Image from http://www.albion-prints.com Victorian gardeners had a great fondness for ferns.
The description Thomas gives of his three year apprenticeship in the gardens of Minto House shows how early in his life the pattern was laid down of the man he was to become.
You can read the full diary entry here
There are three ‘mentor figures’ mentioned; the Head Gardener Mr Williamson, the Revd. James Duncan and Adam Mathieson, who was the custodian of the museum in Jedburgh, and whose enthusiasm for geology led Thomas to his lifelong interest. As he moved from place to place in his gardening career, Thomas constantly sought out people whose knowledge he could draw on. In his final post at Palé it led to his friendship with William Pamplin and to his second marriage and family.
Also demonstrated is his naturally studious nature. He had obviously studied the Linnaean system of plant names and learned to recognise plants in order to discuss them with experts and confidently seek out rare species.
Finally, there is his habit of becoming trusted by his employers or senior colleagues to mix with their families. From being trusted to escort Mr. Williamson’s amiable daughters, he moves on to considerable trust and intimacy with the Robertson family of Palé. He is also sometimes a bit of a prig!
Don’t expect ever to read of Thomas undertaking any day-to-day gardening tasks. All of that is taken for granted throughout the diary. He doesn’t expect anyone to be interested that he planted a row of cabbages or a rose bush!
Minto House 1910, www.maxwellancestry.com via http://www.flickr.com
Thomas began his gardening apprenticeship at Minto House in November 1858. As was usual at the time, he lived in the ‘bothy’ in the gardens – perhaps not as grand as the one at the National Trust’s Calke Abbey – see here.
Life in the gardens would have been hard, under the direction of the Head Gardener, but I was amazed to find out what went on after the day’s work was finished. Here is Thomas’ description:
November came and I went to the garden on the 11th of the month to live in a “bothy” with other four companions; luckily these were sober and intelligent. …. During the long winter evenings, all of us instructed ourselves in geometry, mensuration, and in languages. My companions were Oliver Taylor, who used to read aloud to us when resting from study; he was a well instructed man and a distinct reader. Andrew Stormont was studying French, James Stables was studying Latin, and Wm. Nichols was like myself, studying botany and geometry. I took also to French and Italian. Our “bothy” was during the winter evenings more like a school than anything else.
You cannot now visit Minto House, as it was destroyed very unfortunately during 1992. Read about this incident here
If you are interested in the education, lives and work of the Head Gardeners, I recommend:
The Head Gardeners, Forgotten Heroes of Horticulture, Toby Musgrave, Aurum, 2007
It is not clear how Thomas and his parents, Thomas and Ann Ruddy, sister Annie and brother James arrived in Jedburgh either directly or indirectly from County Mayo in Ireland. Most refugees from the potato famine arrived initially in Liverpool. Nor is it certain when they moved from Ireland to Scotland; probably some time between 1845 and 1851.
What is most significant is the extent of Thomas’s educational achievement. Both his father and elder brother James are listed as labourers in the Scottish censuses, and when Thomas senior died in 1865, James registered his death using a cross rather than a signature, suggesting he could not write.
In Jedburgh, Thomas came into contact with several influential mentors who influenced the course of his life, the first being a retired gardener and amateur botanist, William Hobkirk. He met Hobkirk in 1858, in the interval between his decision to become gardener and taking up his gardening apprenticeship. Read Thomas’ diary entry here
How did a young man from a poor family become a well-known and much consulted Head Gardener to a self-made industrialist, a friend and colleague of a leading Cambridge Professor, and the recipient of a prestigious Scientific medal?
From the outset, Thomas showed a focussed determination to make good. Here is an extract from the early pages of the first diary, written regarding the year 1858, but probably written retrospectively some years later:
(p4a) The time came at last that I must take to some occupation – various occupations were thought of, but I did not fancy them because they were to be in shops – these did not suit my fancy, for I loved the open air, I loved natural objects, I loved to see Nature. At last the time came for me – my father had a friend named Robert Daniel; he was a stranger there, and I now believe he must have been Welsh. He was a woodman, and a very intelligent man – (5) a man who had travelled a great deal, so that he surprised his neighbours by his general knowledge. This man gave my father glowing accounts of gardeners, and how he knew of many and that he was nearly being one himself in his day, but that he foolishly let a companion of his go in his place – how that companion went to the garden, served his time, pushed up and in a few years after came to see him with the ‘air and address of a gentleman’. He ended by strongly advising me to be a gardener.