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James Cosmo Melvill

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Mr James Cosmo Melvill BA, DSc, FLS (1/7/1845-4/11/1929)



Melvill began collecting when he was eight; the starting point being some shells from Mauritius given to him by his aunt. He was, however, an avid collector and interested in many aspects of Natural History. He collected not only molluscs (from around the world), but also British butterflies and moths, beetles and bees. Whilst at school, he contributed to a Flora of Harrow - this was to be his main written contribution to British botany. g to see some detail of this text.

His botanical collection was vast, said to number some 500,000 specimens, including collections by Darwin and Linnaeus. When he retired to Shrewsbury in 1904 he had a building constructed in the grounds of Meole Brace Hall just to house his collection of grasses, ferns and seaweeds. Melvill and his friend, Charles Bailey (another prodigious collector) came to an understanding early in their collecting careers: as they were resolved to leave their respective herbaria to Manchester University (formerly Owen’s College), they did not want their collections to overlap. They agreed ‘to divide the world between them’. Bailey focused on the British Isles, Europe and African countries bordering the Mediterranean; whilst Melvill collected from countries other than European and North African, though he did have a significant collection of British plants (and seaweeds) in his herbarium, which he gave to Harrow. His gift to the University was acknowledged by the conferment of the degree of Doctor of Science.

Born in 1845 in Hampstead, he was the son of James Cosmo Melvill, the Under Secretary of State for India. His grandfather, another James Cosmo Melvill, was Chief Secretary of the East India Company. He was educated at Harrow and then Trinity College, Cambridge. He lived for some years in Prestwich, near Manchester, then at Meole Brace Hall, near Shrewsbury. He worked as a Director of G & R Dewhurst Ltd (cotton merchants) for many years and was at one point MP for South Salford.

Melvill's herbarium was split between MANCH and Harrow School, the collection formerly at Harrow has now been transferred to the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Other plants collected by him are at ABD, BRISTM, GLR, K, NMW and OXF.

Inferred associations

associated with

Collection activity by county



VC3, VC4, VC5, VC6, VC9
VC10, VC11, VC15, VC17, VC22, VC23
VC33, VC37, VC40, VC47
VC49, VC52
VC57, VC58, VC59, VC60, VC64, VC69, VC70
VC83, VC87, VC88, VC90, VC92
VC107, VC108, VC109

Examples of handwriting


Search for specimens collected by James Cosmo Melvill.

references and external links

  • Journal of Molluscan Studies, vol 19 (2),p 59-61
  • Manchester Memoirs, Vol 61, (1917), No 5 ‘On the contents of a herbarium of British and foreign Plants for presentation to the Victoria University, Manchester’ by Charles Bailey.
  • North Western Naturalist, Vol 5, (1930) ‘Three Manchester Botanists : Leopold Hartley Grindon, Charles Bailey, James Cosmo Melvill’ by Professor F E Weiss.

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