(b. Suffolk [?], England, 1570/1575; d. South Lambeth, Surrey, England, 15/16 April 1638)
In 1773 Ducarel wrote that Tradescant may be “justly considered the earliest collector (in this kindogm) of every thing that was curious in Natural History, viz., minerals, birds, fishes, insects, &c . . . coins and medals of all sorts, besides a great variety of uncommon rarities.” Tradescant’s father, Thomas Tradescant (a descendant of Willelmus Treluskant of Suffolk), in 1578 left Suffolk, where John was probably born, for London; his mother’s name is unknown. The first verified record is John’s marriage to Elizabeth Day at Meopham. Kent. on 18 June 1607. Their only son, John, was born the following year. Beginning in 1604 Tradescant was gardener for the properties of Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury. There is some evidence that before 1600 he had been gardener to William Brookes at Cobham Hall.
Tradescant made his first (?) collecting trip to Flanders for Cecil in 1610, and it was propbably then that he introduced the large-leaved Brussels strawberry into England. In 1611 he visited the Lamont nursery at Rouen and the apothecary garden of jean Robin on the Île Notre-Dame. He also introduced species to the gardens at Hatfield, until its sale on the earl’s death in 1612.
Six years later Tradescant made the first botanical visit to Russia when he accompanied Sir Dudley Digges, who was sent by James I under the Muscovy Company to negotiate a loan to the emperor of Russia. They reached Archangel on 16 July 1618, and Tradescant noted larch, white hellebore, and other plants (Allan, pp. 84-89), especially on the islands about the mouth of the Dvina River. On 5 August 1618 they set sail for England. Tradescant wrote an account of the expedition (Konovalov, pp. 130-141).
In 1620 Tradescant joined Sir Samuel Argall’s expedition against the Barbary corsairs, taking the opportunity to collect garden seeds and fruits (Allan, pp 101-103) and naturalia, including the first specimens of gutta-percha and mazer wood to be seen in England. After a short employment with George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, from 1625 to 1628, during which service he joined a military expedition to La Rochelle, Tradescant used the nucleus of his own collections to set up a garden and a museum in South Lambeth, a pioneer enterprise. His museum was enriched by gifts from virtuosi (sea captains supplied “such toyes as they could bring from other parts”) and visited by Charles I and nobility. Doubtless the most famous exhibit was the stuffed dodo, seen by Willughby and Ray.
During this time Tradescant became gardener to Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. In 1631 René Morin began to send novelties. The following year Tradescant testified that an alleged unicorn’s horn was that of a narwhal “yet very precious against poison.”
His Catalogus(1634), the only known copy of which is in Magdalen College, lists 750 garden plants grown at South Lambeth, arranged alphabetically, and concludes with a catalog of fruits. Forty Virginia species have been recognized in this Catalogus upon the Musaeum Tradescantianum (1656) was based.
The generic name Tradescantia data from H. B. Ruppius, Flora Jenensis (1718), and was accepted by Linnaeus. Tradescant “liv’d till [he] had travelled art and nature thro” and was buried on 17 April 1638, to the southeast of Lambeth Church.
1. Original Works. John Goodyer’s copy of Tradescant’s Plantarum in Horto lohannem [sic] Tradescanti nascentium catalogus (1634) survives as the only known copy in Magdalen College, Oxford: and as Gunther suggested, it is almost certainly a copy made up from printer’s proof. judging rom the error on the title page. Many Tradescant curiosities, for example, chief Powhatan’s feather cape, although often without precise provenance, are preserved in the (new) Ashmolean Museum. An album of Tradescant’s “choicest Flowers and Plants exquisitely limned on vellum by Mr. Alex: Marshall” is in the library of Windsor Castle (see A. P. Oppé, English Drawings, Stuart and Georgian Periods, in the Colection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle (London, 1950), 74-75.
II. Seconodary Literature. Classic accounts of Tradescant and his work are William Watson, “Some Account of the Remains of john Tradescant’s Garden at Lambeth,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 46 (1752), 160-161; and Andrew Coltee Ducarel’s letter to Watson, ibid., 63 (1773), 79-88, plate 4, also published as a separately paginated reprint (London, 1773). both accounts were used by Richard Pulteney, in his Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England. I (London, 1790), 175-179.
