Victorians were very interested in nature and many ladies and gentlemen studied animals and plants as a hobby. People were interested in classifying all the known species and hundreds of books were published and bought on such unlikely subjects as sea anemones, shell fish and even plankton. George Stacey Gibson was particularly interested in botany and wrote a work on the Flora of Essex. The Town Library has hundreds of books which formed his botanical and zoological collection, many of them beautifully illustrated.
William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865)
Many of the scientists during the early Victorian period did not have paid posts but were rich gentlemen. William Hooker was left some money by his godfather and could afford to support himself whilst he studied
mosses and wrote a book on them while he was still young. By the time he was twenty one he was elected a fellow of the Royal Linnean Society, a society of naturalists who were interested in the classification of animals and plants. Having established his reputation, he was offered paid employment when the botanist Sir Joseph Banks sponsored him to travel to Iceland and collect plants there. In 1820 he was made Professor of Botany at Glasgow University and in 1841 he was put in charge of running the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.
Hooker enlarged the gardens and arranged for plants to be sent there from all over the world. He also built several large glasshouses where plants could grow in tropical conditions. After his death his son, Joseph Hooker, took over his post and continued the traditions set by his father.