Sibthorp, John

, an eminent botanist and traveller, was the youngest son of Dr. Humphrey Sibthorp, professor of botany at Oxford, a man not eminent For any contributions to that science. He was born at Oxford, Oct. 28, i758. He was first educated at Magdalen and Lincoln schools, after which he entered of Lincoln college, where he took his master’s degree in June 1780; but upon obtaining the Radcliffe travelling fellowship, became a member of University college, and took his degree of B. M. in December 1783. Being intended for the medical profession, he studied for some time at Edinburgh, and there also cultivated his early taste for natural history, especially botany. He then visited France and Switzerland, and communicated to the Montpellier academy of sciences, an account of his numerous botanical discoveries in that neighbourhood. On his return, his father having resigned, he was appointed by the college of physicians to the botanical professorship in 1784, and then took his doctor’s degree.

He passed a portion of the same year, 1784, at Gottingen, where he projected his first tour to Greece, the botanical investigation of which country had for some time past become the leading object of his pursuits. He first, however, visited the principal seats of learning in Germany, and made a considerable stay at Vienna, where he procured an excellent draughtsman, Mr. Ferdinand Bauer, to be the companion of his expedition. On the 6th of March, 1786, they set out together from Vienna, and early in May sailed from Naples to Crete, where, in the month of June, as his biographer says, “they were welcomed by Flora in her gayest attire.” The ensuing winter they spent at Constantinople, in the course of which Dr. Sibthorp devoted himself to the study of the modern Greek. On the 14th of March, 1787, they sailed from Constantinople for Cyprus, taking the islands of Mytilene, Scio, Cos, and Rhodes, and touching at the coast of Asia minor in their way. A stay of five weeks at Cyprus enabled Dr. Sibthorp to draw up a “Fauna” and Floraof that island. The former consists of eighteen mammalia, eighty-five birds, nineteen amphibia, and one hundred fishes; the latter comprehends six hundred and sixteen species of plants, These and his other catalogues were greatly augmented by subsequent observations, insomuch that the number of species, collected from an investigation of all Dr. Sibthorp’s manuscripts and specimens for the materials of the” Pro-. dromus Florae Graecai," amounts to about 3000. | Without minutely tracing our traveller’s steps throiigh Greece, or the various islands of the Archipelago, we may notice that his health, which suffered from the confinement of a ship, and the heat of the weather, was restored at Athens, where he arrived June lyth, 1787. From thence he prosecuted his journeys in various directions, and with various successes. The ascent of mount Delphi*, or Delphi, in Negropont, one of his most laborious, if not perilous adventures, yielded him an abundant botanical harvest; and mount Athos, which he visited a week after, also greatly enriched Ifis collection of rare plants. From hence he proceeded to Thessalonica, Corinth, and Patras, at which last place he embarked with Mr. Bauer, on board an English vessel, for Bristol, on the 24th of September. After a tedious and stormy voyage, they arrived in England the first week in December.

The constitution of Dr. Sibthorp, never very robust, had suffered materially from the hardships and exertions of his journey. But his native air, and the learned leisure of the university, gradually recruited his strength. The duties of his professorship were rather a recreation than a toil. The superintendance of his exquisite draughtsman, now engaged in making finished drawings of the Greek animals^ as wel! as plants; and his occasional visits to the Linnsean and Banksian herbariums, for the removal of his difficulties; all together filled up his leisure hours. He was every where welcomed and admired for his ardour, his talents, and his acquisitions. His merits procured an augmentation of his stipend, with the rank of a regius professor (conferred in 1793); both which advantages were, at the same time, conferred on his brother professor at Cambridge. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1789, and was among the first members of the Linnsean Society, founded in 1788. In the spring of the year last mentioned, sir James Smith, with sir Joseph Banks and Mr. Dryander, passed a week at Oxford, which was devoted to a critical survey of the professor’s Grecian acquisitions; nor was the honey of mount Hymettus, or the wine of Cyprus, wanting at this truly attic entertainment. But the greater these acquisitions, the less was their^ possessor satisfied with them. No one knew, so well as himself, how much was wanting to the perfection of his undertaking, nor could any other person so well remedy these defects. Though he was placed, a few years after his return, in very affluent | circumstances; and though his necessary attention to his landed property, and to agricultural pursuits, of which he was passionately fond, might well have turned him, in some measure, aside from his botanical labours; he steadily kept in view the great object of his life, to which he finally sacrificed life itself. No name has a fairer claim to botanical immortality, among the martyrs of the science, than that of Sibthorp.

