Thursday 26 April 2018
This day meeting at the Linnean Society in Burlington House, Piccadilly marked the tercentenary of the death of James Petiver FRS, an important but often overlooked professional apothecary and compulsive natural historian in 18th-century London.
Petiver made significant contributions to multiple fields of natural history, above all botany and entomology. An assiduous correspondent and collector, he successfully cultivated sources of natural historical intelligence and material from the Americas to the East Indies.
On the 300th anniversary of his death, the meeting set out to remember James Petiver:
- as a practising natural historian of substantial abilities and merit
- as a collector and cataloguer of natural historical specimens with enduring significance
- as a writer of both manuscript correspondence and published natural historical texts
- as an apothecary whose professional and private scientific interests mutually informed each other
- as a social networker both within London and across the globe
- as an historical figure whose legacy has been contested and which is ripe for reconsideration
Speakers from universities and the museum sector assessed Petiver’s life and legacy by deploying a range of historical and scientific disciplinary perspectives. Topics addressed by the presentations included Petiver’s medical practice, his abilities and significance as a natural historian, his relationships with mariners and merchants (including slave-traders), and his innovative attempts to reach new audiences through book publication. The meeting was also privileged to welcome a direct descendent of James Petiver’s sister, Jane.The event was organised by Dr Richard Coulton (QMUL) and Dr Charlie Jarvis (Natural History Museum). Research presented at the meeting is due to be published in a forthcoming special issue of Notes and Records of the Royal Society (spring 2020).