Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bennett, John Joseph
BENNETT, JOHN JOSEPH (1801–1875), botanist, was born at Tottenham on 8 Jan. 1801. He received his early education at Enfield, having as schoolfellows Keats, Thirlwall, and John Reeve the actor, the latter doing all Bennett's fighting in return for help in arithmetic. Leaving school, Bennett became a student at Middlesex Hospital, passed in due time, and settled in a house in Bulstrode Street, Cavendish Square, with his brother, Edward Turner Bennett [q.v.], four years his senior. They soon became acquainted with John Edward Gray, who was then helping his father in the preparation of his 'Natural Arrangement of British Plants, and the brothers' assistance was ac knowledged by the genus 'Bennettia,' which, however, has to pive way to De Candolle's 'Saussurea ' in priority. The elder brother, died whilst his last work, an edition of Whites 'Selborne,' was passing through the press, the final portions being supervised by John Joseph Bennett, and the preface written by him.
In 1827 Bennett became associated with Robert Brown (1773-1858) [q. v.]; in September of that year it was arranged that the Banksian herbarium and library should be transferred to the British Museum, Brown being appointed keeper with an assistant. In November Bennett was named Brown's assistant, and thenceforward his life was devoted to botany. The winter of 1827-28 was spent in removing the Banksian collection to Montague House, and for eight years after even the merest drudgery of the department was done by the hands of the keeper and his assistant. In 1828 Bennett was elected fellow of the Linnean Society, and of the Royal Society in December 1841; in the previous year he had undertaken the duties of secretary of the Linnean Society, which function he most efficiently discharged for twenty years.
In 1843 the collections were removed from Montague House to the British Museum building. Robert Brown died in 1858, and on his death a strong effort was made to obtain the transfer of the botanical collections to Kew, where the herbarium was rapidly assuming importance through the munificence and activity of Sir Hooker and George Bentham [q. v.] After long inquiry it was decided that the Banksian collections should not be transferred to the Royal Gardens, Kew. But the anxiety consequent upon the inquiry told upon Bennett, and he sought relief by a two months' residence on the continent in 1859; in the next year he suffered illness for three months, but a still longer holiday in Scotland and the north of England restored him in great measure. In 1870 he retired from the British Museum, and in 1871 he moved to a house at Maresfield, Sussex, where he died from disease of the heart 29 Feb. 1875.
His disposition was singularly kind, quiet, and retiring. His published papers were few in number, chiefly descriptive of new plants from Western Africa, sent him by his friend Dr. Daniell. The work which is his most important contribution to science is his chief share in Horsfield's 'Plantæ Javanicæ Rariores,' of which the first part came out in 1838, and the last in 1852, a quarto work of the highest value. As an example of Bennett's care in small matters, reference may be made to his account of the Upas tree, and his separation of fact and fiction concerning it.
There is a bust of Bennett by Weekes in the botanical department of the British Museum.
[Journ. Bot. Brit, and Foreign, New Ser. v. .(1876), pp. 97-105, with bibliography and portrait.]