Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Knight, Thomas Andrew

KNIGHT, THOMAS ANDREW (1759–1838), vegetable physiologist and horticulturist, born at Wormesley Grange, near Ludlow, Herefordshire, on 12 Aug. 1759, was the younger son of Thomas Knight, rector of Ribbesford and Bewdley, Worcestershire, a member of an old Shropshire family, whose fortunes had been made by his father, Richard Knight, an ironmaster. Richard Payne Knight [q. v.] the numismatist was Thomas Andrew Knight's elder brother. Knight was educated at Ludlow grammar school, at a school at Chiswick, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 13 Feb. 1778. He was early distinguished as an eager sportsman, a good shot, and a keen observer. He settled at Elton, near Downton Castle, Herefordshire, his brother's residence, and began there his experiments in raising new varieties of fruits and vegetables. He was also a successful cattle-breeder, and was accordingly recommended by his brother to Sir Joseph Banks as a correspondent for the board of agriculture. In 1795 his work as a horticulturist first became generally known through some papers which he read before the Royal Society on grafting and the inheritance of disease among fruit trees. In 1803 Banks introduced him to Sir Humphry Davy, who soon became his greatest friend. Knight was an original member of the Horticultural Society (established in 1804), of which he was president from 1811 until his death, and he contributed to every part of its ‘Transactions’ issued during his lifetime from their first publication in 1807. He was in 1805 elected fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1806 received the Copley medal from the society. He became a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1807, and he was also a member of many American and other horticultural societies.

In 1809 his brother made over Downton Castle to him, and he thus had the management of an estate of ten thousand acres. In 1827 he entertained there, much to his satisfaction, the French physiologist, Dutrochet. In November of the same year he lost his only son, who was accidentally shot when in his thirty-second year. In 1836 he was awarded the first Knightian medal of the Horticultural Society, bearing his own portrait, by Wyon, and founded in his honour. Knight died in London on 11 May 1838, and was buried at Wormesley. He married in 1791 Frances, daughter of Humphrey Felton of Woodhall, near Shrewsbury. She survived him with three daughters, of whom Frances (b. 1793), a skilful botanical draughtswoman, who shared in his experiments, was married to Thomas Pendarves Stackhouse Acton (d. 1881); the second daughter married Sir William Rouse Boughton; and the third, Francis Walpole.

Knight raised new varieties of apples, cherries, strawberries, plums, nectarines, pears, potatoes, cabbages, and peas, many of which bear his name; and a genus of Proteaceæ was called Knightia by Robert Brown. Though he will always be associated with certain purely physiological experiments, such as those on the influence of gravitation upon direction of growth, his main object was always utilitarian. His chief independent works were ‘A Treatise on the Culture of the Apple and Pear, and on the Manufacture of Cider and Perry,’ 8vo, 1797, 2nd edition 1801, 3rd 1808; and ‘Pomona Herefordiensis,’ 4to, 1811, with thirty coloured plates; but he was also the author of upwards of a hundred papers. Of these, one ‘On the Aphis and Blights on Fruit Trees,’ and another ‘On the Fecundation of Vegetables,’ are in Alexander Hunter's ‘Georgical Essays,’ vols. iv. and vi. 1803–4; while another, ‘On Blight,’ is in the ‘Pamphleteer,’ vol. iv. 1813. In 1841 was published ‘A Selection from the Physiological and Horticultural Papers published in the Transactions of the Royal and Horticultural Societies by the late Thomas Andrew Knight, to which is prefixed a Sketch of his Life.’ This volume was edited by George Bentham and John Lindley, the life being apparently by Mrs. Acton. It contains a lithographed portrait, and comprises eighty-two papers, sixty-three read before the Horticultural Society, together with fifteen on plants, and four, dealing with bees, and the influence of male and female parents on their offspring and hereditary instincts (dated 25 May 1837), which were presented to the Royal Society. The horticultural series treat, among other subjects, of sap, buds, germination, bark, roots, tendrils, early varieties, forcing-houses, layering, manure, ringing, mildew, and the supposed change of English climate. Only forty-six of his papers are enumerated in the Royal Society's ‘Catalogue’ (iii. 687–8), but it includes one ‘On Variegation’ from the Linnean ‘Transactions’ (vol. ix. 1808), one ‘On the Direction of the Radicle and Germen,’ from the Royal Institution ‘Journal’ (vol. ii. 1831), and fourteen others not included in the volume of 1841.

[Life prefixed to selection of papers, 1841; Athenæum, 1838, p. 358; Gent. Mag. 1838, ii. 99; Gardeners' Chronicle, 1841 p. 351, 1871 i. 169; Gardeners' Magazine, xiv. 303.]

G. S. B.