S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Monson, Lady Anne (plant collection, insect collection)

Born: 25 June 1726, United Kingdom.
Died: 18 February 1776, Kolkata, India.

Lady Anne Monson, botanist and collector of plants and insects, was the eldest daughter of Henry Vane, first Earl of Darlington, and his wife, Lady Grace Fitzroy, and a great-granddaughter of King Charles II of England. In 1746 she married Charles Hope-Vere, with whom she had two sons, but they were divorced in 1757. That same year she married Colonel George Monson (1730-1776) of the English East India Company. He served in the Indian military, while Anne lived mainly in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and became a prominent member of society. She appears to have been rather eccentric, but was well educated and a superior whist player. By 1760 she was already known as a botanist, but during her stay in India also collected insects in Bengal. She sent plants to the Swedish botanist C. Linnaeus, who expressed his infatuation with her in a letter (quoted in Du Plessis, 1972 and in Gunn & Codd, 1981) and in 1767 named the (mainly South African) plant genus Monsonia in her honour. The species Erica monsoniana also carried her name.

In 1774, on their way to India, the Monsons visited the Cape of Good Hope. There Anne met the botanist C.P. Thunberg*, who was also rather charmed by her and described her as "a learned lady" who had some knowledge of Latin. With him and Francis Masson* she collected natural history specimens in the vicinity of Cape Town on many occasions. According to Thunberg she made several fine collections, particularly zoological, and had brought a draughtsman with her to draw rare specimens. She gave Thunberg a valuable ring to remember her by. After leaving the Cape the Monsons arrived in Kolkata in October 1774. Anne died there less than two years later.

List of sources:
Du Plessis, E.P. Botanical exploration in South Africa. In Cape Flora: Some of the lectures given on this theme at the University of Cape Town's Public Summer School, January-February 1972. University of Cape Town, Board of Extra-Mural Studies, 1972.

Forbes, V.S. Carl Peter Thunberg. Travels at the Cape of Good Hope, 1772-1775. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society, Series 2, No. 17, 1986.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Nordenstam, B. Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828). Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1994, Vol. 49(2), pp. 161-174.

Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Vigne, R. Lady Anne Monson and the wonders of Cape flora. Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa, 2007, Vol. 61(2), pp. 63-65.

Compiled by: C. Plug