On the 20th of March, 1794, Dr. Sibthorp set out from London, on his second tour to Greece. He travelled to Constantinople in the train or' Mr. Listen, ambassador to the Porte, and was attended by Francis Borone, as a botanical assistant. They reached Constantinople on the 19th of May, not without Dr. Sibthorp’s having suffered much from the fatigues of the journey, which had brought on a bilious fever. He^oon recovered his health at Constantinople, where he was joined by his friend Mr. Hawkins from Crete. Towards the end of August they made an excursion into Bithynia, and climbed to the summit of Olympus, from whence they brought a fresh botanical harvest. Dr. Sibthorp discovered at Fanar an aged Greek botanist, Dr. Dimitri Argyrami, who had known the Danish traveller Forskall, and who was possessed of some works of Linnæus.

Recovered health, and the accession of his friend’s company, caused Dr. Sibthorp to set out with alacrity on his voyage to Greece, on the 9th of September. Passing down the Hellespont, on the 13th, with a light but favourable breeze, they anchored at Koum Cale, in the Troad, spent two days in examining the plains of Troy, and then proceeded to the isles of 1mb ros and Lemnos. On the 25th they anchored at mount Athos, and passed ten days in examining some of the convents and hermitages, with the romantic scenery, and botanical rarities, of that singular spot, on all which Dr. Sibthorp descants at length, with great delight, in his journal. Their departure wafe, for some time, prevented, by a few Barbary pirates hovering on the coast, but they sailed on the 5th of October, and on the 7th landed at Skiatho. From hence, on the llth, they proceeded down the strait of Negropont, and on the 13th passed under the bridge of live arches, which connects that island with the main land of Greece. On the 15th, at noon, they entered the harbour of the Pyraeus, and proceeded to Athens, where the four succeeding weeks | were employed in collecting information relative to the present state of the government, the manufactures, and the domestic economy of that celebrated spot. Here Dr. Sib thorp lost his assistant Borone, who perished by an accidental fall from a window, in his sleep, on or about the 20i h of October.

November 16th, Dr. Sibthorp and Mr. Hawkins left Athens by the ancient Eleusinian way, while the classical streams of the Cephisus, the heights of Helicon and Parnassus, lay before them. They proceeded to Patras and to Zante, where they arrived in the middle of December, enriched with a large collection of seeds, the only botanical tribute that could, at this season, be collected from those famous mountains. An apothecary at Zante furnished Dr. Sibthorp with an ample and splendid herbarium, of the plants of that island, with their modern Greek names; nor did the winter pass unprofitably or unpleasantly in this sequestered spot; where neither agreeable society, nor copious information relative to our learned travellers’ various objects, was wanting. The season was sufficiently favourable in the middle of February, 1795, to allow them to visit the Morea, of which peninsula they made the complete circuit in somewhat more than two months. The violet and primrose welcomed them in the plains of Arcadia; but in vain did our classical travellers look for the beauty of Arcadian shepherdesses, or listen for the pipe of the sylvan swain. Figures emaciated, and features furrowed, with poverty, labour, and care, were all that they met with.

Proceeding to Argos, and thence to Pvlycena, the travellers were highly gratified by rinding, on the gate of the latter, those ancient lions, which Pausanias describes as the work of the Cyclops; and near it the reputed tomb of Agamemnon, a circular building, formed of immense masses of stone, placed with such geometrical precision, though without mortar, that not one had given way. That which forms the portal is described by Dr. Sibthorp as the largest stone he ever saw employed in any edifice. A number of fragments of vases, like those commonly called Etruscan, lay among the ruins of Mycena. From this place they returned by land to Argos, whence they proceeded to Corinth, Patras, and by way of Elis to Pyrgos. Here they obtained another escort, and safely reached Calamata, on the gulf of -Corone, where they were detained by the | celebration of Easter, on the 12th of April, amid a profusion of sky-rockets and crackers. Proceeding in a boat along the barren and craggy shore, covered with bushy and prickly Euphorbia^ they reached Cardamoula. Here Panagiote, a popular character, nephew of the Cherife, came down, with a train of followers, to welcome the strangers, and conducted them to his tower-like castle, where a narrow entrance, and dark winding stair-case, led to a chamber, whose thick walls and narrow loop-holes seemed well prepared for defence. Taygetus, the highest mountain in the Morea, and almost rivalling Parnassus, was ascended by our adventurous travellers; but the quantity of snow, and the grea’t distance, prevented their reaching the summit. Panagiote and fifty of his followers accompanied them, and he displayed his botanical knowledge by shewing Dr. Sibthorp darne^ still called aiga, among the corn, which he said occasioned dizziness; and a wonderful root, the top of which is used as an emetic, the bottom as a purge. This proved Euphorbia Apios, to which the very same properties are attributed by Dioscorides.

