William Curtis

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William Curtis
William Curtis02.jpg
Born(1746-01-11)11 January 1746
Died7 July 1799(1799-07-07) (aged 53)
Brompton, London, England
Known forCurtis's Botanical Magazine
Scientific career
InstitutionsChelsea Physic Garden, London
Author abbrev. (botany)Curtis
House on Lenten Street, Alton, where Curtis was born

William Curtis (11 January 1746 – 7 July 1799) was an English botanist and entomologist, who was born at Alton, Hampshire, site of the Curtis Museum.

Curtis began as an apothecary, before turning his attention to botany and other natural history. The publications he prepared reached a wider audience than early works on the subject had intended.[1] At the age of 25 he produced Instructions for collecting and preserving insects; particularly moths and butterflies.[2]

Curtis was demonstrator of plants and Praefectus Horti at the Chelsea Physic Garden from 1771 to 1777. He established his own London Botanic Garden at Lambeth in 1779, moving to Brompton in 1789. He published Flora Londinensis (6 volumes, 1777–1798), a pioneering work in that it devoted itself to urban nature. Financial success was not found, but he went on the publish The Botanical Magazine in 1787, a work that would also feature hand coloured plates by artists such as James Sowerby and Sydenham Edwards. (William Kilburn is often erroneously cited as having contributed plates to Curtis's Botanical Magazine. Though he did provide illustrations to Flora Londinensis, his association with Curtis seems to have ended by 1777, 10 years before the first publication of the Botanical Magazine)[3]

Curtis was to gain wealth from the ventures into publishing, short sales on Londinensis were offset by over 3,000 copies of the magazine. Curtis said they had each brought 'pudding or praise'.

The genus Curtisia is named in his honour. His publication was continued as the esteemed botanical publication, Curtis's Botanical Magazine. The noted natural history illustrators, James Sowerby and Sydenham Edwards both found a start with the eminent magazine.

He was buried in the churchyard at St. Mary's Church, Battersea where he is commemorated in a stained glass window, as many of his samples were collected from the churchyard there.[4] His headstone, now lost, had the epitaph

While living herbs shall spring profusely wild,

or gardens cherish all that's blithe and gay,
So long thy works shall please, dear Nature's child,
So long thy mem'ry suffer no decay.[5]

This botanist is denoted by the author abbreviation Curtis when citing a botanical name.[6]


  1. ^ "William Curtis". Herbals and insects. University of Massachusetts. Retrieved 1 September 2007. The scope of natural history changed dramatically in 18th century England under the influence of published works directed at amateurs.
  2. ^ Instructions for collecting and preserving insects; particularly moths and butterflies. Illustrated with a copper-plate, on which the nets, and other apparatus necessary for that purpose are delineated… London: Printed by the author, and sold by George Pearch, 1771. iv, 90 p. fold. plate, 22 cm
  3. ^ Nelson, E. Charles. "Willaim Kilburn's Calico Patterns, Copyright and Curtis's Botanical Magazine." Curtis's Botanical Magazine 25, no. 4 (2008): 361.
  4. ^ "St. Mary's Church Parish website". St Mary's Modern Stained Glass
  5. ^ Curtis, Samuel (1828). "Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the late Mr William Curtis". Curtis's Botanical Magazine. Index 1-53: v–xxxii – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Brummitt, R. K.; C. E. Powell (1992). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. ISBN 1-84246-085-4.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hugh Cahill (10 May 2006). "Case 3: William Curtis and The Botanical Magazine". Nature observed: The work of the botanical artist. King's College London. Archived from the original on 15 July 2007. Retrieved 30 July 2007. Flora Londinensis is one of the most beautiful and important botanical publications of the eighteenth century.

External links[edit]