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Plaque Unveiled to World Renowned 19th Century Botanist, William Henry Harvey (1811-1866) at Mary Immaculate College


Mr. Vukile Mdlalo, Chargé d'Affaires  with the South African Embassy, paid a special visit to Mary Immaculate College this week to unveil a plaque to the noted 19th century botanist William Henry Harvey.

Jointly hosted by the Geography and History Department at MIC, this unique event commemorated the life and work of W.H. Harvey (1811-1866), a world famous botanist, phycologist and systematist, who was born on 5 February 1811, at Summerville House, Limerick, a building which now forms part of the MIC campus.

Harvey, son of a Quaker merchant, Joseph Massey Harvey, is one of the best known marine phycologists in the world, having described over 750 species and in excess of 70 genera of algae. He held many positions throughout his career including the position of Colonial Treasurer, Accountant General and Registrar of Deeds in the Cape Colony from 1835 to 1842.

On his death in 1866 his close friend, renowned British botanist, JD Hooker, wrote to their mutual friend Charles Darwin saying;

I shall never see his like again….. A more unassuming or unselfish man never lived.  His loss to Science will be very great; he was a good most painstaking and most conscientious working Botanist”.

Harvey died in 1866 and is buried in Torquay, Devon, England.  His grave was lost and only rediscovered in March 2009 by modern day phycology researchers. Descendants of Harvey today include John Gauntlett (Benedict) Heal whose great -great grandmother, Hannah, was W H Harvey's sister.

Welcoming all to the event Prof. Michael A Hayes, President of MIC, said

Today it is fitting that we celebrate his connection to Limerick and South Africa as it is so close to the anniversary of his death. I would like to congratulate the History Department and the Geography Department here in MIC who have worked collaboratively to see this research project to fruition. I would especially like to thank Paul O’Brien and Robert Hartigan, both PhD students in the Dept. of History, and Catherine Dalton, Liam Chambers and Des McCafferty who have all contributed to this research project”.


The little known fact that W.H. Harvey was born and lived in Summerville House was only recently brought to light when PhD history students Paul O’Brien and Robert Hartigan began looking into the architecture of Summerville House, the last remaining Georgian period mansion in Limerick.  Speaking on their discovery Paul O’Brien said;

“Robert and I were always fascinated with Summerville House, a Georgian period mansion that was built in 1786. But we were more than surprised to discover that a distinguished, though sadly forgotten, Irish botanist was born there in 1811”.

Also commenting fellow PhD student Robert Hartigan said;

After researching the project for the past number of months, we are delighted that William Henry Harvey is finally being remembered in this way.  As Limerick is the designated National City of Culture for 2014, we feel that it is a fitting time to commemorate such an important nineteenth century botanist who forged links through his research between Limerick City and the Cape Colony”.

The ceremony was followed by a lecture on Harvey entitled: 'W.H. Harvey: his life in science & the Trinity College Dublin herbarium' by Professor John Parnell, TCD, who said;

I am really pleased that this commemorative plaque to the World famous systematic botanist has been erected in his home city of Limerick. Although most of his scientific career was based in Trinity College Dublin, from where he received and honorary M.D.; the foundations to that career and his interest in Botany must have been established during his early life in Limerick and his later schooling in Waterford. So it is absolutely great to see this recognised by the placement of a plaque on Summerville House where he was born.”

This project was kindly supported by the Reseach Office, MIC.

L-R: Robert Hartigan, Prof. Michael A Hayes, President of MIC; Prof. John Parnell, TCD; Mr. Vukile Mdlalo, Chargé d'Affaires with the South African Embassy; Dr. Sarah McNamara, Dept. of History, MIC; Paul O'Brien and Dr. Catherine Dalton, Dept. of Geography, MIC.


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