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James was the son of the gardener at Fothringham Estate just outside Forfar. The first we know of James is when he was 21. He was working at a famous plant nursery, Dickson's of Broughton near Edinburgh.  His knowledge was so great that in 1809 he was head-hunted to become the Curator of Cork Botanic Garden in Ireland.

Cork was his home for nearly 20 years.  When in Ireland, he went on plant hunting trips, finding new plants including Pinguicula grandiflora, which eats midges.

In 1828, the British Government withdrew funding for Cork Botanic Garden, making James redundant.  He had a wife and six children to support, so he eagerly seized the chance to travel to the west coast of Australia with Captain James Stirling, who planned to found a new settlement near where Perth is today.  

James took his youngest son Johnston with him on his trips, leaving his older sons to run the farm. Their explorations were on foot, using horses to carry equipment and samples.   They were away for months at a time.  On one of these trips, Johnston was speared to death as he slept by aborigines.  James was heartbroken. The Macropidia fuliginosa shown is one of the plants Drummond sent back to Britain from this ill fated trip. He stopped plant hunting for 18 months.  On top of this, his farm went bust. The British government then gave him funding to return to his explorations.   Charles Darwin wrote to him to ask for information on how some of the Australian plants were fertilised.


In 1863, aged 76, he died.  60 species of plants have been named after him. He was the most important pioneering botanist of Western Australia. Mount Drummond in Western Australia was named in his honour.

Eucalyptus caesia

© prof. dr. A.J. (Arjo) Vanderjagt

Memorial to James Drummond at

Tooday, Pelham Reserve, WA.

© Creative Commons BoundaryRider

Macropidia fuliginosa

or  Black Kangaroo Paw

© prof. dr. A.J. (Arjo) Vanderjagt

James was made Government Naturalist, but this was an unpaid post, so he took on some land that was made available to the new settlers.  He tried a few different locations, then he landed the job of Superintendent of the Government Garden, a well paid job with a house that went with it. After only a short time, the British Government decided to abolish the post of Government Naturalist, and build a new Government House on the garden.  Drummond was redundant again.  He went back to farming and started a plant nursery and vineyard.

In 1838, he moved to a town called Tooday where with the help of his sons he had a successful farm.  He started plant collecting again, but it was very dangerous with no knowledge of the deadly Australian wildlife. When his samples were sent back to Britain, these Australian plants were unlike unlike anything seen before.  His collections were sent to Hooker, who was Director of Kew Gardens in London, and the leading botanist of the age.  

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James Drummond 1787 - 1863