‘dear Nature’s child’ - William Curtis: the fascinating story of one of the greatest naturalists of the 18th century
Born in Alton in 1746 into a Quaker family, William Curtis was to become one of the centuries most original and pioneering minds in the study of native plants and insects.
His fascination with the natural world was clear from an early age and led his father to apprentice him to his grandfather, a local apothecary. But it soon became apparent that such a young enquiring mind could not be limited to the realm of pills and potions.
Aged only 25 he published Instructions for collecting and preserving insects; particularly moths and butterflies and went on to produce influential studies of grasses, kale and the Brown-tail moth. His skills as a communicator flourished with his demonstrations and lectures at the Chelsea Physic Garden in the 1770s. He pioneered the study of urban nature with his publication Flora Londinensis, a work he put to practical use with the creation of his own gardens, including the London Botanic Garden in Lambeth in 1779.
Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, arguably his greatest legacy, was first published in 1787 and proved so popular it continues in publication today, the world’s longest running botanical magazine.
‘dear Nature’s child’ is an exhibition that looks at William's life and legacy and highlights work recently done in the Gallery Garden by volunteers to incorporate some of the plants illustrated in the early editions of the Botanical Magazine. The exhibition title is a line from a poem on his tombstone, now lost, in St Mary’s Church, Battersea.