- GUNN, Ronald Campbell (1801-1881)
- botanistson of Robert Gunn, an officer in the army, was born at Capetown on 4 April 1808. He accompanied his father to Mauritius, the West Indies, and Scotland where he was educated. He was given an appointment in the royal engineers at Barbadoes, but left there in 1829 to go to Tasmania, where he obtained the position of superintendent of convict barracks at Hobart, and in 1830 superintendent of convicts for North Tasmania. In 1831 be became acquainted with an early Tasmanian botanist, Robert William Lawrence (1807-1833), who encouraged his interest in botany and placed him in touch with Sir W. Hooker and Dr Lindley, with whom he corresponded for many years. In 1836 Gunn was appointed police magistrate at Circular Head. From there he visited Port Phillip and Western Port and also travelled much in Tasmania. He became assistant police magistrate at Hobart in 1838, and in 1839 private secretary to Sir John Franklin (q.v.) and clerk of the executive and legislative councils. In 1841 he gave up these appointments to take charge of the estates of W. E. Lawrence, and spent much time investigating the flora of Tasmania. But his interests were not confined to botany; he became a general scientist and made collections of mammals, birds, reptiles and mollusca, for the British Museum. Taking up the study of geology he was employed by the government to report on mining fields, and also on the general resources of the colony. In 1864 he was appointed one of the commissioners for selecting the seat of government at New Zealand. Subsequently he became recorder of titles at Launceston, holding this position until 1876 when he retired owing to ill health. He died at Newstead, near Launceston, after a long illness, on 13 March 1881. He became a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1850, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, London, in 1854.Gunn was a first-rate botanist and general scientist. Sir J. D. Hooker, who dedicated his Flora Tasmaniae to Gunn, and another Tasmanian botanist, William Archer (1820-74), speaking of Gunn in his "Introductory Essay" said: "There are few Tasmanian plants that Mr Gunn has not seen alive, noted their habits in a living state, and collected large suites of specimens with singular tact and judgment. These have all been transmitted to England . . . accompanied with notes that display remarkable powers of observation, and a facility for seizing important characters in the physiognomy of plants, such as few experienced botanists possess". (The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage, part III, Flora Tasmaniae, vol. I, p. CXXV). Though so competent Gunn published little. With Dr J. E. Gray he was responsible for a paper "Notices accompanying a Collection of Quadrupeds and Fish from Van Diemen's Land", and he was the author of a few papers on the geology and botany of that island. When private secretary to Sir John Franklin he assisted in founding, and was editor of, the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, which recorded papers read at government house. From these beginnings sprang the Royal Society of Tasmania. The Tasmanian Journal was succeeded by the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Van Dieman's Land, in which some of Gunn's few papers appeared. He was much liked and respected and may be ranked as the most eminent of Tasmanian botanists. He is commemorated by the genus Gunnia and many species.Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. XXXIV, p. XIII; J. H. Maiden, Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 1909, p. 15; The Mercury, Hobart, 15 March 1881.
Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. Angus and Robertson. 1949.
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