Summary Biography

Catesby was born in 1683 in the village of Castle Hedingham, Essex, England. Little is known of his early years except that he was a frequent visitor to the botanical garden in Castle Hedingham, run by his uncle. In 1712 he travelled to America for the first time to stay with his sister, who was married to a Williamsburg physician, William Cocke. Whilst in Virginia he began collecting plants and even sent some seeds back to England, to his brother, to Thomas Fairchild (who was at the time experimenting with the hybridization of plants) and to Samuel Dale at Braintree. He also spent some time with William Byrd at Westover, returning to England in 1719.

Several members of the Royal Society, including William Sherard, a celebrated botanist, had learned of his work. They determined to finance Catesby on an expedition to the low country of South Carolina. He arrived in Charles Towne in 1722 and began to travel and collect specimens from the low country and Piedmont, Carolina and Georgia. He went to Fort Moore a frontier outpost on the Savannah River opposite the future site of Augusta, GA. In 1725 he moved to the Bahamas Islands, finally returning to England in 1726.

He began to write his Natural History, doing the work in sections of 20 plates each. To subsidise his labors he worked for Thomas Fairchild in his Hoxton Nursery, and later for his successsor Stephen Bacon. Peter Collinson also assisted him by lending money. His first presentation to the Royal Society was in May 1729, the fifth section concluded his first volume and was presented in November 1732. In 1733 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. The second volume of 100 more plates was not completed until December 1743, and the Appendix of 20 plates in 1747.

Catesby died in 1749 at the age of 66.

Further information about Mark Catesby, including details of the film, The Curious Mister Catesby, can be found at the Catesby Commemorative Trust.

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