A few weeks ago while everyone else was on holiday, I was looking through library material in the herbarium. There were some boxes with loose correspondence and old register sheets in them. However, one box contained a tiny notebook.
When I opened it up I was delighted to see drawings of moss specimens- the very things I’ve been spending the most time on in the Herbarium. The pages were dated June 1865-66.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find a name anywhere on the notebook. The mosses were all collected in Manchester, so I knew it had to be a collector who had lived here during that time span. My first thought was Thomas Barker. He left his cryptogam herbarium to the Manchester Museum when he died, and had been Professor of Mathematics at Owen’s College. He had also lived in Manchester around that time and was an avid moss collector.
The next step was finding evidence. I looked through the book and tried matching the drawings and dates in the notebook up with specimens. This was fruitless, so I next looked at Barker’s handwriting in the correspondence files.
Though the handwriting looked similar to me, I felt I still had no proof as handwriting in those days seemed to all be written in the same, cramped, Victorian style.
I asked several people about the notebook. No one seemed to know who it had belonged to or that we even had it.
Yesterday, during a tea break, I thought I’d show the book to Tom, one of our volunteers. He looked at it for about 5 seconds and said “Oh yes, that’s William Wilson’s. I recognize the handwriting.”
Wilson was born in Warrington on 7th June 1799 and always had a love for plants. His parents wanted him to be a solicitor, and he followed their wishes, but became very ill as a result of stress. His doctors recommended he excercise outdoors more often, and he turned his interests back to Botany. In 1855 he collaborated with Taylor and Hooker on a text that was to become his work Bryologica Britannica.
I was very happy I had another lead (and impressed at Tom’s handwriting recognition skills) but still felt I should check for hard proof. I looked in Wilson’s archival box and lo and behold:
Handwriting that was a match, and the same style of drawings of mosses. Thank you Tom!
All of Wilson’s notes and lists are kept in this archival box, so it was a surprise to all that the book should not be with them. I think that will be it’s new home so it can be kept safe.