Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turner, Dawson

TURNER, DAWSON (1775–1858), botanist and antiquary, born at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, on 18 Oct. 1775, was the eldest surviving son of James Turner (1743–1794), head of the Yarmouth bank, by his wife Elizabeth, only daughter of John Cotman, mayor of Yarmouth. He was educated partly at North Walsham grammar school, and afterwards privately by Robert Forby [q. v.], rector of Fincham, Norfolk, from whom he may have imbibed his taste for botany. In 1793 he entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, of which his uncle, Joseph Turner (d. 1828), afterwards dean of Norwich, was master. Turner left the university before his father's death in 1794, and in 1796 joined the Yarmouth bank. His first scientific pursuit was botany, especially that of the cryptogamic plants; and the fortune which he inherited on the death of his father enabled him to aid the study of botany and that of antiquities, which he afterwards pursued, by the publication of sumptuous works, and by liberal patronage of the works of others. His earlier independent works were a ‘Synopsis of the British Fuci,’ with coloured plates (Yarmouth, 1802, in 2 vols. 12mo, and fifty copies on large paper, 8vo); ‘Muscologiæ Hibernicæ Spicilegium,’ with sixteen coloured plates (Yarmouth, 1804, 8vo; two hundred and fifty copies privately printed); ‘The Botanist's Guide through England and Wales’ (London, 1805, 2 vols. 8vo), written in conjunction with Lewis Weston Dillwyn [q. v.], and the magnificent ‘Natural History of Fuci,’ with 258 figures, which in some copies are coloured, 1808–19, in 4 vols. 4to, and twenty-five large-paper copies in royal folio. Turner also contributed numerous descriptions to ‘English Botany’ and several articles to the ‘Transactions’ of the Linnean Society, and formed large collections, chiefly of algæ, which are preserved at Kew, having been incorporated in the herbarium of his son-in-law, Sir William Jackson Hooker [q. v.] In 1812 Turner and his wife induced John Sell Cotman [q. v.], the watercolourist, to settle near them. Mrs. Turner and four of her daughters became pupils, and Turner himself not only a patron but a literary fellow-workman. In 1820, in conjunction with Hudson Gurney [q. v.], Turner purchased the Macro manuscripts, which included Sir Henry Spelman's collection. Turner selected the autograph portion, and of this he afterwards (in 1853) sold to the British Museum for 1,000l. five volumes illustrative of the history of Great Britain, to which he had privately printed a descriptive index (Yarmouth, 1843 and 1851). From 1820 his attention seems to have been mainly directed to the study of antiquities, to which his chief contribution was perhaps his ‘Account of a Tour in Normandy, undertaken chiefly for the purpose of investigating the Architectural Antiquities of the Duchy,’ with fifty etchings by John Sell Cotman, and the author's wife and daughters (2 vols. 8vo, and also folio on India paper).

Turner died at Old Brompton, London, on 20 June 1858, ten days after his friend, Robert Brown (1773–1858) [q. v.], who had dedicated the genus Dawsonia, among the mosses, to his honour. He was buried in Brompton cemetery, where a monument exists to his memory. Turner was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1797, of the Imperial Academy in 1800, of the Royal Society in 1802, of the Society of Antiquaries in 1803, and subsequently of many other learned societies. He married Mary, second daughter of William Palgrave of Coltishall, Norfolk, by whom he had six surviving children—a son and five daughters. His eldest daughter, Maria, was married in 1815 to Sir William Jackson Hooker [q. v.], and died in 1872; another, Elizabeth, was married in 1823 to Francis Cohen, who had taken by royal license his wife's mother's maiden name of Palgrave [see Palgrave, Sir Francis]; and the youngest, Eleanor Jane, was married in 1836 to William Jacobson [q. v.], bishop of Chester.

