History of the Connell Memorial Herbarium at UNB

Mary Young

This section is taken from the booklet The Connell Memorial Herbarium by C. Mary Young, a bicentennial project of the University of New Brunswick published in 1985.


James Robb
The Founder of the Herbarium Dr. James Robb (1815-1861)

"The head waters of the Grand River are shallow, narrow, winding like a serpent or 50,000 serpents, infested by mosquitoes, blackflies, and sand flies so numerous that the moon could hardly peer through them, so hungry that they light by thousands on every exposed point of your body leaving it all streaked with blood .... The alders grow on each side and meet in the middle so that we have to push ... through the heart of them, and a thousand burnt stumps had fallen across besides and ... we had to jump into the water and push or carry our canoe across or cut them with our axe...or fairly take the canoe on shore and carry it on the head till the river or rather ditch became again navigable."1

Thus Dr. James Robb described the vagaries of plant collecting in New Brunswick in 1838. Specimens that he collected are preserved in the Connell Memorial Herbarium of the University of New Brunswick.2

Dr. Robb, the first Lecturer in Chemistry and Natural History at King's College (which became the University of New Brunswick in 1859), had arrived from Scotland a year earlier. He had studied classics and medicine in the liberal environment of the Scottish schools and universities and had travelled abroad for further studies in science.

In the great European educational centres of the time, botany was developing as a subject in its own right and was no longer a mere adjunct to the medical schools. Voyages of discovery and overseas expansion had brought a wealth of botanical specimens into Europe. The study of these collections gave an impetus to the development of scientific methods of observing plants and led to a flowering of taxonomic botany. While in Paris, Dr. Robb became familiar with the "natural" systems of plant classification such as those devised by the de Jussieu family at the Jardin des Plantes and by the De Candolles in Switzerland. Moreover, he attended lectures by such famous biologists as Isidore St. Hilaire and Adrien de Jussieu of the faculty of science at the Sorbonne and visited many of the great European herbaria.3

Robb was also well aware of the value of a collection of indigenous plants. Indeed, shortly after his arrival in Fredericton, he wrote that he was busy lecturing on botany but was "a good deal cramped for want of plants."4 He immediately set about organizing a "cabinet" of New Brunswick specimens. This was in keeping with one of the declared aims of King's College, namely to familiarize students with the native plants and their uses.5

Not only did Robb collect plants in the immediate neighbourhood of Fredericton but, in 1838, he traveled many miles by canoe through the New Brunswick wilderness following the St. John, Tobique, Grande and Restigouche river systems, observing the geology and collecting plants. The following year, while en route to Quebec, he investigated the headwaters of the St. John River.

Dr. Robb's plant collection contained a number of specimens from the European continent and elsewhere. While in France in 1835, he had bought approximately eight hundred specimens from the estate of an archivist of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and had acquired a further five hundred in Switzerland and Italy. He brought a few of these to New Brunswick with him. This collection was enriched by specimens gathered by the intrepid collectors Philip Barker Webb and a M[r]. Thomson, and by a few obtained from the eminent British botanists John Balfour and Joseph Hooker.6 This herbarium material was arranged in a cabinet according to the Linnean system of plant classification based on the sexual characters of flowers.7 The plants, together with geological specimens, formed the nucleus of a small museum which Robb started at King's College.

Dr. Robb's successor, Loring Woart Bailey who arrived at the University of New Brunswick in 1861, was the son of a distinguished American scientist, Jacob Whitman Bailey. Loring Bailey was acquainted with the celebrated botanist Asa Gray, the geologist Louis Agassiz, and other leaders of the American scientific community.8 He was trained in chemistry at Harvard and at Brown University. Bailey was expected, as Dr. Robb had been, to teach chemistry, physics, geology, and the other natural sciences. He chose to make geology a special sphere of interest and investigation, and during the summer vacations often worked for the Canadian Geological Survey.9

He also maintained an interest in botany. While on a canoe trip in 1863 through the Tobique- Nepisiguit region, he noted that the flora was distinctive, with many species of herbaceous flowering plants not known to occur in other parts of the province.10 On that expedition he collected a number of specimens that are in the herbarium today.

