Background to the Collection

In 1853, David Moore, the curator of the botanic gardens (1838 – 1879), with support from the Royal Dublin Society, established a Museum of Economic Botany. The collection was originally housed in a prefabricated iron house initially erected for the 1850 Exhibition of Manufactures at the Royal Dublin Society headquarters.

"It was furnished with 16 upright and 14 horizontal display cases, and heating stoves, at a cost of £250. Glasnevin already possessed a considerable collection of artefacts and vegetable materials, and this was moved into the display cases. The Society granted the committee of botany £50 to purchase a collections of fibres, barks, gums, oils, and sections of wood that had been exhibited by the British Guiana Department in the Great Industrial Exhibition. In 1856, a collection of cut and polished wood samples, fruits and seeds was acquired from Jamaica, and all the raw fibre products and medicinal plants displayed by Mauritius at the London. Exhibition of 1865 were bought for Glasnevin. Sir William Hooker donated a specimen of the remarkable primitive cone baring plant, Welwitschia mirabilis, which grows only in the Namib Desert in south-western Africa. By the 1880s the Economic Museum had been filled with all sorts of bric-and-brac made form plant materials, Indian canoes, Chinese papers, 'a beautiful chemisette, made from the fibre of Pine Apple Plant', spices, preserved fruits, pine cones and drugs, including a 'fine ball' of opium presented…by Honourable the East Indian Company'"

Key contributors to the collection include Belfast Ropeworks Co. Ltd., The Imperial Institute, London, the Royal College of Science of Ireland and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In 1970, the botanical collection of the Natural History Museum was donated to Glasnevin. These donations, along with individual acquisitions from all over the world, have created a rich and diverse collection of almost 6,000 artefacts and plant specimens.

Nelson, E. C. et al. (1987) The Brightest Jewel: History of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, Boethius Press (UK) Ltd.