Aylmer Bourke Lambert, botanist, and one of the first Fellows of the Linnaean Society, was born at Bath, England on February 2, 1761. His father was a well-to-do country squire and his mother, Bridget Bourke, was the daughter of an Irish Viscount. It was from her that Lambert inherited estates in Jamaica and in Ireland; these, along with a later paternal inheritance enabled him to live a life of financial independence and to devote himself to the study of natural history.
Lambert’s early education was at a local school for the sons of country gentlemen, and he later attended Oxford University for three years. Both his father and his stepmother (the elder Smith remarried after the death of his first wife in 1773) encouraged him in the study of nature. His stepmother was the daughter of Henry Seymer, a well-known amateur botanist and owner of an extensive garden of exotics; he also was a correspondent of many of the botanists of that era. Lambert spent many holidays with the Seymer family, and became acquainted with the larger world of botanical studies. After leaving Oxford, he married and resided in London and in Salisbury; he also made one trip to Ireland to visit the family estates.
At Oxford, Lambert came to know the botanists Daniel Lysons and John Sibthorp and then became acquainted with Joseph Banks and James Edward Smith. He became a close friend of the latter, who, in 1788, invited him to become one of the first Fellows of the Linnaean Society. In 1796, Smith appointed him as one of the four Vice-Presidents of the Society, and he held that office until his death. In 1791, Lambert had been elected to the Royal Society and Joseph Banks made him a member of its Council in 1810. It is obvious that by the time he reached his forties, he had become an established figure in English botany. This had occurred because of his zeal for collecting plants, his extensive development of gardens and greenhouses, his enthusiasm for book-collecting which resulted in the creation of a large and impressive library, and his writings. It is known also that he was a generous and congenial colleague, always welcoming to botanists who wished to use his herbarium and library. The herbarium assembled by Lambert was one of the largest and most important and most diverse of its time and attracted visitors from many countries.
In 1797, Lambert published, with the guidance of Joseph Banks, A description of the genus Cinchona, with illustrations by Ferdinand Bauer from specimens in the Banksian Herbarium. A supplementary volume, An illustration of the genus Cinchona, was published in 1821. His major work was A description of the genus Pinus. The first volume was published in 1803 and the second in 1824. Both Banks and James Edward Smith were important advisers in this work. Lambert was also a contributor to Botanist’s guide through England and Wales (1805) by Dawson Turner and L. W. Dillwyn and English Botany (1790-1814) by J. Sowerby and J. E. Smith.
Hortense S. Miller. “The Herbarium of Aylmer Bourke Lambert”. Taxon, 19:489-553. 1970.
William Darlington. Reliquiae Baldwinianae: Selections from the correspondence of the late William Baldwin, M.D. New York: 1969.
Elbert L. Little, Jr. “Lambert’s ‘Description of the Genus Pinus,’ 1832 Edition”. Madrono, 10:33-47. 1949.
H. W. Renkema and John Ardagh. “Aylmer Bourke Lambert and his ‘Description of the Genus Pinus’. The Journal of the Linnaean Society of London, 48:439-466. 1928-1931.
Robert F. Erickson