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Ernest H. Wilson Papers, Arnold Arboretum Library of Harvard University

Ernest Henry Wilson was born in Chipping Campden, Gloustershire, England in 1876. In 1892 he was employed at Birmingham Botanical Gardens as a gardener and also studied botany at Birmingham Technical School and at the Royal College of Science in South Kensington. In 1897 he worked for the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew; in 1899 he was sent by the nursery firm of Veitch & Sons, to China to collect seeds and living plants. Wilson returned in 1902 and went on a second trip for Veitch, 1903-1906. In 1906 he became an assistant at the Imperial Institute, London. His third and fourth China expeditions, 1906-1911, were sponsored by Arnold Arboretum, through Director Charles S. Sargent. After moving to Boston in 1909, Wilson published A Naturalist in Western China (1913), and collected again for Arnold in Japan (1914), and Ryukyu and Bonin Islands, Korea, Japan and Formosa (1917-1919). In 1919 he became assistant director of Arnold; and after Sargent’s death in 1927, Keeper (Director). He and his wife were killed in an automobile accident in 1930.

Papers reflect Wilson’s contribution to horticulture and botany as a plant collector, especially during his expeditions to China, Korea, and Japan. Plant collection notes from all his trips are included. Also some material relating to the administration of Arnold Arboretum and other activities at Harvard University. Extensive correspondence, dating from 1899 to 1930, exists, including original outgoing letters to Arnold Arboretum staff, mainly Charles Sargent; copies of letters to horticulturists, such as J. F. Rock, David Fairchild and Frank Meyer; and incoming letters from the Veitch family and Frank Meyer. Other material includes field and plant notes and diaries about Wilson’s collection; manuscripts of both published and unpublished works; account books; shipping lists; maps; Chinese and other travel documents; letters of recommendation, certificates, examination and other documents relating to his early work as gardener; and extensive clippings, mainly from Boston newspapers.

In 1996 C.S. Sargent’s letters to Wilson were removed from the Arboretum correspondence file and placed in sub-series W XIII E "Letters received by Wilson and Mrs. Wilson, 1907, 1916-1930." Several of Wilson’s notebooks were at some point in time catalogued and shelved in the library. In 1980 they were moved to the archives.

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