Baker, Dr Robert Large (1824 – 1885)

To date (16 July 2011) one hundred and eight (108) specimens attributed to Dr Robert Large Baker (1824-1885) have been documented on Herbaria@Home (see http://goo.gl/jxWsH).

These specimens  are at SLBI, BIRM, MANCH, ABS, CGE, LIV and OXF; were collected between 1872 and 1885; are represented in the herbaria of Augustin Ley, Charles Bailey, G S West, C C Babington, W H Beeby, W H Painter and John Ray Hardy; some were collected jointly with W H Bromwich; most were exchanged through the Botanical Exchange Club of the British Isles (BECBI); all appear to have been remounted.   Because they are exchange specimens the labels are in a variety of hands (presumably written by different officers of the Club or by the recipients) but the most frequent hand is flamboyant and singular: here is a specimen –

Sonchus asper – coll. Bromwich and Baker .

This label was written by Baker; the upper case ‘W’ and lower case ‘r’ are distinctive and characteristic of Baker as is the fluent jizz of the handwriting.   Compare Baker’s handwriting with Bromwich’s (note the ‘W’ and the ‘r’) –

 

Caltha palustris – coll. Henry Bromwich

Robert Large Baker was a native of Essex who trained at Barts, was awarded his MD by St Andrew’s, practised as a surgeon in Birmingham until his retirement at age 50 due to ill health when he moved to Leamington Spa, served on the committee of the Jephson Gardens and contributed to the botany of Warwickshire before dying in May 1885.   In 1874 jointly with Rev J R Young, Rector of Whitnash, he published in the Proceedings of the Warwick Natural History and Archaeological Society  “A Catalogue of Plants collected in Warwickshire” comprising records compiled by them and Rev A Bloxam, Henry Bromwich, the Rugby School Society and J E Bagnall, author of the Flora of Warwickshire (1891).  vide infra

At BIRM there is a collection of 1130 specimens to each of which has been affixed a curator’s label: “Herb. Bot. Dept., Univ. Birmingham. Presented by Hayes or Bloxham”.   The collection spans the years 1825 – 1884 and includes many of the major collectors of the early and mid Victorian era.    The early part of the collection was made in Essex, the later part in the Midlands, especially Warwickshire.

Polygonum oxyspermum ssp. raii  coll T B Flower ex herb. ‘Hayes or Bloxham’

A typical ‘Hayes or Bloxham’ herbarium specimen is mounted on a pro-forma printed sheet (though many specimens have been remounted with the data cut out from the original and reused).   A very few other contemporary collectors have used similar sheets but the ‘Hayes or Bloxham’ specimens usually stand out, even when the provenance label has not been affixed, because of the distinctive handwriting on them.   Where no details of the collector are given, it has been assumed by those documenting for Herbaria@Home that the collector is ‘Hayes or Bloxham’.   (It should be noted that the latest specimen in the collection is dated July 1884, i.e. before the date of death of Dr Baker).

All this has led to some discussion and speculation, both on the Message Board of Herbaria@Home and on the meiosis.org.uk : is the collection that of Rev Andrew Bloxam and who is Hayes?

But I think it is plain that the distinctive hand which has entered the data on the ‘Hayes or Bloxham’ sheets can belong to none other than Dr R L Baker.   I posit that the ‘Hayes or Bloxam’ provenance slip is merely one of those curatorial errors that sometimes occur and that this collection is the personal herbarium of Dr Robert Large Baker.

How could the error have arisen?    There is a curious disparity in the spelling.   Bloxam and his contemporaries appear to have spelt his name “Bloxam” but it is spelt “Bloxham” on the provenance label.    At what point did the attribution to ‘Hayes or Bloxham’ arise? A 1935 H S Thompson specimen and a 1927 Birmingham Natural History Society presentation both bear the label, suggesting a late date or ongoing process.  A number of unanswerable questions can be asked.   For the time being the identity of “Hayes”, if he is a person, must remain a mystery.

In the meantime I think it is safe to substitute “Dr R L Baker” for “Hayes or Bloxham” which is henceforth to be regarded as a ‘nomen nudum‘.

Update(17/7/2011)

At Herbaria at Home, Tom Humphrey has now made this change to all the sheets previously ascribed to Hayes and Blox(h)am.

footnote.

Robert Large Baker was born in Kirby Le Soken, Essex; his father was a farmer. He trained at St Bartholomew’s, London.  He married Emma Matilda (by licence) in London. They had three daughters and two sons (? to be checked).  At the time of marriage, he was living in Aston, Birmingham and later at the High St. Bordesley, Birmingham and then Barham House, Radford Road, Leamington.   He was an active member of the community being associated with the Birmingham Medical Benevolent Society, the committee of Warneford Hospital and various local charities.

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One Response to Baker, Dr Robert Large (1824 – 1885)

  1. Alex Lockton says:

    There are quite a few records of Bloxam’s for Shropshire in literature, and none of them matches the specimens at BIRM. Doesn’t prove anything, but it is consistent with David’s theory.

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