Ref NoMS/715
TitleSketch of a conservatory at Wellclose Square - Maria Ward
AdminHistoryNathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791-1868) was a physician, botanist, a Fellow of both the Linnean Society and the Royal Society, and Master of the Apothecaries' Society of London. He is famed for inventing the Wardian case, an early form of the terrarium, which was used to create habitable conditions for plants when being transported and to protect them from poisonous environments.

Ward was the son of Stephen Smith Ward, a medical practitioner, and lived in East London. As a boy Ward aspired to be a sailor, but his father disapproved and at the age of thirteen Ward was sent on a voyage to Jamaica as a way of dissuading him from seafaring life. Whilst living in Jamaica he spent his time studying the local sea life and tropical vegetation, the latter of which made a great impression on him. The voyage had had its intended effect on Ward and he returned to England to study medicine. He qualified as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1814 and inherited his father's medical practice. He was elected as a Fellow to the Linnean Society in 1817.

It was Ward's love and cultivation of plants that led him to accidentally discover a new way to grow plants successfully in urban environments. He had been attempting to grow ferns in his garden at Wellclose Square, but the air pollution produced by nearby factories hindered his efforts. However, in the summer of 1829 he was attempting to observe the hatching of a sphinx moth from its chrysalis, which he had buried in damp soil (known as a "mould") and sealed in a glass bottle. What he did not realise at the time was that some fern spores were also in the soil and to his amazement the plant grew in the bottle without water and appeared to be healthy.

Ward proceeded to experiment with and create other kinds of glass cases and found that the combination of condensed moisture and sunlight shining through glazed glass containers could provide ideal conditions for plants to grow without being affected by London's air pollution. Furthermore, these cases could also be used to ship plants to and from foreign countries safely and without risk of dying from exposure to the rough conditions at sea. After a successful test run transporting ferns and grasses to Sydney, Australia, and returning with Australian plants intact, many maritime expeditions made use of Ward's cases including the HMS Erebus, which a young Joseph Dalton Hooker sailed on.

Ward's findings were eventually published in the 'Companion to the Botanical Magazine' after he wrote to Sir William J. Hooker in 1836 about his discovery and six years later he published his findings in a book entitled, 'On the Growth of Plants in closely glazed Cases'. His work brought him to prominence among naturalists as he delivered lectures on preserving plants and was admitted Fellowship to the Royal Society in 1852. He also became involved with managing the Chelsea Physic Garden under the management of the Apothecaries' Society of London and became the Society's Master in 1854.

Ward died on 4 June 1868 in St Leonards, Sussex.
DescriptionPen and ink drawing, with a large gold frame, showing a conservatory scene, including ferns, palms and large stones, from the home of Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, drawn by Maria Ward, one of his daughters. On the reverse of the sketch is a label stating: 'A corner of Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward's conservatory in Welclose [sic] Square [Wellclose Square, London], by his third daughter, Miss Maria Ward. Presented to the Society by the Misses Phipps Tiarks, of 82, West Hill, Sydenham, 11th July 1934.'
Date[1840-1850]
LevelItem
Extent1 drawing
LanguageEnglish
Related MaterialSee DA/COL/2/1/16, a letter from Miss Eva Phipps Tiarks to the Linnean Society which refers to the donation of the piece to the Linnean Society and background details: 'a very fine etching of plants in a corner of Mr Ward's conservatory at Welclose [sic] Square. This etching was done by Miss Maria Ward who was a very talented amateur artist. And she told us that her father had formed this conservatory by enclosing, with glass, the whole balcony of their drawing-room at Welclose [sic] Square.'
AcquisitionDonated to the Linnean Society on 11 July 1934 by Misses Phipps Tiarks, of 82, West Hill, Sydenham. Miss Eva Phipps Tiarks was the god-daughter of one of Ward's daughters, Mrs Charlotte Elizabeth Ward (later Mrs Robert Braithwaite). See DA/COL/2/1/16 for further details.
Creator NameWard, Maria
Access_StatusOpen
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