From Cardamoula the travellers were escorted by the dependants of this hospitable Grecian chief, along, a precipitous road, to Mistra, where they had the unexpected pleasure of meeting a party of their English friends, in the garb of Tartars, with whom they explored the scite of ancient Sparta. After returning to Culamata, and surveying from the summit of a neighbouring precipice the ruins of Messenia, with the rich plains watered by the Paniscus, and bounded by the hills of Laconia, Dr. Sibthorp and Mr. Hawkins hastened to Corone, where a Venetian vessel waited to convey them to Zante, which place they reached on the 29th of April. Here Dr. Sibthorp parted from the faithful companion of his tour, whom he was destined never to see again, but in whose friendship he safely confided in his last hours. Mr. Hawkins returned to Greece; while the subject of our memoir leaving Zante on the 1st of May, experienced a most tedious voyage of twenty-four days to Otranto, though five days are the most usual time for that passage. He touched at the island of Cephulonia, and next at Preversa, on the Grecian shore, where being detained by a contrary wind, he employed the 7th of May in visiting the ruins of Nicopolis. The weather was unfavourable, and Dr. Sibthorp here caught a severe cold, from which he never recovered. It seems to have proved | the exciting cause of that disease, which had long beeii latent in the mesenteric and pulmonary glands, and which terminated in a consumption. Being obliged by the weather to put in at the little island of Fanno, May llth, the violent north-west wind “continued,” as he too expressively says in his journal, “to nurse his cough and fever.” He was confined to his bed, in a miserable hovel, to which, after frequent attempts to sail, he was driven back six times by the unfavourable wind. At length, the vessel was enabled to cast anchor in the port of Otranto on the 24th of May. Here he was obliged to submit to a quarantine of three weeks, part of which, indeed, was allowed to be spent in proceeding to Ancona. From thence he passed through Germany and Holland to England. Of the precise time of his arrival we find no mention. It was in the autumn of 1795, and his few succeeding months were chiefly marked by the progress of an unconquerable disease, for which the climates of Devonshire and Bath were, as usual, resorted to in vain. He died at Bath, February 8tb, 1796, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, and lies interred in the abbey church, where his executors have erected a neat monument to his memory.

We have now to record the posthumous benefits which Dr. Sibthorp has rendered to his beloved science, and which are sufficient to rank him amongst its most illustrious patrons. By his will, dated Ashburton, January 12, 1796, he gives a freehold estate in Oxfordshire to the university of Oxford, for the purpose of first publishing his “Flora Gfaeca,” in 10 folio volumes, with 100 coloured plates in each, and a “Prodromus” of the same work, in 8vo, without plates. His executors, the honourable Thomas Wenman, John Hawkins, and Thomas Platt, esqrs. were to appoint a sufficiently competent editor of these works, to whom the manuscripts, drawings, and specimens, were to be confided. Their judicious choice fell upon the learned president of the Linnsean Society, who has nearly completed the “Prodromus,” and the second volume of the “Flora.” The plan of the former, was drawn out by Dr. Sibthorp, but nothing of the latter, except the figures, was prepared, nor any botanical characters or descriptions whatever. The final determination of the species, the distinctions of such as were new, and all critical remarks, fell to the lot of the editor, who has also revised the references to Dioscorides. When these publications are finished, the | fcnnlial sum of 200. is to be paid to a professor of rural oeconomy, who is, under certain limitations^ to be Sherar* dian professor of botany. The remainder of the rents of the estate above mentioned is destined to purchase books for the professor, and the whole of the testator’s collections* with his drawings, and books of natural history, botany, and agriculture, are given to the university. The only work which Dr. Sibthorp published in his life-time is a “Flora Oxoniensis,1794, in one vol. 8vo, which has the merit of being entirely formed on his own personal observation. 1


Rees’s Cyclopædia, by the president of the Linnsean Society.