King's College London
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‘The paradise of the world’: conflict and society in the Caribbean

The cogwood tree

Illustration of the cogwood treeThe cogwood tree (Laurus chloroxylon), from: Patrick Browne. The civil and natural history of Jamaica. London: printed for the author, and sold by T Osborne and J Shipton, in Gray's-Inn, 1756 [FCO Historical Collection FOL. QH109.J5 BRO]Patrick Browne (d 1790), originally of Woodstock, County Mayo, studied medicine in Paris, receiving his MD from Rheims in 1742. He then worked at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, before going to the West Indies in 1746 and eventually settling in Jamaica, where he practised medicine. He devoted his spare time to the study of the natural history of the island and amassed a substantial collection of plant specimens.

Browne returned to London in 1755 and the following year he published the fruits of his Jamaican studies as The civil and natural history of Jamaica, the first published work in English to use Linnaeus’s system of classification. However, Browne did not use Linnaeus’s binomial system of nomenclature.

In 1758 Linnaeus purchased Browne’s Jamaican herbarium, amounting to some 1,200 specimens, and included many of the new species collected by Browne in his own botanical works, such as Plantarum jamaicensium pugillus (1759).

Browne’s work is enhanced by numerous fine plates designed by the distinguished botanical artist George Dionysius Ehret (1708-70). The plate on display shows a plant, commonly known as the cogwood tree (Laurus chloroxylon), a name given to it because the hardness of its wood made it ideal for the cogs used in the rolls of sugar mills.

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