Ref NoMS/323a
TitleCommonplace book 1 - Peter Collinson
AdminHistoryPeter Collinson (1694-1768) was a cloth merchant, botanist, essayist and fellow of the Royal Society. He ran a textile business with his brother and used his resources to transport plants between America and England. He also established connections and correspondences with many notable scientists including Carl Linnaeus, John Bartram and Benjamin Franklin.

Collinson was the son of Peter Collinson (Sr.) and Elizabeth Hall, who both belonged to the Christian denomination of Quakers. They initially lived on the corner of Lombard Street and Clemens Lane, but Collinson was sent to live with his grandmother in Peckham. Whilst living there he would often spend time in the large garden, which fostered his interest in plants and gardening. This interest would lead him to writing essays for the Gentleman’s Magazine on subjects relating to natural history as well as writing reports for the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Society, the latter of which he became a member of at the age of thirty-four. However, his chosen profession was in trading and he took over his father’s business with his brother in 1724; the same year he married Mary Russell. Collinson later became the sole proprietor of the business after his brother passed away in 1762.

Using his entrepreneurial skills and enthusiasm for the natural sciences Collinson easily made a network of connections throughout Europe and North America, which allowed him to become involved with many notable scientists and their writings. His involvement with the Library Company of Philadelphia led to him befriending Benjamin Franklin with whom he supplied information for his research on electricity. His friendship with Franklin also brought Collinson into contact with the botanist and explorer John Bartram who sent many seeds in exchange for books and funding for his travels. In this way Collinson was able to introduce new plants into Britain by selling the seeds to lords and noblemen as well as adding plants to his garden. Collinson also extended his patronage to the artist and natural historian Mark Catesby and funded his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands.

Other individuals Collinson corresponded with include Carl Linnaeus, Sir Hans Sloane, Sir Charles Wager and the Dukes of Argyll, Bedford and Richmond. Linnaeus is said to have visited Collinson’s garden in Peckham and was impressed with his collection. With the connections he made Collinson was able to introduce over two-hundred species of plants into Britain, making many new plants accessible to the British gardener.

Peter Collinson passed away on 11 August 1768.
DescriptionThe file contains Peter Collinson's [P.C.] letters, observational notes, biographical accounts, lists, diary entries and other miscellaneous papers. Features correspondences with Aylmer Bourke Lambert, Carl Linnaeus, Israel Pemberton, Lord Powis, Lord Lincoln, Sir Charles Wager and Joseph Breintnall. The letters and notes cover a wide range of topics including transporting plants and seeds, historical accounts, scientific experiments, donations and gifts, planetary motion, descriptions of animals and their activities, geology, other countries, building plans, remedies, salt works, trees and general chatter.

The initials P.C. within square brackets refer to a page written by Collinson, but lacks his signature.

[No number] Engraved book plate with two portraits in cartouches and the names P.A. Terentius and M.A. Plautus. A Latin inscription is featured stating, "adelphi Die [Mei]: [nov]: 28. [Hoi: Sex]." and a crest below it with the phrase "IN PATRIAM POPULUMQUE". Also includes "No. 174" in the top left corner and a wax seal in the bottom right.

1-8. C.S. Collinson [P.C.'s grandson] to Aylmer Bourke Lambert. Praises Lambert for his work in continuing P.C.'s legacy and offers correspondences and manuscripts to him for his research. 21 Aug 1811. Also enclosed are notes and observations of P.C. extracted from Miller's Gardener's Dictionary, which describe the transportation and flowering of plants from overseas. 1743-1766.

9. The life of Joseph [Francis] Boni. An account of the life of "a chymist [chemist] of great reputation from Milan". Undated.

10a. Part of a note from Peru dedicated to Carl Linnaeus. 25 Aug 1763.

11-14. Carl Linnaeus to P.C. Linnaeus informs Collinson of recent events in his life including his recovery from a dangerous illness, a new edition of the Systema Naturae, descriptions of insects at the Queen's Museum and receiving plants from the Cape of Good Hope. Translated by Dr [Ribe] 1 [Dec] 1764.