Dr. Bailey was very much concerned with developing the museum. During his tenure it doubled in size, finally occupying four rooms.11 In addition to specimens he collected personally, he acquired others from friends in the United States. Among the plants are several that were contributed by his brother, William Whitman Bailey, collected between 1869 and 1875 and in the early 1890s from parts of Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island and New York. William Bailey, a professor of botany at Brown University, lectured at the University of New Brunswick for a few months in the late 1860s during his brother's temporary absence.12

Another contributor to the herbarium from 1860 to the early 1890s, the Rev. James Fowler, merits special mention. He lived for a time at Bass River, fifteen miles south-west of Richibucto, and later at Saint John and Fredericton. He collected extensively in all three areas and while at Fredericton travelled widely examining the flora of the St. John River valley.13 Eventually he became a professor of botany at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and took a collection of New Brunswick plants to that university with him. There are many specimens in the Connell Memorial Herbarium collected by the Rev. James Fowler.

Loring Bailey and the Rev. James Fowler carried on a correspondence in which they discussed problems of identification and exchanged information on where particular species could be found. They were particularly interested in examining the distribution of New Brunswick species in relation to the prevailing ideas on plant distribution on the North American continent.14 In a letter of December 8, 1869, for instance, Fowler noted certain "southern" and "continental" species occurred at Richibucto and Miramichi. He was referring to categories established by Asa Gray at Harvard and showed that the distribution pattern suggested by Dr. Gray was incomplete and should be extended farther northwards.15

The number of herbarium sheets in the museum grew to seven hundred by 1869 and to one thousand by 1897.16 Apart from the plant collections, the museum contained rocks, minerals, fossils, stuffed animals, "curiosities," "monstrosities," and a collection of microscope slides. In an encaenial address in 1869, Dr. Bailey pleaded for a building to house a permanent museum of geology and natural history and complained that the museum remained "in an overcrowded condition" with "much valuable material... stowed away in a practically useless form."17 Both Dr. Bailey and the president of the university, Dr. Brydone Jack, approached the provincial legislature several times for aid for the building of a museum, but to no avail.18

Dr. Bailey made an unfavourable comparison between attitudes in New Brunswick and those at Harvard University, then in the forefront of the great expansion in the sciences in North America. The spirit of discovery and the zest for knowledge led the Americans to organize many expeditions to the West. Botanical and geological specimens from these explorations swelled the museum collections of universities in the eastern states. At Harvard, in contrast to New Brunswick, there were five museums in the Department of Natural Science and, by 1869, the sum of one and a half million dollars had been devoted to their development.19

In 1907, Philip Cox, the first science student at the University of New Brunswick to earn a Ph.D. and a former pupil of Dr. Bailey, succeeded him in the areas of geology and natural history.20 As a teacher in Newcastle, New Brunswick, Dr. Cox had decried the emphasis placed on classical education to the detriment of the natural sciences.21 He was an enthusiastic member of the Miramichi Natural History Association, was an avid collector of plants of the Miramichi region for the local museum there and, in 1905, had published a preliminary catalogue of plants represented in the Association's herbarium.22

While at the University of New Brunswick, however, Dr. Cox's chief interest was vertebrate zoology, particularly fishes.23 There are only about fifty-four plants in the Connell Memorial Herbarium collected by Cox; these, collected in 1907 and 1908, are from the Bay du Vin area of Northumberland County and Millville, York County.

During the latter half of the twenty-three years that Dr. Cox taught at the University of New Brunswick, much of the museum material appears to have been placed in storage. The part of the museum available to students occupied only one room. Representatives of the Museum Association who visited the university in 1931 reported that the museum was under the curatorship of Dr. Cox's successor, Dr. C.W. Argue. At that time the museum, which included the plant collection, occupied two large rooms in the Old Arts Building but was only opened on application to the janitor.24

Perhaps due to sheer lack of space, or perhaps due to the emphasis being placed on the new ideas of plant physiology and experimentation which permeated the botanical world from the turn of the twentieth century, and from a corresponding decline in the interest in systematics which coincided with the new approach, the herbarium material at the University of New Brunswick remained hidden for many years in the recesses of the Old Arts Building. When Dr. A.R.A. Taylor arrived at the university in 1946, there was no museum.25

