Open main menu


HARVEY, WILLIAM HENRY (1811–1866), botanist, son of Joseph Massey Harvey, a merchant of Limerick, was born at Summerville, near that city, 5 February 1811. His parents were quakers, and he was sent in 1824 to the school at Ballitore, co. Kildare, where Burke and Brocklesby had been educated. James White, the master, was an accomplished botanist, and gave Harvey the taste for the subject in the study of which he spent his life. In 1827 he left school, and for a time took part in his father's business, making frequent botanical and zoological excursions to Miltown Malbay, co. Clare. In 1831 he discovered Hookeria læte virens, before unknown, as an Irish moss, at Killarney, and the discovery led to his acquaintance with Sir William Hooker [q. v.] In 1834 he visited Robert Brown [q. v.] and other botanists in London, and on 12 July 1835 sailed for Capetown, where he worked hard at the botany of South Africa. In 1836 he was appointed colonial treasurer, in succession to his brother, but the climate disagreed with him, and in 1842 he resigned his office and returned to England. He soon became the chief authority on algæ. On 20 March 1844 he was made an honorary M.D. of the Dublin University, and on 30 March curator of the herbarium of Trinity College. In 1856 he was elected professor of botany in the university. His vacations he often spent with Hooker at Kew, and in 1849 he went to America and lectured on botany at the Lowell Institute, Boston. In 1853 he visited India, Australia, and the South Sea Islands, a voyage of three years. The remainder of his life was spent in botanical teaching at Trinity College, Dublin, in publishing numerous memoirs, in occasional visits to England, and in one to Arcachon in 1865 for his health. He had always given much thought to theology, and on 25 Feb. 1846 was baptised in St. Mark's Church, Dublin. His religious views were published in 1862, in a printed letter to his friend Josiah Gough, entitled ‘Charles and Josiah, or Friendly Conversations between a Churchman and a Quaker.’ When the ‘Origin of Species’ appeared, he wrote in opposition to it, but he retained the esteem of Darwin, who speaks of him as ‘a first-rate botanist’ (Darwin's Life, ii. 275). Harvey's general reading was extensive; he was twenty-six before he read Shakespeare, whom he afterwards studied closely, and he was minutely acquainted with the poems of Cowper and of Crabbe. He died of phthisis at Torquay on 15 May 1866. He published many scattered botanical memoirs, and the following books:

  1. ‘Genera of South African Plants,’ Capetown, 1838.
  2. ‘Manual of British Algæ,’ 1841.
  3. ‘Phycologia Britannica, a History of British Seaweeds,’ 1846–51.
  4. ‘Nereis Australis, or Algæ of the Southern Ocean,’ 1847.
  5. ‘The Seaside Book,’ 1849.
  6. ‘Nereis Boreali-Americana,’ 1852–8.
  7. ‘Phycologia Australica,’ 1858–63.
  8. ‘Thesaurus Capensis and Flora Capensis,’ 1865.

A portrait is prefixed to his memoir by his cousin.

[Memoir of W. H. Harvey, with selections from his Journal and Correspondence, by a cousin, Lond. 1869; Leadbeater's Annals of Ballitore; F. Darwin's Life and Letters of Charles Darwin; personal information from Mrs. R. R. R. Moore.]

N. M.