Authorised form of nameKnight; Thomas Andrew (1759 - 1838)
ForenamesThomas Andrew
Dates1759 - 1838
Dates and placesBirth:
Wormesley Grange, near Ludlow, Herefordshire, England (12 August 1759)
London (11 May 1838)
Churchyard of St Mary's Church, Wormesley, Herefordshire. His chest tomb is designated a Grade II listed building
ActivityResearch Field:
Botany, horticulture
Balliol College, Oxford
Conducted agricultural experiments and bred cattle; knew Sir Joseph Banks and Sir Humphry Davy;
He used the 10,000 acres he inherited in 1806 to conduct breeding of strawberries, cabbages, peas, and others. He also built an extensive greenhouse. He was one of the leading students of horticulture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but his personal papers disappeared after his death.

Knight performed basic physiological experiments on plants at a time when that was rare. He elucidated the effects of gravity on seedlings and how decay in fruit trees was passed on by grafting. In a way he looked back to the Reverend Stephen Hale. His goals were always strictly practical, aiming to improve useful food plants by breeding for better qualities. The 'Downton' strawberry was the ancestor of most important modern strawberries for years.

It is not widely known that he studied variation in peas and found many of the same results as Mendel, but he did not make the same imaginative leap about how these changes took place. Knight intentionally shut himself off from outside scientific influences. He refused to read anyone else's papers until Sir Joseph Banks got him to do it. They had a voluminous correspondence. All Knight's work was reported to the Royal Society of London in the society's Transactions.

Knight was president of the London Horticultural Society, founded in 1804, from 1811 to 1838. Banks, president of the Royal Society, had recognised Knight's striking contributions to science and prevailed upon him to join the Horticultural Society as it was then known. After the death of the first president, George Legge, 3rd Earl of Dartmouth, Banks proposed Knight to be president. In 1864, the society received a royal patent from Albert, Prince Consort, permitting it to be known as the Royal Horticultural Society subsequently. Banks also called upon Knight to write a "prospectus" for the society, what would now be called a mission statement, outlining the functions and purpose of the society.

Younger members of the society were inspired by his example. Men such as Thomas Laxton carried on his principles of careful observation and practical goals. Laxton left legacies of improved apples, peas and sweet peas among many others, together with a thriving seed business.

In 1991, a little over 150 years after Knight's death in 1838, Tim Smit and John Nelson patiently restored the ‘lost’ gardens of Heligan, Cornwall. In rebuilding the pineapple pits to a productive standard, they chose to work to the designs that had been drawn up by Knight in 1822, which had so impressed Lindley and others in their day. The first ripe specimens from Heligan were cut just five years later.

Royal Society activityMembership:
Election Date:
Copley Medal 1806
RelationshipsSon of Rev Thomas Knight, brother of Richard Payne Knight, classical scholar and whose main thrust of work related to theories of the Picturesque
Published works "A treatise on the culture of the apple and pear" 1797, London; 'Pomona Herefordensis' 1811, London;
Bulloch's Roll; DNB; DSB
Proc Roy Soc 1838 No 35 pp 92-93
R E W Maddison and Raymond E. Maddison, 'Spring Grove, the Country House of Sir Joseph Banks, Bart., PRS' in NR 1954-55 vol 11 pp 91-99,com_parksandgardens/task,person/id,1124/Itemid,292/
Virtual International Authority File37695853
Royal Society codeNA7418
Archives associated with this Fellow
Reference numberTitleDate
AP/8A/10Solution of an analytical problem 19 February 1818
AP/8A/19An account of some Experiments made to ascertain the Effects of voltaic Electricity upon Vegetable life4 June 1818
EC/1804/19Knight, Thomas Andrew: certificate of election to the Royal Society
NLB/18/197Copy letter from Robert William Frederick Harrison, to Professor Dr Griesbach, 29 Industriestr., Mulhausen, Elsass [Alsace]6 January 1899
L&P/10/114Letter, 'Observations on the grafting of trees' from Thomas Andrew Knight to Joseph Banks13 April 1795
L&P/11/99Paper, 'Account of some experiments on the fecundation of vegetables' by Thomas Andrew Knight 1799
L&P/11/162Paper, 'Account of experiments on the ascent of sap in trees' by Thomas Andrew Knight22 February 1801
L&P/11/162/1Paper, 'Account of experiments on the ascent of sap in trees' by Thomas Andrew Knight1801
L&P/12/69Letter, 'Observations on the motion of sap in trees' from Thomas Andrew Knight to Joseph Banks1803
L&P/12/51Paper, 'Account of some experiments on the descent of sap in trees' by Thomas Andrew Knight1803
L&P/12/66/2Plate, 'Crystals' by Thomas Andrew Knight1803
L&P/12/66/1Paper, 'Description of the cupro-antimonial sulphuret of lead' by Thomas Andrew Knight1803
L&P/12/104Letter, 'On the reproduction of buds' from Thomas Andrew Knight to Joseph Banks1805
L&P/12/88Letter, ''Concerning the state of the tree sap in winter' from Thomas Andrew Knight to Joseph Banks4 December 1804
L&P/12/121Letter, 'On the direction of the radicle and Germen during the vegetation of seeds' from Thomas Andrew Knight to Joseph Banks22 November 1805
L&P/12/132Letter, 'On the inverted action of the alburnous vessels of trees' from Thomas Andrew Knight to Joseph Banks1806
L&P/12/66Paper, 'Description of the cupro-antimonial sulphuret of lead' by Thomas Andrew Knight1803
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