George Bentham

George Bentham bigraphy, stories - Botany

George Bentham : biography

22 September 1800 – 10 September 1884

George Bentham CMG FRS (22 September 1800 – 10 September 1884) was an English botanist, characterized by Duane Isely as "the premier systematic botanist of the nineteenth century".Isely, Duane. 1994 One hundred and one botanists Iowa State University Press.

Formative years

Bentham was born in Stoke, Plymouth, on 22 September 1800.Oxford University Press. (1999). A Dictionary of Scientists. ISBN 0192800868 His father, Sir Samuel Bentham, a naval architect, was the only brother of Jeremy Bentham to survive into adulthood. George Bentham had neither a school nor a college education, but at an early age acquired the power of giving sustained and concentrated attention to any subject that occupied him. He also had a remarkable linguistic aptitude. By the age of seven he could speak French, German and Russian, and he learned Swedish during a short residence in Sweden when little older. At the close of the war with France, the Benthams made a long tour through that country, staying two years at Montauban, where Bentham studied Hebrew and mathematics in the Protestant Theological School. They eventually settled in the neighbourhood of Montpellier where Sir Samuel purchased a large estate.

George Bentham became attracted to botanical studies by applying to them his uncle’s logical methods, and not by any special interest in natural history. While studying at Angoulême he came across a copy of A. P. de Candolle’s Flore française, and he became interested in the analytical tables for identifying plants. He immediately proceeded to test their use on the first plant he saw. The result was successful and he continued to apply it to every plant he came across. A visit to London in 1823 brought him into contact with the brilliant circle of English botanists. In 1826, at the pressing invitation of his uncle, he agreed to act as his secretary, at the same time entering Lincolns Inn and reading for the bar. He was called in due time and in 1832 held his first and last brief. In that same year Jeremy Bentham died, leaving his property to his nephew. Having inherited his father’s estate the previous year, he was now in a position of modest independence, and able to pursue wholeheartedly his favourite studies. For a time these were divided between botany, jurisprudence and logic, in addition to editing his father’s professional papers. He married Sarah Jones (1798–1881), daughter of Sir Harford Jones Brydges, on 11 April 1833.A Genealogical and Heraldic History of The Landed Gentry of Great Britain, Burke, John Bernard, Sir., London, 1906


  • Marion Filipuik ed 1997. George Bentham, autobiography 1800-1843. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-0791-0
  • J. Reynolds Green 1914. A history of botany in the United Kingdom from the earliest times to the end of the 19th century. Dent, London.
  • Duane Isely 1994. One hundred and one botanists Iowa State University Press p163-6.
  • B. Daydon Jackson 1906. George Bentham.


Views on evolution

Bentham’s life spanned the Darwinian revolution and, moreover, his young colleague Joseph Dalton Hooker was Darwin’s closest friend and one of the first to accept Darwin’s ideas. Bentham was until then an unquestioning adherent of the dogma of the constancy of species. In 1863 he had still not converted to the new ideas, but by 1874 he was able to write: "Fifteen years have sufficed to establish a theory, of which the principal ponts, so far as they affect systematic botany… [continues in familiar Darwinian manner, variation, differential survival and heredity producing new varieties and species].Green, J. Reynolds 1914. A history of botany in the United Kingdom from the earliest times to the end of the 19th century. Dent, London. p498

Bentham’s conversion to the new line of thought was remarkably complete, and included a change from typology in taxonomy to an appreciation that "We cannot form an idea of a species from a single individual, nor of a genus from a single one of its species. We can no more set up a typical species than a typical individual." Reynolds Green, op cit, p499.