Harry Bolus (1834-1911)

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Eulophia Streptopetala 1901

Eulophia Streptopetala 1901

Harry Bolus was a South African botanist, botanical artist, businessman and philanthropist. He advanced botany in South Africa by establishing bursaries, founding the Bolus Herbarium and bequeathing his library and a large part of his fortune to the South African College (now the University of Cape Town). Active in scientific circles, he was a Fellow of the Linnean Society, member and president of the South African Philosophical Society (later the Royal Society of SA), awarded the SA Medal and Grant by the SA Association for the Advancement of Science and an honorary DSc. from the University of the Cape of Good Hope. Volume 121 of Curtis’ Botanical Magazine was dedicated to him. He is commemorated in five genera: Bolusia Benth., Bolusafra Kuntze, Neobolusia Schltr., Bolusanthus Harms and Bolusiella Schltr., as well as numerous specific names.

Bolus was born in Nottingham, England. He was educated at Castle Gate School, Nottingham. The headmaster, George Herbert, regularly corresponded with and received plant specimens from William Kensit of Grahamstown, South Africa. Kensit requested that the headmaster send him one of his pupils as an assistant; Harry Bolus duly landed at Port Elizabeth from the ship Jane in March 1850. He spent two years with Kensit and then moved to Port Elizabeth. Following a short visit to England, he settled in Graaff-Reinet, where he would live for the next 19 years. In 1857 he married Sophia Kensit, the sister of William Kensit. Between 1858 and 1870 they had 3 sons and a daughter. In 1864 he lost his eldest son, and Francis Guthrie who had become a close friend, suggested his taking up botany to ameliorate his loss. He started his botanical collection in 1865 and was soon corresponding with Joseph Hooker at Kew, William Henry Harvey in Dublin and Peter MacOwan in Grahamstown. In 1875 he joined his brother Walter in Cape Town, settling in the suburb of Kenilworth, where they founded a stockbroking firm. The following year he and Guthrie made their first visit to Kew, taking with them a large number of plant specimens for naming. Returning in the Windsor Castle in October 1876, the ship struck a reef off Dassen Island with the loss of his specimens and notes. Not daunted, he set about the collection of new specimens and organised expeditions to various corners of South Africa. He was an excellent field botanist and published numerous books on his observations. Although adventurous by nature, he was also quiet and unassuming.

His business flourished so that many fine botanical books came into his possession. Complete sets of the Botanical Magazine, Botanical Register, Refugium Botanicum, and the large folios of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin, Ferdinand Bauer and Francis Masson formed part of his collection. He founded the Harry Bolus Professorship at the Cape University and left a large trust for scholarships. He also donated his extensive herbarium and library to the South African College. He was one of the founding members of the South African Philosophical Society.

Harry Bolus died of heart failure at Oxford, Surrey, on the 25th of May, 1911. His youngest son Frank married Harriet Margaret Louisa Kensit, William Kensit’s granddaughter, the following year.

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