Bagnall’s Herbarium at Birmingham Botanical Collections

An example of Herbarium book with Japanese plants from Siebold’s collection in Leiden, 1825
By P. F. Siebold – Sieboldcollectie Naturalis, Public Domain and thanks to Wikipedia

Hello dear Readers!

The Tuesdays of the last few months I’ve been busy with research in Birmingham’s Museum Warehouses. I’ve been looking at the vast amount of dried specimen plants of one of the 6 or so Herbariums they have stored in there.

Why I wanted to research Bagnall’s Herbarium in particular was because of the many local native plants Bagnall himself collected as well as the many plants from Sutton Park. This is a national important nature reserve and SSSI. More about this later!

herbarium (plural: herbaria) is a collection of preserved plant specimens and associated data used for scientific study.

There are Herbaria all over the world and I used the ones at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew whilst I was student there and also when we had the National Collection of New World Salvias at Rodbaston College.

Later in Mexico I also looked into many specimens of salvias and other plants at ‘Jardin Etnobotanica de Oaxaca’, SERBO and at Mexico City with my visit there in 2008.

I even found a site on how to make your own if you are a keen botanist, but best to take pictures only from the rare plants of course!

But this particular herbarium I am researching at present belonged to J. E. Bagnall; a remarkable and productive Victorian and as I am most impressed with his work I found some information below in short on his biography.

Head and shoulders sketch of a middle-aged man, more or less full face, head tilted to the right; with a substantial moustache but no beard; wearing a jacket. By an unknown Artist- Birmingham Weekly Mercury (Birmingham, UK), 3 January 1891

An English manufacturing clerk and self taught bryologist, James Eustace Bagnall studied the flora of the counties surrounding his native Birmingham and was the first to publish a flora of Warwickshire.

Eldest son in a family of ten children, his father owned a warehouse and James Eustace worked there as a brass founder in his youth. At the age of 14 he left Singers’ Hill School in order to become a factory clerk for Hinks and Wells, a steel pen-nib manufacturer in Birmingham, and he remained there until his retirement in 1897.

It was not until his mid-thirties that Bagnall developed an interest in botany, reportedly when a friend lent him a microscope, and he began to teach himself how to collect, preserve and classify specimens.

Over the years that followed he explored the countryside of Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire, particularly focusing on the mosses, and by 1874 he had published a Moss Flora of Warwickshire.

From Wikipedia:

In 1876, he published a Flora of Sutton Park, now a National Nature Reserve. There were very few plant records from Sutton Park before this account,so that his Flora served as the foundation for all later Floras. 

After publishing a series of papers in the Midland Naturalist between 1881 and 1885 he later compiled these into an extensive account of the geography, topography and meteorology of Warwickshire as well as its cryptogamic and phanerogamic flora and the Flora of Warwickshire was published in 1891.

Ten years later he produced his Flora of Staffordshire, which appeared as an update to Robert Garner’s flora from 1844.

Bagnall never married and for the latter part of his life lived in Aston, Birmingham, with his sister Fanny.

Elected an associate of the Linnaean Society in 1885 and an honorary member of the Moss Exchange Club in 1909, his herbarium and papers are currently held at Birmingham Central Library and 125 of his bryological specimens are contained in the National Museum and Gallery of Wales in Cardiff.

The below information comes from the PDF text preceding the substantial specimen list of Bagnall’s Herbarium at Birmingham Museums.

Bagnall presented his herbarium in its entirety to Birmingham Museum in 1913. This included 4570 specimens of mosses, 700 liverworts and 180 lichens all of which have already been published in the respective fascicles of Birmingham Botany Collections.

His collection of vascular plants contains a little over 6400 specimens.

Of these he collected almost 3700 (57%) himself. The remaining 43% (just over 2750 specimens) were collected and passed on to Bagnall by a whole range of different people from across the country. Of these the most prolific was A. Ley who supplied almost 200 items. Only 135 specimens (a mere 2%) have no collector recorded for them and 72 of these are from Warwickshire, Staffordshire or Worcestershire so could well have been collected by Bagnall himself.

Geographically the collection as a whole is dominated by England (almost 5600 specimens, 87%). Scotland accounts for 374 specimens (6%), Wales for 242 (4%), Ireland and the Channel Isles less than a hundred each and the 16 foreign specimens are of little importance.

Bagnall’s own collecting breaks down into over 3580 specimens from England (97%) with only 79 specimens from the rest of Britain and Ireland, 2 foreign ones and 10 without provenance. Even more than with his moss collection a local bias towards Warwickshire is evident with nearly 3000 specimens (80%) from his home county.

There are 259 specimens from Staffordshire (7%), 103 from Worcestershire (3%) and only 270 (7%) from other English counties; the latter includes 95 specimens from Cornwall. His collecting activities began in the mid 1850s and his last dated specimen is from 1918.

Ecorecord are in the process of compiling a Flora for Sutton Park and are interested in some information found on the Herbarium sheets of Bagnall’s Herbarium.

So as well as for my own interest for

  • this blog about native plants,
  • for the Birmingham Museum digital Library of specimens and
  • this Sutton Flora,

I am going through each family and many boxes to select, unfortunately just a few, of this magnificent work!

Leave a Reply