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Thomas Andrew Knight (1759-1838) was a horticulturalist and botanist who lived at Downton Castle, Herefordshiremarker. He was the brother of Richard Payne Knight.
He used the 10,000 acres (40 kmĀ²) he inherited to conduct breeding of strawberries, cabbages, peas, and others. He also built an extensive greenhouse. In 1797 he published a Treatise on the Culture of the Apple and Pear. He was one of the leading students of horticulture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but his personal papers disappeared after his death.

Knight performed basic physiological experiments on plants at a time when that was rare. He elucidated the effects of gravity on seedlings and how decay in fruit trees was passed on by grafting. In a way he looked back to the Reverend Stephen Hale. His goals were always strictly practical, aiming to improve useful food plants by breeding for better qualities. The 'Downton' strawberry was the ancestor of most important modern strawberries for years.

It is not widely known that he studied variation in peas and found many of the same results as Mendel, but he did not make the same imaginative leap about how these changes took place. Knight intentionally shut himself off from outside scientific influences. He refused to read anyone else's papers until Sir Joseph Banks got him to do it. They had a voluminous correspondence. All Knight's work was reported to the Royal Society of London in the society's Transactions.

Knight was president of the London Horticultural Society, founded in 1804, from 1811 to 1838. Banks, president of the Royal Society, had recognised Knight's striking contributions to science and prevailed upon him to join the Horticultural Society as it was then known. After the death of the first president, George Legge, 3rd Earl of Dartmouth, Banks proposed Knight to be president. In 1864, the society received a royal patent from Albert, Prince Consort, permitting it to be known as the Royal Horticultural Society subsequently. Banks also called upon Knight to write a "prospectus" for the society, what would now be called a mission statement, outlining the functions and purpose of the society.

Younger members of the society were inspired by his example. Men such as Thomas Laxton carried on his principles of careful observation and practical goals. Laxton left legacies of improved apples, peas and sweet peas among many others, together with a thriving seed business.

References

  • Fletcher, H.R. 1969, The Story of the Royal Horticultural Society 1804 -1968, Oxford and London, Oxford University Press for the Royal Horticultural Society, (Portrait facing page 52)


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