Anne Pratt – Botanical writer and illustrator

Anne Pratt c 1830s by an unknown artist Wikipedia

It is known that Anne Pratt (1806-1893), one of the   Victorian age best-known English botanical writers and   illustrators, was for seventeen years a resident of Dover.   Born on 5 December 1806 in Strood, Kent, Anne was   the eldest of three daughters of grocer Robert Pratt   (1777-1819) and his wife Sarah née Bundock (1780–   1845) of Huguenot descent. As a child, Anne was sickly   so was encouraged to rest but as she showed an aptitude   for drawing her family encouraged her. It was said that   a friend of the family, a Dr Dods, introduced her to   botany. Anne’s sisters, Catherine (b 1805) and Eliza (b1808) helped by collecting all types of plants for Anne to draw and she became adept.

As their parents were not wealthy, the girls received their education at Eastgate House in Rochester, run by philanthropist James Reed and later by his widow. Like most Free School’s of that time, it was aimed at providing basic education in reading, writing and arithmetic to lower and lower middle class children. Of interest, Eastgate House is now a Grade 1 listed building.

Group of rare, natural and artificial varieties of the rose from The Field, the Garden, and the Woodland etc. Anne Pratt Wikimedia_

Group of rare, natural and artificial varieties of the rose from The Field, the Garden, and the Woodland etc. Anne Pratt Wikimedia_

At the age of 20, in 1826, Anne moved to Brixton, London, where she worked as an illustrator and two years later her first book, Flowers and their Associations was published. The publisher was possibly Charles Knight of Windsor (1791-1873) for he encouraged Anne. In 1838, Charles Knight published Anne’s two volume, The Field, the Garden, and the Woodland; Or, Interesting Facts Respecting Flowers and Plants in General: Designed for the Young. This was described as being ‘a work characterised by elegance of thought and refinement of diction.‘ With regards to printing, that same year Charles Knight patented, ‘improvements in the process and in the apparatus used in the production of coloured impressions on paper, vellum, parchment and pasteboard by surface printing’.

1840 Flowers and their Associations Review. Hull Packet 21.08.1840. Gale Database

Using his invention, Charles Knight   reprinted and published Flowers and   their Associations, and the book proved a financial success for both of   them. Of the book, Anne wrote that it was ‘intended chiefly for the   information and amusement of those who, while fond of flowers, have not   made them the source of their study.’ Telling the reader that the true forget-   me-knot is the Myosotis Palustrus, which is the largest species of scorpion   grass and is found growing by streams. She describes the plant as having a   bright blue flower, a yellow centre with a small portion of white on each     segment and is seldom more than a foot (30.4cms) high. She goes on to   say that the Myosotis Scorpioides, is the smaller meadow plant that is   frequently called forget-me-not. Adding that following the Battle of   Waterloo (1815) ‘an immense quantity of these plants sprung up upon   different parts of the soil enriched by the blood of the heroes.

In 1802 William Suttaby opened his printing business in Threadneedle Street, London and 2 years later he published ‘a miniature library‘ that undercut Sharpe’s ‘Cabinet series‘ that dominated the London book publishing world. Suttaby’s enterprise quickly grew and for the next 76 years the company expanded, changed its name to include the different partners, but remained generally noted as Suttaby and Co. The subjects of the books they published were diverse and authors included both William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). In 1842 Suttaby’s Company published Anne’s book The Pictorial Catechism of Botany.

Columbine or Larkspur from Wild Flowers of the Year, Anne Pratt. Wikimedia

Columbine or Larkspur from Wild Flowers of the Year, Anne Pratt. Wikimedia

As Anne’s fame was growing she was offered freelance work as an illustrator and moved to central London in 1846. At the time The Field, the Garden, and the Woodland etc. was in its third edition and The Garden Flowers of the Year and Wild Flowers of the Year were published by the Religious Tract Society. The Religious Tract Society was an evangelical Christian organisation founded in 1799 and known for popular religious and quasi-religious texts as well as involvement in charities. To finance these activities, in 1825, they separated the accounting for its charitable work into a Benevolent Fund and its commercial work into what they termed a Trade Fund. The latter quickly grew and by the 1840s, also known as the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), was  a major London publishing house.

In her own time, Anne was working on the third and final volume of The Field, the Garden, and the Woodland: Or, Interesting Facts Respecting Flowers and Plants in General: Designed for the Young. This was published in 1847 by C. Cox, 12 King William Street, London, who had published the first volume in 1838. All three volumes were well received. For the illustrations, Anne worked with engraver and a specialist in the process of chromolithography, William Dickes (1815-1892).

