Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria
Born on 16 th January 1768 at Holywell, near Stamford , Lincolnshire. Died at Monmouth Mount, Jamaca, on 9th October 1851, aged 83.
James was the eldest son of Henry Wiles, head gardener to the Reynardson family of Holywell Hall.
He was fourteen when his mother died in 1782 and he was sent to work on the Chapel Aller ton estate near Leeds. The property belonged to Richard Anthony Salisbury who later became an eminent botanist, Fellow of the Royal Society and the Linnaean Society. Salisbury was a friend of Sir Jo seph Banks who was President of the Royal Society for over 40 years. It was as a result of this connection that James was recommended by Sir Jo seph Banks for the post of First Gardener, or senior botanist, on Captain Bligh’s expedition to the South Seas in HMS Providence .
In June 1791 James left Chapel Allerton to join HMS Provid- ence at Woolwich. He became friends with young midshipman Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) born at Donington, Lincolnshire , some 20 miles from Holywell Hall .
The expedition left England in HMS Providence and HMS Assistant at the beginning of August. Their route took them to Santa Cruz, Tenerife (28 th August), Praia, Cape Verde Islands (11 th September) and Cape Town (5 th November), where they took on board a number of potted plants, cuttings and seeds to add to the few they had brought from England.
Leaving Cape Town on 23 rd December, they arrived at Adventure Bay , Tasmania, on 9 th February 1792, where James Wiles and Christopher Smith collected plants and specimens, and sowed seeds and planted trees on Bruni Island and Penguin Island.
From Tasmania they sailed south of New Zealand and arrived at Tahiti on 10 th April, where they remained for three months collecting breadfruit plants (the main purpose of the exped- ition) and other useful species. When they left on 18 th July, on board were some 2,000 plants, of which 1,686 were bread- fruit.
Their route from Tahiti took them past Fiji, the New Hebrides and through the Torres Strait where the botanists went ashore on North Possession Islet to collect further plants and specimens. James later named a species grown from seed collected there Flindersia laconiae after his friend Matthew Flinders. They reached Kupang, Timor , on 2 nd October, where more plants were collected, chiefly fruits. They arrived at St. Helena on 12 th December and Kingtown Bay, St. Vincent on 22 nd January 1793. The expedition arrived at Port Royal, Jamaica, on 5 th February 1793, eighteen months after their departure from England . In total, about 40 percent of the breadfruit trees collected in Tahiti and Timor, and about two-thirds of the other plants collected, arrived safely at their destinations in Jamaica, St. Vincent and St. Helena.
On the whole the expedition had gone very well, except a criticism being Bligh's habit of taking all the credit for himself and not wishing to share it with the two botanists or with Lieutenant Portlock, the Commander of HMS Assistant. The inscription which Bligh had carved on a tree at Adventure Bay , Tasmania , read "Near this tree Captain William Bligh planted seven fruit trees 1792:- Messrs S and W, botanists", scandalized the French naturalist Labillardiere, who was highly critical of "the despotism which condemned men of science to initials and gave a sea captain a monopoly of fame."
On 9 th February 1793, four days after arrival in Jamaica, James Wiles was offered and accepted the post of gardener in charge of a Public Nursery at Bath, with responsibility for tending the plants that had come on HMS Providence and had been allot- ted for public use.
Writing to Sir Joseph Banks on 16 th October 1793, James said he hoped the House of Assembly would purchase land for a nursery elsewhere as the one at Bath was far from satisfactory. In the same year a garden formerly belonging to Mr. Hinton East, who had died was purchased and became the Liguanea Botanic Garden. In 1794 James Wiles was appointed Superintendent with continuing responsibility for the Nursery at Bath.
James married a girl named Eliza or Elizabeth. Their eldest son Henry was born at the end of 1796. They had five other children: James (1803), Eliza ( 1804), Charlotte ( 1806), Catherine (1807) and David (1810).
In 1796 James became an Ensign in the St. Andrew Militia. By 1797 he was receiving an allowance of £100 per year for attendance and care of the Bath Nursery and for travelling expenses. In 1798 he was promoted Lieutenant in the Militia. By then, two of his brothers had come out to Jamaica to try their fortune, Henry in 1795 aged 24, and Jo hn in 1797 aged 19.
James was appointed Island Botanist in 1803 in succession to Dr. Dancer, and in 1805 was requested to revise the catalogue of plants in the Botanic Garden, 'Hortus Eastensis', "adding thereto the other plants since introduced into the botanic gardens of this Island."
By this time he had acquired two small coffee estates, Monmouth Mount and Mount Edwards, in the parish of St. Andrew, formerly belonging to the East family. His status was certainly such that in 1805 he was appointed Vestryman in the parish of St. Andrew and was promoted Captain in the Militia, to which he was then having to devote much time. His edition of 'Hortus Eastensis' was published in Jamaica in 1806.
In 1809, James was promoted Major in the Militia.
In a letter from his friend Matthew Flinders in 1811, James was that on the map of South Australia , he would find places named Cape Wiles and Liguanea Island .
In 1818 James was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
In 1823 James Wiles finally made his long-- planned, and only, return visit to England. A fter an absence of 32 years, he found "men and things so much changed - for the better no doubt", but he wrote, "that I am but a foreigner here". His visit to England lasted for 5 months.
In 1825 he once again held the office of Vestryman, St. Andrew and in 1831 James was appointed magistrate (Assistant Judge in the Court of Common Peace).
There was a serious rebellion of negro slaves in December 1831, in which numerous plantations were burnt and many lives lost; martial law was declared and the Militia played an active role in quelling disturbances.
Although the slaves were emancipated at the beginning of August 1834, Jamaica was in a very unsettled state. Now called apprentices, the former slaves, according to James, "behave very ill generally; they have no idea of freedom ... they will never work unless compelled to do so, not even for hire; all the laws in the world will never make black white". His own slaves had been valued at £4,160.
In 1841 there was much illness in Jamaica; James' brother Henry wrote that, in nearly 50 years in the island, he had never experienced anything like it, "it was a common thing to see twelve or fourteen funerals a day in Kingston". In 1849 Jamaica was in a terrible state because so many families had been reduced to poverty by the failure of the Planters Bank and other circumstances. In 1850 Jamaica was devastated by an epidemic of Asiatic cholera, of which about 50,000 people died. It was possibly at this time that both James' wife and their youngest son David died.
James Wiles died at Monmouth Mount on 9th October 1851, aged 83.
Source: pers com and author: Chris J Wiles, 59 Robinson Street, Nedlands WA 6009, Australia 1/3/2010