Millie Schurch: "Instructions and the Gentleman Botanist in the British Colonies, 1790-1810"

  • Date: –15:00
  • Location: Engelska parken 6-3025 (Rausing Room)
  • Organiser: Institutionen för idéhistoria
  • Contact person: Hanna Hodacs
  • Seminarium

Higher Seminar in the History of Science and Ideas

Research presentation by Millie Schurch, Uppsala University. 


This paper examines the construction of the gentleman botanist in formally issued instructions, and in instructive imaginative texts, in Romantic-era colonial endeavour. The figure of the gentleman botanist was established in idealised form – civilised, organised and dispassionate – in botanical instructions written by Joseph Banks on behalf of Kew Gardens and in imaginative literature and travel narratives, as an adventurous man of empire, exploration and daring in the wake of the death of Captain Cook. These representations influenced practice: colonial botanists such as George Caley and Allan Cunningham, stationed in New South Wales, drew on and performed combinations of these characteristics in the letters they sent home to their sponsors at Kew Gardens. Tracing the figure of the gentleman botanist across these forms of representation, this paper reveals him to be a counterpart to contemporary representations of the colonial traveller on board ship or in coastal “contact zones”. He emerges as shifting and surprisingly multiplicitous across, and as a product of, various textual forms. But, consistent through his appearances in aspirational, representational and self-representational modes of expression is a white, “civilised” masculinity which promotes a notion of botanical expertise distinct from that of the gardener or horticulturalist, and that facilitates epistemological and political dominance over colonial locations, constructed in gendered and racialised terms. Across idealised, imagined and performed modes of representation, the image of the gentleman botanist served as a very concrete tool of British colonial endeavour.