Monday 23 March 2015

Robert Pocock Herbarium: Part Two

Last March, I told you about a fascinating project happening in Kent - the Robert Pocock Herbarium Project - and I bet lots of you have been following their progress since then via the link on the right, under Blogs by BSBI members. This weekend's post retraces a walk that Pocock took around 200 years ago, compares what is in flower now with the plants that Pocock saw and introduces us to the buffoon at Chalk Church!

Epilobium tetragonum collected by Pocock
Malcolm Jennings (mentioned in last March's post) has also been in touch to offer an update on the project. Malcolm says "The Heritage Lottery Funded 'Robert Pocock Herbarium Project' officially ended in February 2015. But there is still much to do! We found about 220 plant specimens collected by Robert Pocock between 1800 and 1830. The specimens are in good condition and have now been databased by the Natural History Museum. G. M. Arnold gave the Pocock herbarium to the NHM in 1884 and he wrote at the time that the herbarium must have contained several thousand specimens before the ravages of time. So perhaps 90% of the specimens were lost to decay before getting to the museum. Most of the specimens that survived are local to Gravesend and Kent. It is likely that this was true of the original collection – what a sad loss of biodiversity information. All of the specimens and label data can be viewed here:

"The provenance of some of the plants is questionable – several appear to have been collected by him after his death in 1830! Most of these “anomalies” can be explained by curator error when they were received at the NHM in 1884. More on this at

"We are now busy compiling all of the data from the collection labels, identifying his favourite collecting sites and his periods of botanical activity. Since we have parts of his journal for the same period we are also linking his specimen collecting to his daily life. We know, for example, that on 14th July 1823 he walked to Southfleet for “tea” with the Rev. Rashleigh and his two daughters. He tell us that Julia, the youngest daughter, is a good botanist. In our search of the herbarium we found this specimen of Epilobium tetragonum (see image above right), collected about ½ mile from the rectory so it is nice to think that perhaps after tea they all went botanising together – perhaps Julia picked the plant and gave it to Pocock for his collection."

Cover of the DVD.
Malcolm says "We have created a project DVD that contains all of the scanned images of the specimens found, biographical details of Robert Pocock, images of the collecting sites (contemporary and recent), photographs of the project and much more. Much of this is on the website – more to follow soon. The DVD is going to local libraries and schools" Malcolm has also very kindly sent me a copy, so you can expect another post about Pocock once I've watched it! And a quick check in my copy of Kent & Allen's British & Irish Herbaria shows that 240 sheets went to the BM so there are still 20 sheets unaccounted for. Must ask Malcolm about this...

Malcolm concludes: "Parts of Pocock’s journal and short biographical notes were published in 1883 - G. M. Arnold “Robert Pocock, The Gravesend Historian, Naturalist, Antiquarian, Botanist and Printer”(see image on previous post). This is the only edition and it is rarely available for purchase and held by very few libraries.  Brilliant news that the book is now being reprinted by Cambridge University Press. Coincidence?
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  1. Louise - thanks for the post. Yes, we knew about the 240 total in Kent and Allen. We are hoping to find the primary sources related to the receipt of Pocock's herbarium in the NHM archives. If anyone knows about this please get in touch. One of the reasons we did not find all of the specimens probably relates to our search strategy. There are about 750,000 specimens in the NHM British and Irish Herbarium. We searched for plants listed in the Flora of Kent by Hanbury and Marshall (1899). We did find Pocock specimens that had been collected outside of Kent (by other botanists) but that was just luck! Searching time was limited, so we focused on VC14 and 15. We know that he received plants from Scotland ("alpine plants") but we don't know which species and we can't search all of the folders. John Hunnex, at the NHM, is really good. My money is on him finding them eventually................

    1. Thanks Malcolm. You have all done an amazing job tracking down Pocock's specimens, and you've really brought him to life. I love the way you've linked his specimen collecting to journal entries eg having tea at the rectory. Also love the note about Dickens and the buffoon! Sorry for obsessing over the 20 missing sheets - I used to be a librarian so like to have everything completed and tied up neatly if possible. Am often disappointed!


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