S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Thorncroft, Mr George (botany)

Born: 1857, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England.
Died: 19 July 1934, Barberton, South Africa.
Mr George Thorncroft

George Thorncroft, merchant and plant collector, trained as a merchant with a London firm. As he was interested in horticulture from an early age he often visited the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, near London. He came to Natal in April 1882 and settled in Pietermaritzburg, where he married. In October 1886 he and his family left Natal for Barberton, arriving in January the following year after having travelled by ox-waggon from Colenso. He was in charge of a hotel and store at Moodies until February 1893, when he returned to Durban. During these years, in 1889, he collected and dried a number of plant specimens. At the conclusion of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) he went back to Barberton and remained there for the rest of his life. During the last years of his life he was a salesman at Winter Bros, Barberton. On his way there he collected seeds and bulbs which he sent to J.M. Wood* at the Natal Herbarium (now the National Herbarium, Durban), together with his 1889 collection. During 1903/4 he also sent a few specimens to J. Burtt-Davy'*, for inclusion in the latter's new herbarium in the Transvaal Department of Agriculture (which developed into the National Herbarium, Pretoria). Later he presented more specimens to the same herbarium, and to archdeacon F.A. Rogers*. Specimens from him can also be found at Kew Gardens and the herbarium of the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. Early on he received support and encouragement from J.M. Wood and from E.E. Galpin* in Barberton. His collections eventually amounted to several thousand species.

Thorncroft was a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science for a brief period around 1906. In 1933 he published a short note on "Gerbera jamesonii Bolus - The Barberton Daisy" in the South African Journal of Science (Vol. 30, p. 237). He also published an occasional botanical article under the pseudonym "Kof Kof", for example, on "Tree Euphorbias" in the Gardeners' Chronicle (1932). As a result of his many interesting discoveries a new genus of the sage family, Thorncroftia, was named after him (by N.E. Brown*), as were the species Aloe thorncroftii (by I.B. Pole-Evans*), Fagara thorncroftii (by I.C. Verdoorn), Crassula thorncroftii (by J. Burtt-Davy*), and Scolopia thorncroftii by E.P. Phillips).

Thorncroft passed his enthusiasm for botany on to his son, Joseph Norton Thorncroft, who was born in Durban in January 1896. In 1906/7 he sold a fine collection of plants to the Transvaal Museum. He married Nina Dorey in Johannesburg in 1920, but they later lived in Barberton. Joseph died in Pretoria on 1February 1964. Around that time the Thorncroft Nature Reserve was proclaimed in the Barberton district.

List of sources:
Burtt-Davy, J. & Leendertz, R. First annotated catalogue of the vascular plants of the Transvaal and Swaziland. Report of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, 1908, pp. 230-236.

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

Jessop, J.P. Some botanists and botanical collectors associated with southern Africa. Lantern, September 1963, Vol. 13(1), pp. 80-85.

National Archives Repository (TAB), Source MHG, Vol. 0, Ref. 1248/64: death notice, Joseph Norton Thorncroft.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1905/6, list of members.

South African Journal of Science, 1933, Vol. 30, note by Thorncroft.

Standard encyclopaedia of southern Africa (SESA). Cape Town: NASOU, 1970-1976.

Transvaal [Colony], Department of Agriculture. Report for 1903/4, pp. 206-249.

Transvaal Museum. Annual Report, 1906/7. (National Archives, Pretoria, Vol. TKP 196).

United Transvaal directory, 1926, 1927, 1933.

Compiled by: C. Plug