Guernsey Lily published in The Field, the Garden, and the Woodland

Born in Beechencliff, near Bath, Dickes served his apprenticeship under Robert Edward Branston (1803-1877) and studied at the Royal Academy Schools in 1835. Specialising in wood engraving, he was noted for the quality of his lithography and in particular the illustrations in Anne’s books. During this time, Dickes started to develop new processes in colour lithography using copper plates and in the 1860s his work was exhibited at International Exhibitions in London, Dublin and Paris. By the end of the century, thanks to Dickes, the developments if chromolithography meant that images were printed using multiple stones, each printing a different colour in a process calling for precise alignment. At the same time, the working relationship between Anne and Dickes contributed to the popularisation of scientific botany.

1846 saw the outbreak of the world wide cholera pandemic, that was to   last until 1860. It was classed as the third outbreak of the killer disease and in 1849 London experienced the worst outbreak in the city’s history, claiming 14,137 lives. The outbreak was possibly the reason why Anne moved out of the city to Dover in 1849. She was to reside in various lodgings in the Castle Street area of the town. Of note, in 1854 that British physician, John Snow, working in the Soho area of London noted a cluster of cases near a water pump in Broad Street. From this observation he identified contaminated water as the means of transmission of the disease and persuaded officials to remove the pump handle. The number of cholera cases in the area immediately declined.

Hart’s Tongue from Ferns of Great Britain and Their Allies the Club-Mosses, Pepperworts, and Horsetails. Anne Pratt

No longer working for others as an illustrator, Anne was required to find work or live off her own means. She probably had no option but the latter and because of that reason, her stay in Dover proved to be Anne’s most prolific period. Over the next seventeen years she wrote and illustrated more than twenty sets of books. The first was the six volume Ferns of Great Britain and Their Allies the Club-Mosses, Pepperworts, and Horsetails. The first of six volumes was published by SPCK, London, in 1850 and the remainder were published over the next decade. The books were a moderate success providing her with a regular source of income. The works became the reference for British botanists that lasted through to the first half of the 20th century. However, as Anne was self-taught she came in for criticism from some academics who accused her of lacking scientific accuracy.

Honeysuckle from Wild Flowers by Anne Pratt

That year, 1850, Anne’s book, Chapters on Common Things of the   Sea-side was also published by SPCK. The preface states that the   main object of this little book is to, ‘enable the reader unacquainted   with Natural History, to recognise some of the different objects that     frequent our shores.’  Popular at the time that it was published,   providing Anne with much needed finance, the work was later   regarded as being a culturally important as part of the knowledge base   of civilisation! Two years later, in 1852, the first of her two volume   Wild Flowers was published by SPCK. Aimed at the schoolroom, this   proved to be Anne’s most popular work such that illustrated sheets   from the book were published as wall hangings! In one of the volumes   she told the reader that ‘one of the chief objects is to aid those who   have not hitherto studied Botany’.

The Longtailed Tit from Our Native Songsters by Anne Pratt.

The following year, Anne’s attention moved into the world of ornithology, when through SPCK, Our Native Songsters, was published. An instant success, it was seen as one of the best guides to amateur bird watching. The work included details on where and when to find certain birds with notes on their natural history. About the same time, the importance of Anne’s books in spreading ‘a knowledge and love of botany‘ was acknowledged by a grant from the civil list. It is reported that Anne wrote a letter of thanks to Queen Victoria from 39 Castle Street, where she was lodging at the time.

The Flowering Plants, Grasses, Sedges, and Ferns of Great Britain and Their Allies the Club Mosses, Pepperworts, and Horsetails 6 volumes. Anne Pratt

In 1855, the   first volume of Anne’s opus magnum, the six volume The   Flowering Plants, Grasses, Sedges, and Ferns of Great   Britain and Their Allies the Club Mosses, Pepperworts,   and Horsetails was published by Frederick Warne and Co.   Illustrated with coloured block printed plates, it is an   exhaustive history of all British plant species and was the   most expensive to buy of all Anne’s works. Nevertheless, it   was said, that copies were to be found in nearly every   wealthy drawing room in the country!

Two years later, in 1857, under the direction of the   Committee of General Literature and Education, appointed   by SPCK, published Poisonous, Noxious, and Suspected   Plants, of our Fields and Woods.  This contains 44   chromolithograph illustrations with text beneath. Regardless of what the academic critics said to the contrary, the work is seen by modern academics as demonstrating Anne’s extensive knowledge of her subject.