15-18. I.G. [Johann Georg] Gmelin to P.C. Writes about sending letters and deliveries of tables, maps, seeds and minerals, the history of the Rhubarb and the location of the [belugian] stone in fish. 23 Feb 1745.

19-22. Letter from Bilbao to P.C. William Bowels will be spending some time in Bilbao and has requested a few packets of seeds. 16 Jun 1766.
[P.C.]. List of specimens sent by Captain [Peuerto] and notes about various specimens. 26/30 Jul 1766.

21a. Common sheep of Spain. A list of questions and notes about plants, shepherds and stone in Spain. Undated.
[An assortment of notes including what appears to be a poem, a list of plant names and a diary entry]. Undated.

21. [Captain Joseph Donacio de Astrilla] to P.C. Mr. [Gomez] sends his compliments and requests "the [flowers] for the spring". Undated.

23-26. [Kaadsi] on China Mulberry making paper papyrus. Scientific paper about trees and manufacturing of paper. Undated.

27-28. [P.C.?]. List of seeds of forest trees and flowering shrubs gathered in Pennsylvania, the Jerseys and New York. 1755.

29-32. [P.C.?] Comments about plans for a rural garden. Undated.
[P.C.?]. Note about the growth of Portuguese beans cut in half. Undated.

31a. [P.C.?]. Comments about a man who planted various trees at his villa. Undated.

32a. James Gordon to P.C. Has sent the [under] half of the beans, which show different stages of growth. [9] Aug [1755].

33-34. On the lower halves & quarters of bean growing by Mr Gordon. Observational notes about cutting, planting and growth of beans. 26 May 1746.
[P.C.?]. Further notes about bean growth. Undated.

35-38. Henry Hollyday to P.C. Informs Collinson that he is the son of his late friend James Hollyday and has sent beetles of a variety of sizes and colours in wax sealed bottles of Barbados spirits. 10 Sep 1752. An account about a group of Palentines [Palatines] who were brought to England and deserted, but received funds to sail to [South] Carolina. Sep 1764.
Extract of P.C.'s response to Henry Hollyday [possibly a draft]. Undated.

39-46. Catalogue of books given to the public school of Philadelphia by P.C. A total of 193 books and 11 pamphlets were donated. Undated.

47-52. Israel Pemberton and John Kinsey to P.C. Acknowledgement of P.C.'s gift to the public school of Philadelphia and encloses a copy of the catalogue of books and the minutes from a meeting of the overseers of the public school in return. 15 Dec 1749. Also enclosed is a copy of the minutes from the meeting of the overseers of the public school. A letter from P.C. was read in the meeting informing the board that he was donating many books and writings to them, which they gratefully accepted. 27 Aug 1749.

53-56. Israel Pemberton to P.C. Expresses his concern about P.C.'s dissatisfaction with the perceived negligence of the overseers of the public school and writes to alleviate his concerns by telling him of the recent developments at the school. 12 Jul 1753.

56-57a. Unsigned letter recording observations of the seeds of several kinds of mushrooms when infused in water and their rate of putrefaction. Seeks to confirm whether Baron Munchhausen's claim that the seeds turn into living microscopic animals is true. Undated.

57-58. Notes about the motion and orbit of planets. Includes a critique of Sir Isaac Newton's theory of planetary motion. Signature at the bottom is obstructed due to deterioration [possibly written by Dr Colden]. 1750.

59-62. [P.C.?]. Copy of a letter describing the area between Derby and Matlock Bath. The letter describes the journey and the surrounding natural beauty of the land. 9 Jun 1746.

63-64. [P.C.?]. Part of a letter describing the great Elk and where it is located [the top and bottom of page is obstructed due to deterioration]. Undated.

65-66. [P.C.?]. Part of a note about the encouragement of the annual importation of plants & seeds due to members of the nobility growing a variety of trees, shrubs, & flowers on their plantations. Undated.

65a-66a. [P.C.?]. Letter to Mr Shirley providing instructions on how to plant seeds and grow plants from North America [portions of the text are missing at the bottom of the page on each side]. 29 [Jan 1750].

