Thomas Frederic Cheeseman

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Thomas Frederick Cheeseman

Thomas Frederick Cheeseman (1846 – 15 October 1923)[1] was a New Zealand botanist. He was also a naturalist who had wide-ranging interests, such that he even described a few species of sea slugs, marine gastropod molluscs.


Cheeseman was born at Hull, in Yorkshire on 8 June 1846. Thomas came to New Zealand at the age of eight with his parents on "Artemesia", arriving in Auckland on 4 April 1854. He was educated at Parnell Grammar School and then at St John's College, Auckland. His father, the Rev. Thomas Cheeseman had been a member of the old Auckland Provincial Council.[1]

Cheeseman started studying the flora of New Zealand, and in 1872 he published an accurate and comprehensive account of the plant life of the Waitakere Ranges.[1]

In 1874 he was appointed Secretary of the Auckland Institute and Curator of the (at the time only fairly recently founded) Auckland Museum. Under his curatorship, the museum collections were formed. His botanical studies were valuable not just academically, but also were of importance to agriculture, horticulture, and forestry. He published papers almost every year until his death.

When Cheeseman's research began, the botany of New Zealand was quite poorly known. Cheeseman made many collecting trips including areas such as the Nelson Provincial District, the Kermadec and Three Kings Islands, and the area from Mangonui to the far north. He sometimes traveled with his friend Mr. J. Adams, of the Thames High School, after whom he named the species Senecio adamsii and Elytranthe adamsii.[1]

Cheeseman also visited Polynesia. He published in the Transactions of the Linnean Society a full account of the flora of Rarotonga, the chief island of the Cook Group.[1]

Hundreds of birds added to Auckland Museum's collections by Cheeseman were shot by his younger brother, William Joseph, and their labels bear the tag "W.J.C." The museum could not afford a taxidermist, but Cheeseman's sister Emma learnt the skill and prepared many of the specimens. Her initials "E.C." appear.on the backs of many labels.[2]

Cheeseman married Rosette Keesing, of a notable Jewish family of Auckland city, in November 1889.[3][4]


Out of his 101 papers and books, twenty-two are not on botany, but instead are on zoological or ethnological subjects.[1]

Many of Cheeseman's botanical publications paved the way for a complete flora of New Zealand. In 1906 he produced the Manual of the New Zealand Flora. In 1914 he, Hemsley and Matilda Smith created Illustrations of the New Zealand Flora (1914). Some of his publications were speculative in character, about the possible origins of the New Zealand sub-Antarctic flora. He also had written an early paper on the naturalized plants of the Auckland Provincial District. Some of his early papers were about the pollination of certain species.[1]

As well as his botanical research, Cheeseman developed the Auckland Museum, including what is probably the most extensive collection extant, illustrating Maori ethnology. He donated his own herbarium of the flowering plants and vascular cryptogams to the Auckland Institute.[1]

He published 79 articles in Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand including:

He didn't just publish his botanical research, he also named ten sea snails, half of which have become synonyms.[5] Eight marine species were named after him with the epithet "cheesemanii" [6]


Cheeseman was a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and the Zoological Society. He was made a Corresponding Membership of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, and awarded the Gold Linnean Medal of the Linnean Society the botanical equivalent to a Nobel Medal. The New Zealand Institute elected him President in 1911. In 1918 he was awarded the Hector Memorial Medal and Prize for his botanical researches. In 1919 he was made an original Fellow of the New Zealand Institute.[1]


This article incorporates public domain text from reference.[1]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cockayne L. 1923. Thomas Frederic Cheeseman, 1846–1923. Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand, volume 54, page xvii-xix.
  2. ^ Gill, Brian (2012). The owl that fell from the sky: stories of a museum curator. Awa Press. pp. 57–63. ISBN 978-1-877551-13-0. 
  3. ^ Gill, p 61
  4. ^ P Grant-Taylor, descendant of Cheeseman
  5. ^ World Register of Marine Species: Marine taxa named by Cheeseman
  6. ^ World Register of Marine Species: Marine taxa named after Cheeseman
  7. ^ IPNI.  Cheeseman. 

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