Peter Collinson - Scientist of the Day
Peter Collinson, an English cloth merchant and gardener, died Aug. 11, 1768, at age 74. Collinson is hardly known to the general public, but he played a major role in facilitating the work of others who did become famous. Young Ben Franklin sent Collinson his first papers on electricity, and Collinson had them published by the Royal Society, and he encouraged Franklin to pursue further electrical investigations. Collinson supported the travels of John Bartram in the American colonies, and received in exchange hundreds of packets of seeds, which he distributed to gardeners all over England. Occasionally the traffic went the other way; Collinson sent Bartram some Siberian rhubarb that he had raised; Bartram successfully replanted it, and this was the source for most of the rhubarb that you buy today at the city market.
Collinson was a principal patron of Mark Catesby, who was studying the flora and fauna of the southern colonies, and Collinson lent Catesby the money to publish his Natural History of Carolina (1731-43), a second edition of which we displayed in The Grandeur of Life in 2009. As an example of how interconnected these far-flung naturalists were, Bartram sent Collinson a specimen of a Pennsylvania plant, the Lady’s Slipper, which Collinson planted in his garden and brought to flower. Catesby, who had published volume 1 of his Natural History (thanks to Collinson), saw the flower in Collinson’s garden in 1738, drew it, and then published it in volume 2 of his Natural History. In fact, since there were two varieties, he published it twice, with one plant blooming in front of a black squirrel, and the other hiding behind a wonderful American bullfrog.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Wonderful! More digitized wonders of the 18th century.