67-68. Letters addressed to Inspector Hill. Letter 1 describes a hypocritical man who is said to speak virtuously, but behaves in a repugnant way. Letter 2 encloses a letter received from [North] America, which may be useful. Letter 3 refers to a meeting with the inspector. Undated [the page is faded at the edges making it difficult to read certain words].

69-70. [P.C.?]. Observational notes about the activity and lifecycle of English Mayflies. May 1749.

71-74. Mr [Lethieller] on his present of marbles to my [P.C.'s] son. He writes to thank Collinson for the advice in his previous letter and informs him that he has sent several small specimens of marble to his son. He briefly describes each of the specimens as well as those in his pavement and the difference between jaspers and marbles. 15 Nov 1745.

75-76. [P.C.?]. A letter about a former shipwright's designs and plans for Ramsgate Pier. Provides measurements of distances in the surrounding area and timings for when it is safe for ships to dock. A note at the bottom indicates that there are more papers relating to the plans. [Apr] 1749.

77-80. [P.C.?]. Extracts & memorandums taken from a very pompous work in the largest folia. Contains a list of plant names, notes and reference numbers. Undated.

81-82. A letter lamenting how very few readers are aware of 64 Englishmen being kept as slaves in Morocco and that something should be done to release them. [24 Sep 1748].

83-84. Comments about Dr [Jorden]'s account of the [Camels?]. Notes about the [anthelmia] plant. Undated.

85-86. [P.C.?]. Complains about being perceived as "a conjurer & a pryer into nature's secrets", but hopes to learn more from the nobleman he has written to. Undated. [I.W.Y.?] to P.C. about his dissertation and his efforts to examine "the propagation of our own species". 20 Aug.

87-88. A copy of a handwritten order made by Queen Elizabeth I and recorded by P.C. The order gives custody of multiple items to Lady Katheryn Grey, Lady Cobham, Lady Carew, John Roynor, Katheryn Cary, Dorothy [Brodebelte], Elizabeth Sands, Elizabeth [Sloo], a [Tartarian] woman, Katheryn [Ashseley] and [Raef] Hoope. 1737.

89-90. "Queen Elizabeth's gift of her old clocks to her maids of honour & others." Undated.

90a. P.C. to Lord Powis. Thanks him for the side of venison [and remarks on the last time he met him]. Undated.
Extract of a legal document relating to a property. Undated.

91. A list of expenses for William Mingy's feast he had with the Duke of Norfolk and other lords and knights. 1561.

92a. [P.C.?]. Notes from [Dospale?] in the [Dhilo Tranu?] about types of moose and deer. Undated.
Letter of thanks to a lady. Undated.

93-96. [P.C.?]. Observational notes about different countries with descriptions of places of interest and notable produce. Features notes on [Bhutan], Naxos, Chios, Thessaly and parts of Russia and Persia. Undated.

97-100. Building plan and designs for a greenhouse with specifications for measurements and materials. Undated.
Letter containing instructions for flowering plants and where to plant them. 7 Jun 1739.

101-102. [P.C.?]. A description of blowing a glass bubble in Venice. Undated.

102a. [P.C.?]. A description of St. Kathrine's Tower [Oratory] in the Isle of Wight.

103-104. [P.C.?]. A labelled diagram and description of [Pennsylvanian mussels].

105-112. [P.C.?]. The manner of the living of the North Carolinians. An account of life in North Carolina including its geography, produce, wildlife, manners, religious views, commodities and trading. Also includes hand drawn maps. 19 Dec 1730.

113-114. [P.C.?]. Notes about [Colonel Dandrige]'s accounts of birds being charmed and eaten by snakes. [26] Dec 1734.

115-116. Request to show the Genseng [Ginseng] to the Royal Society with a written account. The account describes the location of the Genseng near the Susquahanah [Susquehanna] River in Pennsylvania having been discovered by John Bertram [Bartram]. Dec 1738.