Dr. Taylor resurrected the herbarium material from the vaults of the Old Arts Building where the sheets had lain on the floor gathering dust and mildew.26 He was anxious to find material for teaching purposes suitable for classes in taxonomy and ecology. During the winter of 1946-47, Mrs. Taylor worked on a voluntary basis, rescuing as much material as possible from the old collection and remounting specimens.27 Dr. Taylor added plants from Ontario to the collection. New Brunswick plants were collected by Dr. E.O. Hagmeier who, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, had a cabinet of specimens suitable for ecology classes. He referred to this as his Botanische Wintergarten.28

The 1960s were marked by a surge of public interest in ecology. This was conducive both to the study of plants in the field and to a recognition that expanded plant collections could contribute to general knowledge. They could, for example, help to determine what species were in danger of dying out and could also contribute to the recognition of the nature of the interrelationship between plants.

The present state of the herbarium at the University of New Brunswick is in large part due to the vision of Patricia Roberts-Pichette. Like the nineteenth century initiators of the collection, she had a varied background, having received training in New Zealand and the United States before coming to Canada. In the 1960s, Dr. Roberts-Pichette collected extensively in all parts of the province, so that the herbarium became truly representative of the New Brunswick flora. She was aided by a number of students, notably B. Pugh, D.E. Drury and N. Bateman. At the end of this period of activity the number of specimens in the herbarium was approximately twenty-one thousand.

Dr. Roberts-Pichette published a check-list of the vascular plants of the Fredericton area in 1966 and a short article recording the occurrence of three Arctic species in the gypsum cliff area of Albert County.29 These species had not previously been found so far south on the Canadian mainland.

A further boost to the size of the herbarium came in 1972 with the significant gift of the herbarium of Dr. Katherine M. Connell of Woodstock. Dr. Connell, a medical practitioner, made a collection of approximately one thousand plants from Carleton County as a special project for Canada's Centennial Year in 1967.30 These sheets of beautifully mounted plants are now integrated into the university herbarium. On October 13, 1976 The Herbarium of the University of New Brunswick was renamed The Connell Memorial Herbarium in honour of Dr. Connell BA, MA, Ph.D. 1899-1973 mother, educator and botanist.

Harold R. Hinds
Harold Royall Hinds Curator of Herbarium (1979-2001)

From 1980 to 2001 the herbarium was in the able and enthusiastic care of Harold R. Hinds, who has added considerably to our knowledge of the native flora. He focused on conservation biology, plant identification and ecology. He found many species not previously recorded for this province and served key roles in the recognition and protection of the province's rare and endangered plants. Under Hal's tenure the Connell Memorial Herbarium grew by over 25000 specimens (almost half of which he collected himself) and became the major depository for the rare and endangered plant specimens of N.B. Out of his extensive field and herbarium work emerged the "Flora of New Brunswick". First published in 1986, the Flora of New Brunswick has become the standard work for N.B. botanists. Hal published a much revised 2nd edition in 2000, shortly before his death. Hal has also published The Flora of Grand Manan31 and check-lists of the vascular plants of Carleton County and of woody and rare plants of New Brunswick.32

In recent years there have also been contributions of plant material from other interested people. In the herbarium are specimens from the Acadia Forest Experimental Station collected by Gilbert C. Cunningham of the Canadian Forestry Service, a collection of Arctic plants from Ross Wein of the University of New Brunswick, an extensive collection from the Kouchibouguac National Park collected by Derek Munro of the Canada Department of Agriculture, plants from the Wolf Islands in the Bay of Fundy collected by Albion R. Hodgdon and Radcliffe B. Pike of the University of New Hampshire, plants from the west coast of Newfoundland collected by Uno Paim of the University of New Brunswick and a number of specimens from the botanically interesting area of Plaster Rock collected by Erwin Landauer. Sean Blaney from the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre and Gart Bishop are currently contributing many interesting specimens from the Atlantic region.

Duplicate specimens received from the herbaria of the universities of Laval, Alberta, Michigan and Louisiana are from the widely separated areas of West Greenland, Alaska, Quebec, the Midwest and Louisiana. Duplicate specimens from all parts of New Brunswick collected by J.A. Forsythe and David C. Christie for the National Museums are also incorporated into the collection.

