Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria
Australian National Herbarium
William Paterson was born in Montrose, Scotland, trained in horticulture at
Syon House, London and was sent to southern Africa as a botanical collector
in 1777. On his return to England Paterson obtained a commission in the
98th Regiment and spent 1781-1785 in India. He returned to Montrose in
1785 and occupied his time in producing an account of his African journeys.
He arrived in New Holland in 1791 as a captain in the 102nd Regiment.
He had asked Banks to support his application
to become a Fellow of the Royal Society before leaving England. Banks advised
him to postpone his application until he had been able to 'advance Natural
History', suggesting that his departure for New South Wales would provide
him with a good scope for discoveries. Not only did Paterson collect natural
history items for Banks but he also supplied seed to the Lee and Kennedy and
Colvill nurseries. While based on Norfolk Island he compiled an account
of the flora and entrusted this to Banks. The manuscript is believed
to be that in the Dixson Library collection in Sydney. While it was
undoubtedly useful for its time, it reveals that Paterson had only a limited
knowledge of botany. He used only generic and common names, not binomials.
On the basis of the botanical treatment for Norfolk Island Paterson asked
for membership of the Royal Society. He wrote to Banks:
"In a letter to Gov. King you are so good as to offer me your assistance
in publishing the Natural History of Norfolk Island, but my return from that
place put it out of my power to finish what I first intended viz. The
Birds and Fishes. However with the drawings &c. that accompany's
this you will be in possession of the Botanical part, and from the few specimens
of the strata which were sent before, you will be able to judge of the formation
of the Island.
"Should you think the memorandums worth publishing or if it could be done
by offering them to the Royal Society I would consider the Honor still greater,
at the same time may I beg to solicit your interest of becoming a Fellow of
the Society and hope by my attention to Natural History you will think me
deserving of that honor."
Banks declined to nominate Paterson for membership of the Society until his
return to England. It was thus 1797 before Paterson was elected a Fellow.
Extracted from R.M. Barker & W.R. Barker (1990), 'Botanical
Contributions Overlooked...' in 'History of Systematic Botany
in Australasia' ed: P.S. Short, ASBS.
Australian National Herbarium - updated
14 November, 2007
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