A Catalogue of Plants Growing in Berwick – November 2009

Title page of 'A Catalogue of Plants Growing in the Vicinity of Berwick upon Tweed'
Title p[age of Thompson, John Vaughan, A catalogue of plants growing in the vicinity of Berwick upon Tweed
(London, 1807)
(Grey Tracts Vol. 78)

This decorative title page is the frontispiece to A Catalogue of Plants Growing in the Vicinity of Berwick upon Tweed, by J. V. Thompson, published in 1807.

John Vaughan Thompson (1779-1847) was born and grew up in Berwick. He studied Medicine at Edinburgh from 1797-98, reading anatomy, surgery, midwifery and botany. He compiled the Catalogue during this early period of his life; it displays an extensive knowledge of the plants of his native Berwick and features a small number of striking hand-coloured engravings, apparently drawn by Thompson himself. The quotation used on the title page is from Tweedside, a traditional local song by Robert Crawford.

The Catalogue was not published until 1807. In the mean time, from 1799 onwards, Thompson had begun an adventurous career as an army surgeon, travelling to Guiana, the West Indies, Mauritius and Madagascar, all the while keeping up his botanical studies and also developing a keen interest in the fields of natural history and marine biology.

In 1816 he published a second catalogue: A Catalogue of the Exotic Plants Cultivated in the Mauritius, echoing his work on the flora of Berwick – a place which we might imagine seemed a world away as he conducted his researches and compiled his lists in those tropical climes.

Over the years Thompson also made several fundamental contributions to natural history and marine biology, including the description of a new species of pouched rat on Trinidad and his revolutionary re-evaluation of barnacles as crustacea rather than molluscs, declared by Charles Darwin to have been “a capital discovery”.

Thompson died in Sydney, Australia, a few years after retiring from his last professional post as Medical Officer in charge of the convict settlements of New South Wales.

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