Robert John Thornton

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Robert John Thornton (1799)

Robert John Thornton (1768–1837) was an English physician and botanical writer, noted for A New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus Von Linnæus[1] (1797–1807) and "The British Flora" of 1812.


He was the son of Bonnell Thornton and studied at Trinity College, Cambridge.[2] Inspired by John Martyn's lectures on botany and the work of Linnaeus, he switched from the Church to medicine. He worked at Guy's Hospital in London, where he later lectured in medical botany. After spending some time abroad, he settled and practised in London. Robert inherited the family fortune after the death of both his brother and mother.[3]

Thornton died in destitution.[citation needed]


In 1799 Thornton commenced his work on the New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus, a work of botanical science to be published in three parts. The first was a dissertation on the sex of plants according to the Swedish scientist Carolus von Linnaeus, and the second an exposition of the sexual system. The most ambitious part of the New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus Linnæus[4] was Part III, the Temple of Flora (1799–1807).[5] The first plates were engraved by Thomas Medland in May 1798, from paintings by Philip Reinagle. Between 1798 and 1807, they produced a total of thirty-three coloured plates, engraved in aquatint, stipple and line engraving. When he planned the project, Thornton had decided to publish seventy folio-size plates. Lack of interest from the general public spelled disaster for the scheme, and the holding of a lottery could not save it from financial ruin, neither did a page in the work dedicated to the spouse of George III, Queen Charlotte, patroness of botany and the fine arts. It is estimated that around 800 copies were produced, each containing 31 plates accompanied by inspirational poetry and explanatory notes covering flower lore and legend.

Published:- Thornton, R.J. 1812. Elements of Botany Part 1. Classification. London. Dedicated to Rev. Thomas Martyn, M.A.F.R.S.



  1. ^ New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus :and the temple of Flora, or garden of nature. 1807.
  2. ^ "Thornton, Robert John (THNN786RJ)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ Lazarus, M. H.; Pardoe, H. S., eds. (2003). Catalogue of Botanical Prints and Drawings at the National Museums & Galleries of Wales. National Museums & Galleries of Wales. ISBN 978-0-7200-0525-7.
  4. ^ Thornton, Robert John (1807). New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus :and the temple of Flora, or garden of nature. - Biodiversity Heritage Library. London. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  5. ^ Audubon House Gallery of Natural History. "Dr. Robert John Thornton". Archived from the original on 29 September 2011.
  6. ^ International Plant Names Index.  Thornton.

External links[edit]

Media related to Robert John Thornton at Wikimedia Commons

Further reading[edit]

  • de Bray, Lys (2001). The Art of Botanical Illustration: A history of classic illustrators and their achievements, pp. 77–85. Quantum Publishing Ltd., London. ISBN 1-86160-425-4.