(b. Adstock, England, June [?] 1630; d. Bishop’s Waltham, England, 11 July 1648)
Sharrock, the son of a clergyman, was educated at Winchester College and became a perpetual fellow of New College, Oxford, on 5 March 1649. After taking the B.C.L. in 1654 and the D.C.L. in 1661, he was ordained and held several church benefices, becoming a canon in 1669 and archdeacon of Winchester in 1684.
Sharrock took a scientific interest in the cultivation of plants. He was well acquainted with the classical work on plants and with the prevalent myths and superstitions concerning agriculture and horticulture, and he tested these against his own observations. His History of the Propagation and Improvement of Vegetables (1660) was dedicated to Robert Boyle and shows Sharrock’s experimental approach to botany as well as a profound knowledge of methods of propagating plants by seeds, vegetative reproduction, budding, and grafting, and of the improvement of soil by cultivation and by leguminous crops. He was skeptical about the transmutation of species at a time when some professors of botany believed in it, and he showed Boyle how the belief arose from insufficient investigation. He demonstrated that shreds and ashes of plants could not grow into new plants, and that grafting a red rose onto a white did not produce the striped Rosa mundi. He also conducted experiments on phototropism and made observations on the morphology of seeds and on phyllotaxy.
Had he devoted his life to the study of plants, Sharrock’s experimental approach might have made him one of the most important botanists. But he also wrote other books on law, religion, and political philosophy, in which he attacked Hobbes’s views on ethics. He also contributed prefaces to three of Boyle’s treatises on physics.
Sharrock’s book on botany is The History of the Propagation and Improvement of Vegetables by the Concurrence of Art and Nature (Oxford, 1660, 1666, 1672; London, 1694), the last under the title An Improvement to the Art of Gardening.
Secondary literatures Athenae Oxoniensis, II (London, 1692), 580–581; J. Britten and G. S. Bougler, A Biographical Index of Deceased British and Irish Botanists (London, 1931), 152; J. Foster, Alumni Oxonienses (Oxford, 1892), 1340; J. R. Green, A History of Botany (London, 1914), 56, 125; and B. Porter, “Robert Sharrock,” in Dictionary of National Biography XVII, 1368–1369.
F. A. L. Clowes