See also Edward F. Rimbault, “Family of the Tradescants,” in Notes and Queries, 3 (1851), 353-355; and esp. G. S. B[oulger], in the Dictionary of National Biography, 57 (1899), 143-147. The latest biography, emphasizing the genealogy and botany, is Mea Allan, The Tradescants (London, 1964). Tradescant’s 1618 Russian journal (Ashmole MS 824, xvi) has been published verbatim by S. Konovalov, “Two Documents Concerning Anglo-Russian Relations in the Early Seventeenth Century,” in Oxfort Slavonic Papers, 2 (1951), 130-141. The manuscript’s identity was established by joseph von Hamel, “Tradescant der Aeltere 1618 in Russland . . .” in Recueil des actes de la séance publique l’Académie impériale des sciences de Saint-Petersbourg (1847), 85-348, with portrait and map; also issued as a England and Russia: Comprising the Voyages of John Tradescant the Elder [etc.], translated by John Studdy leigh (London, 1854), reissued with only title page altered, as Early English Voyages to Northern Russia (London, 1857). Marjorie F. warner. “The Morins,” in National Horticultural Magazine, 33 (1954), 168–176, summarizes René Morin’s contacts with Tradescant.
For documented commentary on relationships with Ashmole, see C. H. Josten,Elias Ashmole (1617–1692), 5 vols. (Oxford, 1966), 2048–2049.
(b. Meopham, Kent, England, 4 August 1608; d. South Lambeth, Surrey, England, 22 April 1662)
Traveler, collector, and gardener, Tradescant carried on the activities of his father of the same name. At the age of eleven he was pupil at King’s School, Canterbury, and at twenty-six was sworn into the Company of Master Gardeners of London. In 1637 he was in Virginia “gathering all varieties of flowers, plants, shells, &c” for his father’s museum at South Lambeth. After his father’s death he succeeded him as gardener to Queen Henrietta Maria. Tradescant married twice: first Jane Hurte, on 29 February 1627, by whom he had daughter and son; and, after her death, Hester Pooks, on 1 October 1638. He may have made a second trip to Virginia in 1642.
The first use of “ark” for the museum appeared about 1645 in a poem mentioning “Tradeskin and his ark of novelties.” His first meeting with Elias Ashmole was evidently in 1650. A draft of a catalog of the Tradescant collections was prepared by Ashmole and Thomas Wharton (Josten, 1, 94), four years before the publication of Musaeum Tradescantianum (1656) under Tradescant’s name. The Musaeum contains references to Aldrovandi, Belon, L’Écluse, Rondelet, Moffett, and Markgraf; and it consititutes an inventory of worldwide curiosities. Of the some two hundred Barbadian and Virginian plants identified in the two lists of 1634 and 1656, ten plants date from before 1600; but the remainder are notable introductions into horticulture.
The circumstances surrounding Tradescant’s bequest of the museum to Ashmole are confused (see Josten, II, 768; and Whitehead, 54). In 1659 during a drinking party. Ashmole seems to have obtained a signed bequest from Tradescant, but in 1661 Tradescant willed his “closet of rarities” to his wife Hester, stipulating that on her death they go to Oxford or Cambridge “to which of them shee shall think fitt.” In 1674 Ashmole removed the Tradescant collections to his own house and three years later delivered his collections and Tradescant cant’s “rarities” to Oxford, where they were displayed next to the Sheldonian in a building reputedly designed by Christopher Wren. It was not long before Hester was found drowned in her pond. The “name of Tradescant was unjustly sunk in that of Ashmole” (Pulteney, I, P. 179).
I. Original Works. The G. Wharton copy of Musaeum Tradescantianum: or a Collection of Rarities Preserved at South-Lambeth Near London (London 1656) is in Morton Arboretum Library: it is reproduced as Old Ashmolean Reprint I (Oxford, 1925), with omission of pp. 74-178, and in toto in Mea Allan, The Tradescants (London, 1964), 247-312. The only authenticated specimen of Tradescant’s shell collection is the holotype of Strombus listeri (S. Peter Dance, Shell Collecting , 37). His miscellaneous numismatic, archaeological, and zoological collections originally in the “Old Ashmolean” were dispersed in 1831 to various Oxford museums. His hortus siccus is in the Bodleian (Ashmole MS 1465).
II. Secondary Literature. See John Tradescant, ante, since most accounts include father and son. See also Richard Pulteney, Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England, I (London, 1790), 179; and S. W. Singer, “Tradescants and Elias Ashmole,” in Notes and Queries, 5 (1852), 367-368, 385-387. Résumés of his respective fields are Dorothy Gardiner, “The Tradescants and Their Times,” in Journal of Royal Horticultural Society, 53 (1928), 308-317: and P. J. P. Whitehead, “Museums in the History of Zoology,” in Museums Journal, 70 (1970), 50-57. Commentary on Tradescant’s “dodar” is given in Masauji Hachisuka, The Dodo and Kindred Birds (London, 1953); and references to Tradescant portraits are in David Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 1625-1714 (Cambridge, 1963), 350-351. For his relationship with Ashmole see C. H. Josten, Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), 5 vols. (Oxford, 1966).