

He also sent his unfinished manuscript on Lotos and a paper on "Berberis as a drug".

In 1962, RBG Kew received more letters, manuscripts, maps and publications.

In 1964, I H Burkill sent his autobiography, a list of his articles and some letters, and later in the same year, reference slips on Dioscoreaceae and 2 notebooks, on Tamus and Dioscorea in Asia

Allied Materials

Related material:

See also in the Archives: Registered file QG 80 and QG 80A, correspondence between I H Burkill and RBG Kew's staff; Letters from I H Burkill in registered files 2/AUSTR/2, 2/SING/1/1, 1/Pub/1/3, 1/Pub/8, 3/Italy/2A; E Milne-Redhead Misc Corres BUK-COR (ff 1103-1185), correspondence with I H Burkill; J D Hooker Correspondence ff 221-223 (JDH/2/1/1).

Publication note:

Description Notes

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

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