Poisonous, Noxious, and Suspected Plants, of our Fields and Woods p 14 Cuckoo-pint. Anne Pratt

Each page features a different specimen with a half-page colour illustration, a description of distinguishing features, including appearance and odour, brief remarks on where the plant can be found, and an outline of its adverse effects on humans. For instance, she writes of the Cuckoo-pint that it has, ‘large glossy leaves, often spotted with black. These lie by hundreds on many hedgebanks in April; and in May the purple or yellowish-green column is reared in the midst of its green, leaf-like sheath. The scarlet berries ripen in autumn. Every part is poisonous. Even a small piece of leaf, when eaten by children, has occasioned convulsions; and a larger portion of this, or a small number of berries, would, if swallowed, cause death. The root is poisonous, but the poison may be removed from it, and a wholesome flour is then made from it.

Anne’s final botanical work was Haunts of the Wild Flowers, published  by Routledge, Warne and Routledge of Farringdon Street, London and 56 Walker Street, New York in 1863. On the title page of her work, Anne quotes from the final poem in Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) Poetical Works of 1834, A Tombless Epitaph:
Not a rill …
But he had traced it upward to its source,
Through open glade, dark glen, and secret dell,
Knew the gay wild flowers on its banks, and culled
Its med’cinable herbs.

Anne Pratt: The Excellent Woman Religious Tract Society. Blue Letter Bible

That same year, 1863, also saw the republication of Anne’s, The Excellent Woman as Described in Proverbs Chapter 31:10:31 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. Originally published by the Religious Tract Society in 1847, the book was well received, with the Congregational and Presbyterian pastor, William Buell Strague (1795-1876), writing: ‘In a simple and beautiful commentary on Solomon’s description of a virtuous woman, we find much light thrown upon the text, by a reference to ancient usages; a fine illustration of various points of difference between the Jewish and the Christian woman; and many of the soundest maxims of wisdom bearing upon the subject of female education.’

Anne Pratt. Kent Messenger Group

On 15 November 1866, aged 60 years, Anne married at Luton – Kent, a chapelry in Chatham parish. Her husband, John Pearless (1810-1893), born at Cowden, near Sevenoaks, Kent who stated that his income came from dividends and rents. Following her marriage, Anne ceased to write and at first the couple lived in East Grinstead, East Sussex, then Redhill in Surrey. Albeit, according to the 1871 census, the couple were lodging in Sydenham on the border of Kent and Surrey.

The couple continued to move around and in the 1881 census they are shown to be lodging at Russell Square, Brighton, East Sussex. John Pearless gave his earnings as living from dividends. Anne, or Anna according to the census form, relationship to Head of Household is given as lodger and her occupation as Annuitant. In other words, proceeds from her published books.

Then, in 1879 the copyright for Anne’s lucrative 6 volume Flowering Plants and Ferns of Great Britain expired. However, publishers Frederick Warne and Co came to her financial rescue by suggesting that she revised the work and that they could publish as a cheaper edition. This Anne did and it was an instant best seller.

Anne Pratt Mentioned in the London Times list of the famous who died in 1893. 01.01.1894 Gale Data Base

The couple moved to Grove Hill Road, Reigate and   both husband and wife were listed in the 1891 census.   They were living on their own means in their own home   but without living-in servants. However, two years later,   on 27 July 1893, Anne died age 87 years old. The   address given in Fulham, London. Her husband John died in the autumn of that year, in Fulham age 84. The 1st January 1894 London Times listed all of those of national importance to the country, who had died the previous year. Anne Pratt was among those mentioned, stating that she was ‘the popular writer on botany’.

Published books:
Flowers and their Associations 1828 – possible publisher: Charles Knight of Windsor
The Field, the Garden, and the Woodland 1838 – publisher: Charles Knight
Flowers and Their Associations , 1840 – publisher: Charles Knight                                                      The Pictorial Catechism of Botany 1842 – publisher: Suttaby and Co of London

The Garden Flowers of the Year, 1846 – publisher: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK)
Wild Flowers of the Year, 1846 – publisher: SPCK.

The Field, the Garden, and the Woodland: Or, Interesting Facts Respecting Flowers and Plants in General: Designed for the Young, 1847 – publisher: SPCK.

The Ferns of Great Britain, 1850 six volumes – publisher: SPCK.
Chapters on Common Things of the Sea-side 1850 – publisher: SPCK
Wild Flowers, 1852 two volumes – publisher: SPCK
Our Native Songsters, 1853 – publisher: SPCK

The Flowering Plants, Grasses, Sedges, and Ferns of Great Britain and Their Allies the Club Mosses 6 volumes, 1855-1873 – publisher Frederick Warne and Co.

Poisonous, Noxious, and Suspected Plants of our Fields and Woods, 1857 – publisher: Committee of General Literature and Education, appointed by SPCK

Haunts of the Wild Flowers , Routledge, Warne and Routledge, 1863

The Excellent Woman as Described in Proverbs Chapter 31:10:31 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies, Religious Tract Society 1847 republished in 1863

About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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