Plantae Favershamiensis

Edward Jacob (1710–1788) was an antiquarian and naturalist. In 1735 he moved to Faversham, Kent where he practised as a surgeon, also becoming mayor of the town on four occasions. Soon after his arrival Jacob took a keen interest in the history, geography and geology of the local area, writing a number of papers and books on the subject. In 1755 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and in 1774 he published The History of the Town and Port of Faversham. In 1770 Jacob had reprinted a copy of an anonymous late sixteenth century play entitled The Lamentable and True Tragedie of M Arden of Faversham in Kent. In the preface Jacob suggested that it was a lost work of William Shakespeare.

In 1777 Jacob published Plantae Favershamienses: A Catalogue of the More Perfect Plants Growing Spontaneously about Faversham. The book contains an alphabetical list of the flora that Jacob found during his surveys. The appendix to Plantae Favershamienses includes Jacob’s essay on the fossilised remains he discovered on his isle of Sheppey estate, in the Thames Estuary. Jacob relates how he discovered the remains of organisms usually found in tropical or subtropical areas, reasoning that the “variety of extraneous fossils discovered in the cliffs which were evidently the produce of very different climates” proves that “nothing short of an universal deluge could be a cause adequate to this effect.” As Professor David Beerling notes “it was natural [at the time] to interpret fossil evidence of past life in terms of the ‘universal deluge’; it had to fit with the ‘known facts’ as set out in the Bible.” Despite this, as Beerling suggests, Jacob’s work remains innovative within the fields of geology and palaeontology. “Jacob’s great insight was to realize ahead of his contemporaries that the fossils were speaking of an ancient climatic regime, one evidently much warmer than that of south-eastern England in the latter half of the eighteenth century.” (1) Jacob’s work was later taken up by palaeo-botonist James Bowerbank (1797-1877) who in 1840 wrote A History of the Fossil Fruits and Seeds of the London Clay, which documented his finds on the isle of Sheppey, corroborating many of Jacob’s ideas. In 1847, as a result of the growing interest in fossil studies, the Palaeontographical Society of England was formed. The society would go on to publish monographs by eminent biologists and palaeontologists such as Charles Darwin and Richard Owen. Edward Jacob’s Plantae Favershamienses stands as an important early work in this field.

(1) David Beerling (2017) The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth’s History, Oxford University Press, p.187-188

Edward Jacob FSA, London: 1777 Layton 9918


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