Peter Collinson (1694-1768)
Peter Collinson was a horticulturalist and botanist, and the medium for an international exchange of scientific ideas in mid-18th century London.
He was born into a Quaker family belonging to the Gracechurch Street Meeting in the City of London. He went into his father’s business as a woollen draper. He remained a cloth merchant by trade, but his passion was horticulture and the study of plants. Overseas trade links enabled him to obtain samples of seeds, bulbs and cuttings of plants from around the world. His personal plant collections, first at Peckham and later at Mill Hill became well known to horticulturalists. His home in Mill Hill is now part of Mill Hill School.
Collinson’s trade links with North America and his connections with the Pennsylvania Quaker settlements led to correspondence with notable scientists in what was to become the USA. He was a supporter of the American Philosophical Society, founded in Philadelphia in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin and botanist and fellow-Quaker John Bartram His correspondence with Franklin led to the introduction of Franklin’s experiments in electricity to the Royal Society; while Bartram regularly sent him seeds and cuttings of many American plants previously unknown in Europe. With Collinson’s help, Bartram went on to supply many distinguished collectors in Britain and Europe, including Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish taxonomist whose classifications of plants are still in use. In 1747, Collinson was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
In 1739, Collinson became one of the governors of the newly-established London Foundling Hospital, having long supported the campaigns of Thomas Coram to provide a refuge for abandoned children.
From Hortus Collinsonianus - Plants cultivated by Peter Collinson. Printed by and for Lewis Weston Dillwyn. Not published (1843) [Lib. Ref. 075.8 COL]