John Gould Veitch 1839 - 1870
John Gould Veitch was a great-grandson of John Veitch, a Scot who founded the Veitch nursery business in England in 1808. The Veitch dynasty was the most dominant force in the British nursery trade for over half a century. The nurseries split in 1863 into the Exeter firm of Robert Veitch & Sons, the London offshoot becoming James Veitch and Sons. This was the firm to which John Gould Veitch succeeded. The Veitches master stroke was to employ their own plant hunters to collect exclusively for their nurseries. By carefully selecting the destinations, the nursery was able to collect new plants to feed the insatiable appetite of the horticultural elite. 22 Veitch plant hunters were sent around the world between 1840 and 1910, and in 1860 John Gould Veitch himself became one of the first plant hunters to visit Japan.
Setting off on a ship which became became wrecked in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), he lost all his possessions, but immediately found passage on another vessel, arriving at Nagasaki via Hong Kong, Canton and Shanghai. He was in time to meet a party of Englishmen who had been the first Europeans to climb the sacred Mount Fuji, where they drank the health of Queen Victoria in champagne, hoisted the Union Jack, fired a 21 gun salute with their revolvers and shouted God Save the Queen. In Japan he met another collector, Robert Fortune, 27 years older than himself, and there ensued a race to be the first to get their discoveries back to Britain, as Fortune was collecting for a rival nursery. It was probably a dead heat, as their collections set off on the same ship.
From Japan Veitch travelled to the Philippines in search of Phalaenopsis orchids, returning home in 1863.
Another journey took him to Australia, arriving in Sydney in1864 after a non-stop 93-day passage. Then on to Brisbane and from there by ship to Somerset on the tip of Cape York. The poulation there consisted of five gentlemen, two ladies and eighteen marines, two having recently been killed by the natives. He stayed for a few weeks, collecting some palms, orchids and other tropical plants, but returned to Sydney by 1885, in time to join a naval vessel on a four month cruise among the Polynesian islands.
The first stop was at the former penal settlement of Norfolk Island, where a ball was held on board. Many of the young ladies were dressed in strict accordance with the latest fashions, even including crinolines. They stopped at two of the Samoan Islands, two of the Friendly Islands (Tonga), three of the Fijian Group, and four of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). On some of the latter, civilians on board were not allowed to land because of the savagery of the natives, but Veitch had four hours ashore on Fate Island while a native chief was held on board as hostage for his safety. He landed for a short time on five islands in the Solomons, and stayed a week in New Caledonia. Before leaving Australia he visited Melbourne to see Muellers still unfinished botanical gardens.
He brought home a fine harvest of the glasshouse plants then in vogue, Acalyphas, Cordylines, Codiaeums (Crotons) and Dracaenas, and from Fiji a palm of a new Genus later named after him Veitchia joannis . (Joannis is a latinised form of John.) A very tall V. joannis , reputed to be from this collection, survived in Sydneys Royal Botanic Gardens until the 1990s.
He married soon after his return to England in 1866 and produced two sons to carry on the Veitch dynasty, but symptoms of fatal tuberculosis soon appeared and he died in 1870, at the age of 31.
The Veitch family name is honoured by hundreds of plant names, among them the palm Genus Veitchia.
Contributed by: Ian Edwards The Tropical Garden Society of Sydney
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