117-118. "On remarkable flints sent mee out of [Kent] that seem to be cutt in slices & then united [semented] together". [P.C.?] Letter to W.M. Gosling about finding some flint specimens in a field and discussing what could cause the field they were in to become uneven. Undated.

118a. Memorandum about the delivery of a new sepulchre wall to Redcliff. Features descriptions of the images on the sepulchre wall. [4 Jul 1470].

119-120. P.C. to Mr Eveleigh. Inquires into Mr Eveleigh's health and his progress with making jalap, opium, rice and silk. 22 Apr 1737. A note at bottom states that the "letter was read in the assembly and a bounty was voted for the [incouragement] of [raiseing] silk, but [Rill] is the prevailing [curticle] and remains to this time anno 1768."

121-124. "On the structure of ships from Captain Jackson, an ingenious man". A scientific paper about the resistance of solids against liquids in relation to shipping. 1737.

125-126. "From the [Philosophical Transactions] abridged folio 432". Notes about the tongue of a fish called "Pastinaca Marina [Laevis]" [Stingray]. Undated.

125a-126a. "To make grape wine". Recipe for making wine. Undated.

127-128. Notes from Richard Lewis after hearing about Dr [Chew]'s observation of a sunset and the formation of a red aurora borealis. [10] Dec 1730.

129-132. Descriptions and layouts of dishes for a two course meal for Sir Charles Wager, who was made admiral on his ship at Spitthead, and the Dutch admiral [Sommersdike] and his captains. Collinson, who was present at the feast, writes that he befriended Wager and accompanied him to see the fleet near Portsmouth. [1755].

132a. A list of counties and associated names of captains, lords and other persons. Undated.

133-136. Cures and remedies for various ailments including corns, ague, gout, piles and tooth ache. Undated.

137-138. Extracts from Le Comte's History of China, folio 97 and 98. Includes passages about various kinds of fruit, trees and instructions for growing plants. [1764].

139-140. [P.C.?] to Mr [Trelawny]. Has sent a copy of his working and writes about the welfare of their friend Sir Charles [Wager]. Undated.
An account about the Roman statesman Seneca the Younger and his wife Paulina. The extract reports on how Seneca fell ill with a fever and through his wife's urgency he became more considerate of his own wellbeing [Letter 104, 1-5 in Letters from a Stoic]. Undated.

140a. Letter about the American politician Sir John Randolph and his activities in England. Dec 1733.

141. [P.C.?] to Father and Mother [Russell?]. Writes about his tendency to ramble and how he does not stay in one place for too long because he is excited by natural discoveries on a daily basis. He informs them that he is on the border of the New Forest. Aug 1739.
Letter from P.C. Forgot to ask about the price of [linnen], which had been left at the addressee's house by [Wickman]. 6 Jul 1739.

141a. Continuation of [P.C.?]'s letter to Father and Mother [Russell] [see 141.]. Writes about how he has not got his rambling disposition out of his head yet and decided to spend the time writing this letter. He explains that after his time in Southampton he went to the New Forest to visit a [virtuoso] living there and to see the natural beauty of the surrounding area. Aug 1739.
Drawing of salt beds and valves from salt works [see 153a.].

142. Notes about the Esparto plant and silk from Murcia. Undated.
Note from [Browne] about subscribing for two copies and receiving no further commands. Undated.

142a. P.C. to [Lord Lincoln]. Thanks him for the reception he gave to his nephew and wishes to meet him. 22 Jun 1756.

143-146. [P.C.?] to Sir Charles Wager. Writes about what he has been doing since he last saw him including going to a cheese fair near Winchester, the duke's visit to Southampton, visiting the New Forest, visiting [Mitford's] vineyard near [Lymington], views from the castle of Cowes in the Isle of Wight and observing the growing of the [Osmond Royale] plant. Aug 1739.
Also includes a letter about Charles Dubois, Treasurer to the East India Company and a description of New Port and the surrounding area. Undated.

[No Number] Lock of hair belonging to Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Note refers to page 147a.

147a. A notice about the death of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick in 1439. The notice describes the cause of death, his titles and roles, place of burial and final wishes. A note below states that during repairs to the tomb a sample of hair was taken from Richard Beauchamp's skull since it did not appear to have decayed. [1729].

