John Templeton (botanist)

John Templeton (botanist)

John Templeton (1766–1825) was an early Irish naturalist and botanist. He is often referred to as the "Father of Irish Botany".


Templeton was born at Orange Grove, Belfast in 1766 (some 68 years after it was so named from William of Orange having tethered his horse to a Spanish Chestnut tree beside the house on his way south from Carrickfergus to face the armies of James II at the River Boyne). He married Katherine Johnson of Seymour Hill, on the outskirts of Belfast, the daughter of a Belfast merchant on 21 December 1799. The couple had five children: Ellen, born on 30 September 1800, Robert, born on 12 December 1802, Catherine, born on 19 July 1806, Mary, born on 9 December 1809 and Matilda on 2 November 1813.

The union between the two already prosperous merchant families provided more than ample means enabling Templeton to devote himself passionately to the study of natural history. Influenced by the French Revolution, which many saw as lighting a beacon of enlightenment before the counter-revolutionary Civil War and the ensuing "Terror", Templeton was an early member of the United Irishmen. At once a fervent advocate of Irish independence from the United Kingdom he changed the name of the family home to ‘Cranmore’. Disillusionment came with the murders of a number of Protestants and the rise of sectarian Irish nationalism, though he remained a strenuous and enlightened advocate of civil and religious liberty. Never of strong constitution, he was not expected to survive, Deane, C.D. 1983. "The Ulster Countryside." Century Books. ISBN 0 903152 17 7] he was in failing health from 1815 and died in 1825 aged only 60, "leaving a sorrowing wife, youthful family and many friends and townsmen who greatly mourned his death". The Australian leguminous genus "Templetonia" is named for him. His son Robert became a famous entomologist.


Templeton pursued the study of botany throughout his life and corresponded with the most eminent botanists in England Sir William Hooker, William Turner, James Sowerby and , especially Sir Joseph Banks, who had travelled on Captain James Cook’s voyages, and in charge of Kew Gardens. Banks tried (unsuccessfully) to tempt him to New Holland (Australia) as a botanist with the offer of a large tract of land and a substantial salary. An associate of the Linnean Society, Templeton visited London and saw the botanical work being achieved there. This led to his promotion of the Belfast Botanic Gardens as early as 1809, and to work on a "Catalogue of Native Irish Plants", in manuscript form and now in the Royal Irish Academy, which was used as an accurate foundation for later work by succeeding Irish botanists. He also assembled text and executed many beautiful watercolour drawings for a "Flora Hibernica", sadly never finished, and kept a detailed Journal during the years 1806-1825 (both now in the Ulster Museum,Belfast). [] Though he specialised in botany he was an acute observer and recorder of all aspects of the natural sciences including meteorology. Many of his manuscript notes were published by Robert after his father’s death in 1825.

Of the 12000 algal specimens in the Ulster Museum Herbarium about 148 are in the Templeton collection and were mostly collected by him, some were collected by others and passed to Templeton. The specimens in the Templeton collection in the Ulster Museum (BEL) have been catalogued. Those noted in 1967 were numbered: F1 - F48.Pilcher, B. 1967 The algae of John Templeton in the Ulster Museum. "Ir. Nat. J." 15: 350 - 353] Others were in The Queen's University Belfast. Kertland, M.P.H. 1967 The specimens of Templeton's algae in the Queen's University Herbarium. "Ir. Nat.J." 15:318 - 322] [] All of Templeton's specimens have now been numbered in the Ulster Museum as follows: F190 - F264; F290 - F314 and F333 - F334.


John Templeton supported many Belfast societies, such as Belfast Literary Society and Belfast Natural History Society, which became the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1842. He was a founder, with other far-sighted Belfast men, of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.


General references

*Kertland, M.P.H. 1966. Bi-centenary of the birth of John Templeton, A.L.S. 1766-1825. "Ir. Nat. J." 15 :229 -232. Pl.4.
*Kertland, M.P.H. 1967. The specimens of Templeton's algae in the Queen's University Herbarium. "Ir. Nat. J." 15: 318 - 322.
*Pilcher, B. 1967. The algae of John Templeton in the Ulster Museum. "Ir. Nat. J." 15: 350 - 353.
*Praeger, R.L.,1950 "Some Irish Naturalists". W. Tempest, Dundalgan Press, Dundalk.
*Ross, H.C.G. and Nash, R. 1985. The development of natural history in early nineteenth century Ireland. "Linnaeus to Darwin: commentaries on the history of biology and geology." Society for the History of Natural History, London. 1985.

Further reading

*cite book|last=Foster|first=John Wilson|coauthors=and Helena C. G. Chesney (eds.)|title=Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History|year=1997|publisher=Lilliput Press|location=Dublin|id=ISBN 1-874675-29-5

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