John Tradescant

From Academic Kids

Two John Tradescants, father and son, were among the earliest English botanists and plantsmen, travellers, collectors and all around polymaths.

John Tradescant the elder (ca 1570s - 15/16 April, 1638) was an English naturalist, gardener, collector and traveller, probably born in Suffolk, England. He began his career as head gardener to the Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield House, who initiated Tradescant in travelling by sending him to the Low Countries for fruit trees. Later, Tradescant was gardener to the royal favorite George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. John Tradescant travelled to Arctic Russia in 1618, to the Levant and to Algiers, collecting seeds and bulbs everywhere and assembling a collection of curiosities of natural history and ethnography housed in a large house -- "The Ark" -- in Lambeth, London. The Ark was the prototypical "Cabinet of Curiosity" or Kunst- und Wunderkammer[1] (, a collection of rare and strange objects, that became the first museum open to the public in England, the Musaeum Tradescantianum. From their botanical garden in Lambeth, on the south bank of the Thames, he and his son, John, introduced many plants into English gardens that have become part of the modern gardener's repertory. A genus of plants (Tradescantia) is named to honour him.

His son, John Tradescant the Younger (1608 - 1662), botanist and gardener, born in Meopham, Kent, made three trips to Virginia between 1637 and 1662 to collect plants. Among the seeds he brought back, to introduce to English gardens were great American trees, like Magnolias, Bald Cypress and Tulip tree, and garden plants such phlox and asters. He also added to the cabinet of curiosities his American acquisitions such as the ceremonial cloak of Chief Powhatan, one of the most important Native American relics. When his father died, he succeeded as head gardener to Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, making gardens at the Queen's House, Greenwich, designed by Inigo Jones, from 1638 to 1642, when the queen fled the Civil War. He published the contents of his father's celebrated collection as Musaeum Tradescantianum-- books, coins, weapons, costumes, taxidermy, and other curiosities-- dedicating the first edition to the Royal College of Physicians (with whom he was negotiating for the transfer of his botanic garden), and the second edition to the recently-restored Charles II. Tradescant bequeathed his library and museum (or some say it was swindled) to Elias Ashmole (1617 - 1692), whose name it bears as the core of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford where the Tradescant collections remain largely intact. For this Tradescant, the standard botanical author abbreviation Trad. is applied to species he described.

Tradescant father and son were buried in the churchyard of St-Mary-at-Lambeth which is now established as the Museum of Garden History.

The Tradescant collection is the earliest major English Cabinet of Curiosities. Other famous collections in Europe preceded it, for example Emperor Rudolf II's Kunst- und Wunderkammer was well-established at Prague by the end of the 16th Century.


  • Prudence Leith-Ross, The John Tradescants: Gardeners to the Rose and Lily Queen 1984. ISBN 0720606128 Sounder than its title suggests.
  • Arthur MacGregor (Editor), Tradescant's Rarities: Essays on the Foundation of the Ashmolean Museum 1983. ISBN 0198134053

External link

fr:John Tradescant


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