The original Sloane ranger's pressed flower collection is finally given a home of its own

THE PLANT collection that led to the founding of the British Museum is, after 250 years, to have its own home.

Rehousing is overdue for the Sir Hans Sloane herbarium, dating from 1687. Its 70,000 specimens make up Britain's oldest scientific collection of dried plants and include the first preserved examples of sugar cane and of cacao, which gives us chocolate and cocoa. For years the collection was kept on shelves at the Natural History Museum, London.

Now, concerns about deterioration, a wish to make the collection more accessible and a sense of its uniqueness have prompted the museum to give it its own gallery. The 265 volumes are to be housed in a special room while the specimens and associated drawings are photographed. The pounds 150,000 room, largely financed by the Bernard Sunley charitable foundation, opens tomorrow evening. "This is the oldest extensive plant collection in Britain and of enormous value scientifically and historically," said Rob Huxley, head of botanical collections at the Natural History Museum. "It is a treasure from the age of exploration and discovery and it's absolutely right it should have a home of its own."

The herbarium was formed by Sloane (1660-1753), a doctor turned naturalist. On a visit to Jamaica from 1687-89 he collected 900 species of plants, many new to science, and brought them to England as pressed and dried specimens. He built on this by buying the entire collections of more than 100 other botanists over 60 years, many of them extensive.

Sloane was so badly bitten by the collecting bug that by the end of his life he had spread his net wider still, to embrace zoology, mineralogy, ethnography and art, and possessed one of the biggest single accumulations of objects put together by an individual.

His zoological collections comprised 9,000 shells, more than 4,000 insects, 1,500 fish, 1,200 birds, eggs and nests and more than 3,000 animal specimens, including the skeleton of an elephant.

He had thousands of fossils, rocks, minerals, metals and precious or semi-precious stones. He had a collection of 300 paintings, 32,000 medals and coins and a library of 50,000 bound volumes and a large collection of manuscripts and drawings.

He left the lot to the nation, on condition that it be properly housed and maintained. To oblige, the government in 1753 founded the British Museum: the Sloane collections were its nucleus.

The herbarium is one of the oldest pressed-plant collections in the world. Part of its great scientific value is that it contains many "type" specimens - the original example of the plant that was used when the species was named.

The sugar cane and cacao Sloane collected himself. He later made money by patenting the recipe for chocolate. Another "type" is the camellia, which a botanist brought from Japan.

Much of the herbarium's charm comes from the elegant drawings by the artist Everard Kickius, which accompany Sloane's specimens from Jamaica. "They've lasted for more than 300 years," said Dr Huxley. "Now we want them to last for another 600."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea