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In 1687, the young physician Hans Sloane (1660–1753) was appointed to accompany King James II’s new colonial governor, the Duke of Albermarle, to Jamaica. Following the wishes of the famous naturalist, John Ray (1627–1705), who had asked Sloane to ‘search out and examine thoroughly the natural varieties of that island [Jamaica]’, he returned to England in 1689 with a huge quantity of natural history specimens.
These formed the basis for the Sloane herbarium, which by the time of Sloane’s death in 1753 totalled 336 bound volumes of dried plants that originated from every known part of the globe. In addition, these volumes formed the basis for Sloane’s magnum opus: A Voyage to Jamaica (1707–25), Sloane’s annotated copy of which acted as a catalogue for his Jamaican collections. In this talk, Edwin examines the relationship between Sloane’s copy of A Voyage to Jamaica and his vast herbarium, which remains intact, held by the Natural History Museum, London.
Edwin goes on to examine the collection in the years following Sloane’s death in 1753, when he left the collection to the British nation on the condition that £20,000 was given to his heirs, alongside the development of the new Linnaean taxonomy. The British Parliament purchased the collection and passed the British Museum Act, founding the British Museum, the first state-owned public museum, now the British Museum (Bloomsbury), the British Library (St Pancras) and the Natural History Museum (South Kensington).