Of Turner's library of nearly eight thousand volumes, many were enriched by sketches, engravings inserted, autograph letters, and drawings and etchings by his wife and daughters. In this way he added two thousand drawings to a copy of Blomefield's ‘History of Norfolk,’ expanding it to seventy volumes, and printing privately (Yarmouth, 1841, 8vo) a catalogue of these illustrations. His own interleaved copy of the ‘Muscologiæ Spicilegium,’ now in the British Museum Library, has carefully coloured sketches of the leaves of all the mosses mentioned, by Sir William Hooker. Most of his library, including the missals and 150 volumes of manuscripts and letters, was sold by auction in 1853; and the remainder, comprising forty thousand letters, besides other manuscripts, was similarly dispersed, after his death, in June 1859, realising more than 6,500l. A catalogue of the library, in two volumes, was printed at the time of the sale. Besides those already mentioned, Turner published the following works: 1. ‘Remarks upon the Hedwigian System and Monograph of Bartramia,’ Yarmouth, 1804, 8vo. 2. ‘Catalogue of the Works of Art in the possession of Sir Peter Paul Rubens at his Decease,’ 1832? 8vo. 3. ‘Specimens of Architectural Remains in various Counties, etched by J. S. Cotman, with Descriptive Notices by Dawson Turner, and Architectural Observations by T. Rickman,’ 2 vols. 1838, folio. 4. ‘Specimen of a Lichenographia Britannica,’ in conjunction with William Borrer, privately printed, 1839, 8vo. 5. ‘Outlines in Lithography,’ Yarmouth, 1840, folio. 6. ‘Catalogue of his Collection of Drawings in S. Woodward's “The Norfolk Topographer's Manual,”’ 1842, 8vo. 7. ‘Sketch of the History of Caister Castle, near Yarmouth, including Biographical Notices of Sir J. Fastolfe and of the Paston Family,’ 1842, 8vo. 8. ‘Narrative of the Visit of King Charles II to Norwich in 1671,’ Yarmouth, 1846, 8vo. 9. ‘List of Norfolk Benefices,’ Norwich, 1847, 8vo. 10. ‘Guide to the Historian, the Biographer, the Antiquary, &c., towards the Verification of Manuscripts by reference to Engraved Facsimiles,’ Yarmouth, privately printed, 1848, 8vo; London, published, 1853. 11. ‘Sepulchral Reminiscences of a Market Town, a List of Interments in the Church of St. Nicholas, Great Yarmouth, with an Appendix of Genealogies,’ Yarmouth, 1848, 8vo. 12. ‘A Collection of Handbills and Pamphlets relating to Yarmouth,’ n.d.

He edited: 1. John Ives's ‘Garianonum [i.e. Yarmouth] of the Romans,’ 1803, 8vo. 2. ‘The Literary Correspondence of J. Pinkerton,’ 1830, 8vo. 3. ‘H. Gunn's Letters, written during a Four Days' Tour in Holland,’ 1834, 8vo. 4. ‘Extracts from the Correspondence of Richard Richardson,’ Yarmouth, 1835, 8vo. 5. ‘Thirteen Letters from Isaac Newton to J. Covel,’ 1848, 8vo. He also contributed several papers to the ‘Transactions’ of the Linnean Society between 1799 and 1804.

In addition to what he published he records (Correspondence of Richard Richardson, preface, p. iii) that he had made preparations for a life of Sir Joseph Banks, and for a new edition of Pulteney's ‘Sketches of Botany’ continued down to the death of his friend, Sir James Edward Smith [q. v.]

A private lithograph portrait by one of his daughters, after a painting by Davis, dated 1816, is inserted in some of Turner's books.

The only surviving son, Dawson William Turner (1815–1885), born on 24 Dec. 1815, and educated at Rugby school, matriculated from Exeter College, Oxford, on 7 May 1834. He became a demy of Magdalen College in 1836, graduating thence B.A. in 1838, M.A. in 1840, and D.C.L. in 1862. For some years he filled the office of headmaster of the Royal Institution school, Liverpool. He was known in later life for his extraordinary benevolence. He was accustomed to seek out the destitute and, tempering his charity with friendship, to relieve them without pauperising them. He was also a generous benefactor to the London hospitals (cf. Times, 5 Feb. 1885). Turner died in London on 29 Jan. 1885. On 30 June 1846 he was married to Ophelia Dixon, by whom he had a son and two daughters. Turner was the author of several educational works, including: 1. ‘Heads of an Analysis of French and English History,’ London, 1845, 16mo; 6th edit. 1865. 2. ‘Notes on Herodotus,’ Oxford, 1848, 8vo; republished in Bohn's ‘Philosophical Library’ in 1853. 3. ‘Heads of an Analysis of Roman History,’ London, 1853, 12mo. 4. ‘Heads of an Analysis of the History of Greece,’ London, 1853, 12mo; 3rd edit. 1873. 5. ‘Analysis of the History of Germany,’ London, 1866, 8vo; 3rd edit. 1872. 6. ‘Rules of Simple Hygiene,’ London, 1869, fol.; 7th edit. 1873. 7. ‘Dirt and Drink,’ London, 1884, 8vo. He also edited several plays of Aristophanes, and in 1852 translated Pindar's ‘Odes’ for Bohn's ‘Classical Library’ (Times, 31 Jan. 1885; Foster, Alumni, 1715–1886).

[Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries for 1858–9; Athenæum, 1858, ii. 82; H. Turner's Turner Family, 1895; Roget's ‘Old Watercolour’ Society, 1891, i. 501–4; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

G. S. B.