Collectors/Educators who have had great impact on the Collections
In regard to the written record of Jamaica’s natural history, several men stand out and tower above all others. It is these men whose works are now a part of the diverse collection in the Natural History Museum of Jamaica, Science Library. These men are Sir Hans Sloane, John Taylor, Patrick Browne, Phillip Gosse and Richard Hill who are all known and recognized as the early naturalists in Jamaica.
There are also other persons who have published a great many important papers on Jamaica’s Natural History. They are Dr. George Proctor, Dr. Thomas Farr, Bernard Lewis, J.E. Duerden and Mary Rathbun.
Sir Hans Sloane
He was a highly respected London physician who during his lifetime amassed a great collection of manuscripts and artefacts. These collections include many specimens collected by Sloane during his sojourn in Jamaica. In the period of 1701 to 1725 he published a huge tome entitled “A Voyage to the islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, Saint Christophers and Jamaica, which includes several sections – a long and rather tedious preface, an equally long introduction, an account of his actual voyage, followed by a large section on the natural history of Jamaica which includes many engravings, mostly of plants, which is full of interesting observations and remarks on the medicinal properties of plants.
He was a trained surveyor who made an error of several per cent in calculating the height of the Blue Mountain Peak to be 6 miles (9.6 kilometres) high instead of 7,400 feet (2,256 metres). Taylor’s journal of his travels fills three large volumes and includes an account of the capture of Jamaica by the British and a description of the island and its plants, animals and birds.
He was an Irishman hailing from County Mayo in the west. He trained in Leyden as a physician and came to Jamaica in the mid-eighteenth century, occupying himself entirely in collecting information about the minerals, plants and animals. In 1756 he published a large tome entitled The Civil and Natural History of Jamaica, with a large number of engravings and a map of the island. Like Sloane’s work, Browne’s Natural History is a mine of information about the plants and animals he found in Jamaica and, like Sloane he dwells much on the medicinal properties of many plants including some things we may not be familiar with today: for instance, that bananas are good for treating worms in children.
Phillip Gosse and Richard Hill
These men were great nineteenth-century naturalists. Gosse lived in Bluefields and made many observations on birds and other aspects of natural history, which he published in two separate books, Birds of Jamaica and A Naturalist’s Sojourn in Jamaica. In these books Gosse frequently introduces us to the habits of birds and more importantly he describes them carefully. What was special about Goose’s books was his dedication to the idea that natural history should be much more than a science of dead things, but should investigate and record living things in a state of nature. Additionally Goose’s writings about Jamaica were complemented by many contributions from his modest friend Richard Hill of Spanish Town, with whom he maintained regular correspondence.
Dr. George Proctor
Former Plant Taxonomist at the Institute of Jamaica and renowned specialist on Jamaican ferns and Caribbean flora.
Dr. Thomas Farr
Was entomologist at the Institute of Jamaica and a regular contributor to the National History Notes with articles about insects, particularly his papers on the robber flies of Jamaica.
Founding member of the Natural History Society of Jamaica and former director of the Institute of Jamaica, Mr. Lewis was an excellent naturalist who took a keen interest in the Natural History Museum of Jamaica and in fostering the study of plants and animals. He used his leverage as director of the Institute to sponsor a field trip to Clydesdale in the Blue Mountains for school teachers teaching science. This seems to have been remarkably successful, so much so that it was decided in the same year to found a Natural History Society.
He was a marine biologist who studied Jamaican sea anemones and corals and was one of the earliest people to work in the Science Division. Duerden gives us another link to Ireland, because he chose to publish some of his Jamaican works in the Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society, an institution very similar to the Institute of Jamaica.
The Annals is a very important output form the Science Division, and the first issue is attributed to a paper by Rathbun on a checklist of Jamaican Decapod Crustacea.