148. Letter to [Parson Tysoe]. About a visit to one of John Hanbury's estates in Oxfordshire and the surrounding area. Undated.

148a. Part of a letter to Peter [Collinson]. Thanks Peter for informing him about his son and plans to meet. Undated.
Excerpt from Histoire du monde par Mr Chevreau [3rd], [part 1], Folio (200). Text is written in French. Undated.

148b. Diagram of a plant growing against a wall. Includes notes and instructions about growing and pruning.

149-150. Pruning methods. Instructions for pruning vines growing against a wall in the winter and summer. Undated.

151-152. P.C. to Morris Govenor. Writes to inform him of the death of Sir Charles Wager. 10 Jul 1743.

153. Notes about salt works at Limington and how salt is extracted from sea water. Undated.

153a. Continued notes about salt works at Limington and how salt is extracted from sea water. Includes drawings of the salt beds and valves. Undated.

154. Notes about the Black slug, the Great Gray slug, Mitford's vineyard, Echium and the white and yellow water lilies. 1738.

154a. Notes about the Isle of Wight, including locations, people and commerce. [2] Aug 1739.

155a. Description of the different types of rock, plant and animal remains found from digging up ores. Includes notes about the cost of Dr [Foster]'s sermon and a note to Ed Woolley. Undated.

155b. Measurements and directions for moving carts of earth and drawing water from a pond. Undated.
A lobster measuring 3 feet and weighing 11 pounds was sold at Westminster. 27 Oct 1764.

155. Biographical information about the Petre family and the different houses and estates purchased by Sir William Petre. Undated.

156. Diary entry about Lord Petre's birthday and transporting dung. Also includes calculations and measurements. 3 Jun [1740].
Diary entry about visiting Writtle Park and the flowering states of the trees. 5 Jun 1740.

157-160. Mr [Urban]'s paper on "Some observations on the use of the white pine commonly know in our [nurseries] by the Weymouth pine". Includes a note from P.C. to Mr Henry requesting the paper to be printed in the next Gentleman's magazine. Undated.

161-174. Joseph Breintnall to P.C. Writes about his observations of the rattlesnake. Includes anecdotal evidence and accounts of the rattlesnake's behaviour, a dissection of a rattlesnake's head, men and animals being charmed by snakes and a spider, and how snakes are able to charm other creatures. Also includes a postscript, which provides more accounts about the nature and behaviour of snakes, their interactions with other animals and people, and remedies for snake bites. 3 Nov 1735.

175. Extract of a letter from [Joseph Breintnall] about John Warden needing judgement from skilful men about [oras] and tinglass. 25 Oct.

175a. Blank page.

[No number] Extract of a letter from [Joseph Breintnall]. An account of an "Indian [Native American] family" going hunting in a branch of the Mississippi River, but due to a great snowfall the father had to resort to cannibalising his family. Undated.
Extracts from two letters by Joseph Breintnall. The first letter refers to a Bill of Exchange between [William] Alexander and James Buchanan and encloses a second bill. The second letter makes an intention to sell Loadstones. 16 Nov 1741.

176. Extract of a letter from [Joseph Breintnall]. Considers starving to death to be "much more grievous than any other ways of dying" and the state of people in Northern Ireland has lowered his spirits. 1741.

176a. Extract of a letter from [Joseph Breintnall]. Describes a sighting of a meteor and a red Aurora Borealis. Undated.

177-178. Observational notes about pine and birch trees and collecting wasp nests and mosses. 25 Sep 1740.
Date1470 - 1766
Extent1 ring box
NotesThe numbering for MS/323a is based on the numbers written on the individual pages in the file and may not follow a consecutive order.

We recognise that this catalogue entry contains terminology which could be considered offensive. The terminology exists within the original record and has been retained to inform users on viewpoints at the time and to ensure that the record accurately reflects what was written by the record creator. It in no way reflects the attitudes of the cataloguer or the Linnean Society.
Creator NameCollinson, Peter
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