The Joy of Botany #1

Edward Shearburn Marshall became the Rector of West Monkton near Taunton in 1904 and his Supplement to the Flora of Somerset was published in 1914. The West Monkton Rectory, adjacent to the Church of St Augustine, is now privately owned as Glebe Court but has a flat used as an Airbnb establishment. Access to the gardens is permitted but apparently the rock garden where the Marshalls grew Saxifrages has gone.

When I made a display and later gave a presentation to the Somerset Rare Plants Group a year or two ago on the earlier botanists and Floras of Somerset I used a photo of Marshall, in clerical garb, unsmiling, as if he was suffering from ‘the harassing cares of an exacting occupation’ that White (see above) had gone on to mention. It seems that as an educated man in a country parish, with strong views from which it was difficult to shift him, his sermons proved to be rather too clever for the comprehension of some of his parishioners (see article by Anthony Pugh-Thomas).

Photograph by FJ Hanbury, 1915, published in the Report of the Botanical Society and Exchange Club for 1919 with the most intimate of their Obituaries.

I was therefore delighted the other day to come across again this happily smiling portrait of Marshall, with his wife, hatted and dressed up for the field. It was taken by their friend and Marshall’s co-author of the Flora of Kent (1899), Frederick Janson Hanbury, whilst they were collecting variegated reeds together on the coast of Caithness in 1915.

The three had long known each other. Marshall, at the time a young curate in Tottenham, met Hanbury in 1884, when a Suffragan Bishop of London introduced the fellow botanists. Marshall’s known interest in botany seems to go back to a visit to Teesdale in 1883, for which according to Pugh-Thomas there is a plant list in his journal. When she was still Fanny Isabel Foster of Witley, Surrey, Hanbury had met the future Mrs Marshall and her sister and father on a botanical excursion near Cromer.

Marshall only later met his wife-to-be when he became the Curate of Witley. She was active as a clergyman’s wife, well-known and remembered in West Monkton for her good humour, charm and tact and for training the village choir and playing the organ. She also seems to have taken a full part in Marshall’s botanical life both at home and in the field and Hanbury relates that she had ‘a good general knowledge’ of the subject, ‘and was extraordinarily apt at grasping the characteristics of a plant and often being the first to discover the objects of our search. She was an excellent walker and never shirked difficult climbs or going into the wettest places.’

Clive Lovatt, Stroud, 20 March 2020