Guest Article A Brief History of the British Plant Hunters

  • Date: 8th May 2017
  • author: John Godfrey

This essay is not a collection of biographies of the men named, they exist elsewhere. Its aim is to give the general reader an introduction as to how they became important plant hunters at such an eventful time in British history. A fuller account, but still concise and more interesting, is in Charles Lyte’s 1983 book The Plant Hunters complete with references and lists.

...The more I read about the social and economic reasons for the great surge in plant hunters in the late 1800s and early 20th century the more intriguing it gets. One thing that comes through is how formidable English politics and business were to push Britain’s interests and maintain its monopoly of its overseas trade. They made war on the Dutch when they objected to restrictions in maritime trade, finally with the Prussians defeated Napoleon and eliminated French competition at the battle of Waterloo, and when China confiscated the tons of opium being shipped from Turkey and India, which the British had turned into a very lucrative business, British gunboats were ordered to bombard the Chinese coastal ports...

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