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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0060 DF BOT
Held at: Natural History Museum
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Date(s): 1827-1992
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 32 series
Name of creator(s): Department of Botany | Natural History Museum
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Department of Botany has its origins in the Department of Natural and Artificial Productions, which was set up at the founding of the British Museum in 1756. In 1806 it was renamed the Department of Natural History and Modern Curiosities and was under the keepership of George Shaw (1751-1813) and later Charles Dietrich Eberhard Konig (1774-1851). The botanical collection at this period consisted almost entirely of the Sloane herbarium.

In 1827 the Museum acquired the herbarium of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), and with it, the services of Robert Brown (1773-1858), as 'Keeper of the Banksian Botanical Collection'. In 1835 the Sloane and Banksian collections were amalgamated to form a Botanical Branch of the Department of Natural History, and in 1856 the branch was given the status of a department, with Robert Brown as the first Keeper, and a staff of four.

Under succeeding keepers the collections held by the Department increased in size and scope, and by the time George Murray (1858-1911) retired in 1905 there was a staff of 13. A major reorganisation took place in the mid 1930s when the complement increased to 23, and the department was divided into six cryptogamic sections and five sections devoted to flowering plants, together with the library and the Keeper's Office. The Department was severely damaged during the war, and did not fully recover until the early 1960s.

Over the years the relationship of the Department with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has been scrutinised many times, on both financial and scientific grounds. Government enquiries were held in 1860, 1871, 1900 and 1960, and all recommended that the two institutions should remain independent, with the last leading to the 'Morton Agreement', which set out a division of accession and research activities.

By 1965 the Department was responsible for huge herbaria collections, and was active in research on the floras of tropical Africa, Europe, the West Indies and the Far East. The research was supported by the departmental library, which was rich in historic treasures as well as contemporary literature. The Department was also responsible, in conjunction with the exhibition staff, for displays in the botany gallery. Staff numbered 23, who between them saw to nearly 3,000 visitors, accessioned nearly 40,000 specimens, and published 30 or more papers each year.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of the Department of Botany comprising: DF400 Botany Departmental correspondence; DF401 Registers of Botany departmental correspondence; DF402 Botany finance and accounts; DF403 Botany Reports to Trustees and other official documents; DF404 Keeper of Botany's correspondence and papers; DF405 Papers of the editors of the Journal of Botany; DF406 Keeper of Botany's subject files; DF407 Keeper of Botany's Staff Files and Official Diaries; DF408 Botany Annual Reports of Progress; DF409 Exhibitions in the Botany Gallery; DF410 Biographical index by Britten, Boulger and Rendle, papers; DF411 The Island of Mull (1978), data sheets, papers and correspondence; DF412 Botany Departmental visitors' books; DF413 Botany Acquisition and loan records; DF414 Parcel Books; DF415 Equipment Registers and Collecting Materials; DF420 Correspondence and Papers of Antony Gepp; DF421 Agal Section correspondence and papers; DF422 Diatom Section correspondence and papers; DF423 Lichen Section correspondence and papers; DF424 Fern Section correspondence and papers; DF425 Mycology Section correspondence and papers; DF426 Cryptogamic Herbarium Visitors Books; DF427 Cryptogamic Herbarium Accession Records; DF440 General Herbarium Correspondence and Papers; DF441 General Herbarium visitors books; DF442 European Herbarium correspondence and papers; DF443 European Herbarium visitors' books; DF444 British Herbarium tract collection manuscripts; DF445 British Herbarium, papers associated with plant collections; DF460 Botany Library Accession Records; DF461 Botany Librarian's correspondence.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment with the Archivist, by email to or by post to the Museum Archivist, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD.

Conditions governing reproduction:

At the Archivist's discretion. Photocopying service available. Digital photography (without flash) permitted for research purposes on completion of a photography permit form.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred from the Department of Botany.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Entry copied from the Natural History Museum online catalogue by Sarah Drewery.
References: British Museum (Natural History), 1904. The history of the collections contained in the natural history departments of the British Museum. Volume 1.
Gunther, A E, 1980. The founders of science at the British Museum 1753-1900. The Halesworth Press.
Stearn, W T, 1981. The Natural History Museum at South Kensington. Heinemann. Chapter 16.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with 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:
Sep 2008

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