Walter Elias Broadway

The Botanist of Trinidad

Born on this day, May 3rd, in 1863, Walter Elias Broadway; a Kew gardener and authority on West Indian plants.

Broadway was recognized by George V for his work in horticulture, although his career was shaded by bad blood with his supervisor John Hart and a drinking problem.

In 1888, Kew sent Broadway to Trinidad and Tobago to take up the newly created role of Assistant Superintendent of the Royal Botanic Garden.

Initially, everything seemed wonderful; the islands were a tropical plant-lovers paradise and there was already a botanic garden and herbarium in place. All Broadway needed to do was launch himself into learning everything he could about the tropical plants without a definitive reference to guide him. How hard could that be?

Along the way, his eagerness to get plant id's from Kew and the British Museum led him to go around his boss. It wasn't long before Hart required Broadway to funnel all of his collected specimens through him. Things deteriorated further when Hart ordered Broadway to devote his discretionary time to the garden - calling him in from his beloved field time and severely limiting his ability to collect new plant specimens.

Broadway found other pursuits to bring him joy and satisfaction. He adored learning about the history of Trinidad. He found he loved to collect insect specimens. He helped found the Trinidad Field Naturalists' Club. Despite Hart's limitations, Walter Broadway truly mastered the art of plant collecting.

Broadway took the chance to get away from the day to day with Hart when the curator of the Botanic Gardens in Grenada opened up. It was there, that he started collecting for private herbariums. It didn't make him rich, but it helped alleviate his frequent financial difficulties.

Broadway spent over a decade in Grenada before heading to neighboring Tobago. By 1908, Hart had been forced to retire. Broadway resumed collecting with great zeal; he even sent mosses to Elisabeth Britton.

By 1915, Broadway was transferred back to Trinidad. He continued exploring remote parts of the island to collect plants.

Broadway retired in 1923 and he lived his final years in Trinidad - the island that had stolen his heart. His devotion to the natural world never waned and he was always on the lookout for new or interesting plants to sell to his private clientele. Although a flora of Trinidad and Tobago was published in 1928, Broadway was not a part of it. That said, much of the works cited references Broadway's collections - there was simply no disputing his collecting contributions.

The botanist Andrew Carr described Broadway as

"an exceptionally fine man. Entirely unselfish in spirit, he was always ready to share his vast knowledge of the botany of the island with other interested persons. I shall never forget his joy at discovering a new species of moss in a drain in Oxford Street. He was regarded, and justifiably so, as a walking encyclopedia on the botany of these parts ... "

Today, at the annual flower show of The Trinidad & Tobago, the Walter Elias Broadway Memorial Trophy is awarded for the best foliage plant exhibit.

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Walter Elias Broadway
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