Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fraser, John (1750-1811)

FRASER, JOHN (1750–1811), botanist, was born at Tomnacloich, Inverness-shire, in 1750, and apparently came to London in 1770, when he married and settled as a hosier and draper at Paradise Row, Chelsea. Having acquired a taste for plants from visiting the Botanical Garden, Chelsea, then under the care of Forsyth, he sailed to Newfoundland in 1780 in search of new species, returning the same year. In 1784 he embarked for Charleston, whence he returned in 1785, only to start again the same year. His third, fourth, and fifth visits to North America were made in 1790, 1791, and 1795, he having in the latter year established a nursery at Sloane Square, Chelsea, to which his discoveries were consigned. Having introduced various American pines, oaks, azaleas, rhododendrons, and magnolias, in 1796 he visited St. Petersburg, where the Empress Catherine purchased a collection of plants from him. He then introduced into England the Tartarian cherries. Revisiting Russia in 1797 and 1798 he was appointed botanical collector to the czar Paul, and, commissioned by him, returned to America in 1799, taking with him the eldest of his two sons. In Cuba he met and was assisted by Humboldt and Bonpland. On his return the Czar Alexander declined to recognise his appointment by his predecessor, though he made two journeys to Russia to obtain remuneration. In conjunction with his sister he then introduced the weaving of hats from the leaves of a Cuban palm, an industry which was for a time successful. In 1806 he started on his seventh and last visit to America, again taking his son. While in Cuba he was thrown and broke several ribs; but he returned, with many new plants, in 1810 to his nursery, which, however, was never very successful. He died at Sloane Square on 26 April 1811. His herbarium was presented in 1849 to the Linnean Society, of which he was a fellow, by his son. A lithograph portrait, from an original belonging to his family, was published in the ‘Companion to the Botanical Magazine.’

[Life by R. Hogg, in Cottage Gardener, viii. 250; by Forsyth, in Loudon's Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum, p. 119; Faulkner's History of Chelsea ii. 41.]

G. S. B.