The Trees of Great Britain and Ireland by Henry John Elwes and Augustine Henry

On the 6th March, during Tree Week 2013, the facsimile of the book was formally launched by Sir Henry Elwes, great-grandson of Henry John Elwes and Dr. Matthew Jebb, Director of the National Botanic Gardens (right). To celebrate its 70th anniversary, the Society of Irish Foresters has published a limited facsimile edition of Henry Elwes and Augustine Henry’s masterpiece using modern printing and reproduction technology. Each of the 3,000 pages have been meticulously scanned from an original copy in the care of the National Botanic Gardens. The 412 full page black and white platinum photographs, drawings and colour frontispiece pages are all faithfully reproduced.

In the world of tree publications, few can match the scholarship and encyclopaedic quality of the Trees. Described by Hugh Johnson as “a piece of scholarship… unlikely ever to be repeated”. He said: “This epic work celebrates the last golden age of tree scholarship and arboretum making.”

When Henry Elwes, inherited Colesbourne Park in Gloucester on the death of his father in 1891 he was able to indulge an interest in trees. However, he recognised a prominent gap on his bookshelves. He needed a contemporary, accurate and fully verified ‘life-history of every tree which had been cultivated in this country from the seed to the stage at which it was converted or convertible into timber’.

Having recognised the importance of such an encyclopaedic work, Elwes was determined to ensure that it would be a landmark publication. Not only was he going to be his own publisher, but he needed a botanically trained collaborator who was both a forester and a good writer. Serendipity brought Augustine Henry to his attention as the partner he needed to produce the text. In May 1903 Elwes travelled to Nancy in France to put the proposal to Henry that he would supply the botanical know-how for the project. The Trees of Great Britain and Ireland Elwes and Henry clearly saw eye to eye, and shared an understanding of the importance and scale of the project to hand.

Augustine Henry and Henry Elwes could scarcely have been more different in their backgrounds and temperaments. Henry Elwes had a booming voice and a combative manner, whilst Augustine Henry was a modest and retiring man. Sir Henry Elwes made the point at the launch that his great-grandfather was not well versed in the art of compromise. And yet they were well matched in their passion for trees and their mutual respect, which led to a remarkable partnership during which never a cross word seems to have been exchanged.

As in the original, this special edition of The Trees of Great Britain and Ireland comprises seven volumes and an index, and is published in two hardback options – a linen bound or half-leather binding – both in the original large format of 315 x 250mm.

The Society of Irish Foresters is selling the facsimile edition and enquiries should be made to: Society of Irish Foresters, Glenealy, Co. Wicklow.
Contact Pat O’Sullivan 086 2582240 or