Masson, Francis

, an enterprizing botanist, was born at Aberdeen, in North-Britain, in 1741, and after coming to London, probably in pursuit of employment as a gardener, in which capacity he was known to Mr. Aiton, the superintendant of Kevv gardens, he was sent in 1771 or 1772 to the Cape of Good Hope. That country had been, for near a century, celebrated as a mine of botanical riches, which had scarcely reached our gardens but through the medium of those of Holland. This deficiency, however, in our supply of curious plants, was little felt while Mr. Masson continued at the Cape, and the Dutch appear not to have restrained his inquiries or acquisitions. He was allowed to travel many hundred miles up the country, and having amply effected the purpose of his mission, he was, in 1776, ordered to explore the Canary islands, the Azores, Madeira, and part of the West-Indies, especially the island of St. Christopher. In this he employed about five years more, and returned to England in 1781.

During his stay at the Cape, he entered into a correspondence with Linnæus. Having discovered a bulbous plant of a new genus, he was not only laudably ambitious of botanical commemoration in its name, but he was particularly anxious, as appears by one of his letters, to receive this honour from no less a hand than that of his illustrious correspondent. This indeed, his learned biographer remarks, was the unicum prteinium, the only reward to which he aspired for all his labours. That he sought no pecuniary advancement, the extreme slenderness of the stipend which could be obtained for him, and his disregard of such objects at all times, abundantly evinced. He obtained the honour to which he aspired. The specimen of Massonia in the herbarium of Linnæus, named by his own trembling hand near the close of his life, proves that the name had his sanction, though it appears to have beea originally suggested by Thunberg, in whose company Masson botanized for two years at the Cape. In 1783, he visited Portugal and Madeira, and returned to the Cape of Good Hope in 1786, where, inconsequence of the knowledge he had already acquired, it was settled, in consultation with his able adviser, sir Joseph Banks, that his travels should now be restrained to within forty miles of the Cape town. In 1795, Mr. Masson returned to England, and spent two years there among his botanical friends, after which he was sent to explore such parts of North America, | under the British government, as appeared most likely to produce new and valuable plants; and his success was equal to the expectations that had been formed. Newplants, of interesting characters and properties, sprang up under his steps, and it seemed probable that much practical knowledge was likely to result from his discoveries, but he did not live to reap or to communicate more than a foretaste of these advantages. He died about Christmas, 1805, in the sixty-fifth year of his age, at Montreal, in Canada. He was a man of a mild temper, persevering in his pursuits, even to a great enthusiasm. Of great industry; which his specimens and drawings of fish, animals, insects, plants, and views of the countries he passed through, evince. And though he passed a solitary life, in countries distant from society, his love of natural history never forsook him. In 1796 he published a splendid work on the genus Stapelia, consisting of a thin folio volume, with forty-one coloured plates of as many species, almost entirely non-descript, accompanied by descriptions. 1


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