Thomas Johnson (botanist)
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Thomas Johnson (c.1600 – 1644) has been called "The Father of British Field Botany" but has been largely neglected, no doubt largely due to the very scanty records of his life which have survived. Such as there are, moreover, in any cases confuse rather than help the biographer, owing to the popularity of the name Thomas Johnson. He was probably born soon after 1600 and died in 1644.
Kew and Powell's account of Thomas Johnson
Kew and Powell (1932) describe him as a "learned, amiable, brave man." Their first chapter is devoted to a list of Johnson's publications and of other works to which the authors referred during their investigations.
Life and work
The second chapter provides a chronological account of Johnson's life and work. With regard to the date of Johnson's birth (which almost certainly took place at Selby in Yorkshire, although he is also said to have come from Barton on Humber) the authors admit that they have not advanced beyond the statement made by Trimen and Dyer in 1869, that "it was probably at the beginning of the seventeenth century."
His early years are equally obscure, and it is not until the first of his famous journeys (to Kent in 1629), when he was an apothecary practising at Snow Hill, in the City of London, that any clear picture of his activities emerges. The authors quote from the "somewhat free" account of the Kentish journeys which appeared in The Phytologist for 1848. The Victorian editors severely censured certain passages, on the refreshment taken by Johnson and his companions during their journey (The Phytologist, 3, 125. 1848).
From 1629 until the beginning of the Civil War, Johnson led an exceedingly active life, combining his practice as an apothecary with further botanical excursions, and the publication of those works on which his fame rests. In the Civil War he fought for the King and was mortally wounded in 1644 at the siege of Basing House in which he distinguished himself by conspicuous bravery.
Study of the British flora
In the third chapter Johnson's place in the investigation of the British Flora is reviewed and it is here that the authors make their most important contribution to botanical history. Hitherto it has been generally accepted that the first British Flora was How's Phytologia Britannica, published in 1650. It is pointed out, however, that Johnson's Mercurius Botanicus (published in two parts, 1634 and 1641) contains not only a list of the plants found by him on his journeys in the West of England, but also an enumeration of all the then known indigenous British plants, and that it should therefore displace the Phytologia, which was largely compiled from it, as the first British Flora. The fact that its claim has been so long overlooked is probably due to its rarity, and subsequent historians have relied on the statement by Pulteney (who only saw one part of the Mercurius) that How's was the first Flora of Britain.
The final chapter discusses the various genera which have been named Johnsonia in honour of the subject of this biography. The book is illustrated throughout by drawings and facsimile pages from Johnson's works.
- John Gerard's Herball, or general historie of plants first published in 1597 was enlarged by Thomas Johnson and published in 1633 and again in 1636. He included a list of Welsh plant names supplied by Robert Davies. "London: Printed by Adam Islip, Joice Norton and Richard Whitakers, anno 1636."
- The 1633 edition was issued in facsimile by Dover, New York, in 1975: "Complete 1633 edition, as revised and enlarged by Thomas Johnson. Reprint of the ed. printed by A. Islip, J. Norton, and R. Whitakers, London, under title, The herball, or Generall historie of plantes".
- Thomas Shearman Ralph edited Johnson's tracts with the title Opuscula omnia botanica Thomae Johnsoni (Londini: Sumptibus Guliel. Pamplin, 1847):- Iter plantarum investigationis ergo susceptum in agrum cantianum.--Descriptio itineris plantarum investigationis ergo suscepti, in agrum cantianum.-- Mercurius botanicus.--Thermae bathonicae.--Mercurii botanici pars altera.
- Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Johnson, Thomas (d.1644)". Dictionary of National Biography 30. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Kew, H. Wallis & Powell, H. E. (1932) Thomas Johnson, Botanist and Royalist. London: Longmans, Green