Berkeley, Miles Joseph

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Berkeley, Miles Joseph

(b. Biggin Hall, Oundle, Northamptonshire, England, 1 April 1803; d. Sibbertoft, Market Harborough, Northamptonshire, 30 July 1889)


Miles was the second son of Charles Berkeley and of the sister of Paul Sandby Munn, the well-known watercolor artist. Berkeley received his early education at the grammar school at Oandle and later at Rugby. He entered Christ’s College. Cambridge, as a scholar in 1821 and obtained the B.A. in 1825. In the following year he entered the clergy, beginning his career ascurate of St. John’s, Margate. In 1833 he became perpetual curate of Apethorpe and Woodnewton, Northamptonshire; in 1868 he moved, on his appointment as vicar, to Sibbertoft. In 1830 he married Cecelia Emma Campbell; the couple had fifteen children. Berkeley was a man of splendid presence and great refinement, and had a sound classical background. He read the proofs of Bentham and Hooker’s Genera plantarum to ensure the correctness of the Latin text. To support his family, he depended almost entirely on his meager clerical stipend, which for many years he supplemented by keeping a small boarding school for boys. His continued straitened circumstances were reflected in the grant of a Civil List pension of £100 per year in 1867. He was elected to the Linnean Society in 1836 and to the Royal Society in 1879, having already received its Royal Medal in 1863.

While at school at Rugby, Berkeley became intensely interested in natural history, particularly in animals, and built up an extensive shell collection. His first publications were on zoology and were illustrated with his own fine colored drawings. Later his bent toward biology was greatly fostered by his close acquaintance with J. S. Henslow, professor of botany at Cambridge and a friend of Charles Darwin. Probably encouraged by three well-known contemporary cryptogamists—William. Henry Harvey of Trinity College, Dublin; Robert Kaye Greville of Edinburgh; and Captain Dugald Carmichael of Appin—Berkeley gave up his zoological studies and began investigations on the lower plants. In 1833 he produced his Gleanings of British Algae, in which be described in detail and with color plates the structure of a number of marine and fresh water species. Soon he became engrossed in his studies of fungi. The work that established his preeminence as a mycologist was his account of fungi, which was prepared at the invitation of William Jackson Hooker for a volume of Sir James Edward Smith’s The English Flora. The meticulously accurate descriptions, mostly drawn from living material, remain unsurpassed in their construction.

Between 1837 and 1883 he published, in the later years in collaboration with Christopher Edmund Broome, a series of papers entitled “Notices of British Fungi” in the Annals and Magazine of Zoology and Botany (later called the Annals and Magazine of Natural History). Over the years a vast amount of exotic material from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was referred to Berkeley, and he became the accepted authority for information on mycological matters. Hisherbarium, comprising some 10,000 specimens, including about 5,000 types that he had described, was presented to Kew.

Berkeley’s significant contributions to cryptogamic botany were not by any means confined to the taxonomy of the fungi. Indeed, he can with some justification be regarded as the founder of plant pathology, for he was the first to appreciate the economic importance of the incidence of plant disease caused by fungi. His pioneer researches established that potato blight was the result of the ravages of Phylophthora infestans, but this was merely one of a series of investigations on pathogenic fungi that he undertook between 1854 and 1880; his important results ate to be found in the articles that he published in the Gardeners Chronicle. Berkeley’s most distinguished morphological investigations concerned the structure of the hymenium, and it was he who originally established the constant presence of basidia with apically borne spores in a large group of fungi, thus laying the basis of the primary classification into Basidiomycetes (with spores produced externally) and Ascomycetes (with spores formed within a sac, or ascus). In all he published over 400 papers on fungi, either alone or in collaboration.


I. Original Works. Berkeley’s writings include Fungi,” in J. E. Smith, The English Flora, V, pt. 2 (1836): On the Fructification of the Pileate and Clavate Tribes of the Hymenomycetous Fungi,” in Annals and Magazine of natural History, 1 (1838), 81; Introduction to Cryptogamic Botany (London, 1857); and Outlines of British Fungology (London, 1860).

II. Secondary Literature. For further biographical information on Berkeley, see Gardeners Chronicle, 3rd ser., 6 (1889), 135 (portrait), 141; J. D. Hooker, in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 47 (1890), ix; and G. Massee, Makers of British Botany, F. W. Oliver, ed. (Cambridge, 1913).

George Taylor

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Berkeley, Miles Joseph

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Berkeley, Miles Joseph