William Swainson

The Struggles of a Naturalist

Today is the birthday of the English naturalist, William Swainson, who was born on this day in 1789.

Swainson subscribed to the quinarian system; a taxonomic theory that grouped animals and plants into groups of five or multiples of fives. He stubbornly adhered to the system even after Darwin's origin was gaining traction.
In 1840, Swainson immigrated to New Zealand with his second wife and all but one of his children. He faced numerous setbacks while there, including the fact that many of his belongings, including his books and proofs which were aboard a separate ship, were lost at sea. Once in New Zealand, he struggled financially, survived a fire, and an earthquake.
Before he died, Swainson sent a letter to his son Willie. He wrote:

"I am much pleased of your increasing fondness for gardening and shall always be happy to send you anything I can spare from this place. A garden as Bacon says ‘is the purest of human pleasures,’ and truly do I find it so, as in youth, so in age, and no other outdoor recreation is so delightful to me.”

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William Swainson
William Swainson

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