Not only has our knowledge of the number of species present in New Brunswick been increased by these collections, but also since, in many cases, several examples of any one species are now represented in the collection, we have a greater insight into the distribution of species and the variability within species. This is a point which would have been appreciated by the founder of the herbarium James Robb who, in the early 1830s, was advised of the desirability of obtaining from fifty to one hundred specimens of each species.33

Today, the Connell Memorial Herbarium, housing over fifty-five thousand sheets of plants, serves not only as an adjunct to the teaching of systematic botany and as an exchange centre for duplicate material from other herbaria, but also as a valuable research tool. Since the data taken with each specimen includes the precise location of the plant, the date, notes on the abundance, type of habitat and, wherever possible, the associated species, the herbarium material is useful in ecological and biogeographical studies.34 It is now possible to determine rare and endangered species.

In his encaenia address of 1872, Loring Woart Bailey complained that too often natural history museums were "regarded entirely apart from their educational usefulness," that they were frequently looked upon as "a mere collection of curiosities, a sort of omnium gatherum or lifeless menagerie, designed ... solely for the purpose of amusement." The Connell Memorial Herbarium, which has grown from the original, small collection of plant specimens which formed a part of the university museum of the nineteenth century, is today a viable, useful research tool, a valuable resource and worthy addition to the University of New Brunswick. Moreover, it has a unique place amoung Canadian herbaria in that it is the oldest institutional collection of plant material in the country.35


  1. ^ Letter from James Robb to his mother, Aug. 12, 1838. See Robb Papers, UNB Archives.
  2. ^ The herbarium contains many New Brunswick specimens collected by J. Robb, the earliest being dated 1838. There are specimens collected in Scotland, almost certainly by Robb, in 1832.
  3. ^ See scientific notes, Robb Papers, UNB Archives. Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire 1805-61 was a French zoologist who lectured at the Sorbonne and was an authority on deviation from normal structure. James Robb attended lectures he gave on ornithology in 1836. Adrien de Jussieu 1797-1893 was a member of a famous family of French botanists, son of Antoine Laurent de Jussieu well known for his work on taxonomy. Robb attended lectures in 1836 given by Adrien de Jussieu, Professor at the Facult'e des Sciences, Paris. This was a general course on botany covering the classification of plants.
  4. ^ Letter from James Robb to his mother May 6, 1839. See Robb Papers, UNB Archives.
  5. ^ Synopsis of the System of Education established by the University of King's College, Fredericton, New Brunswick.1838. John Simpson, Queen's Printer.
  6. ^ See pencilled note, Ganong Manuscript Collection, Box 37, folder R, N.B. Museum Archives. SKIM, (Loring Woart Bailey). 1922. Some Reminiscences. The Brunswickan. Dec. 42. No. 3. 84-89 P.B. Webb - Philip Barker Webb 1793-1854, was a friend of Dr. Robb's in Paris. Webb collected plants in Italy and Spain and was the first person to collect in the Tetuan Mountains of Morocco. He also travelled through Portugal on horseback seeking plants. A long visit to the Canary Islands resulted in his cooperation with Sabin Bertholet in writing the nine-volume work Historie Naturelle des ILes Canaries. There are a number of specimens collected by Webb in the Connell Memorial Herbarium. Webb's extensive personal collection was bequeathed to the Grand Duke of Tuscany and was housed at Florence. T. Thomson - Thomas Thomson 1817-1878, son of a Glasgow professor of chemistry became a surgeon with the East India Company. After active service and a number of escapades in India he collected plants in Kashmir and Chinese Tibet, joined his friend, J.D. Hooker, plant collecting in East Bengal and later, at Kew, cooperated with him in writing the first volume of Flora Indica. He became the superintendant of the Botanic Garden at Calcutta. There is one specimen in the Connell Memorial Herbarium of Egyptian Wheat, Triticum aestivum L., collected by a M[r]. Thomson probably while en route to India. J.H. Balfour - John Hutton Balfour 1808-1884, was appointed Professor of Botany at Glasgow University in 1841 and appointed Professor of Botany at Edinburgh University and Keeper of the Edinburgh Botanic Garden in 1845. The earliest specimens I have found in the herbarium are labelled J.H. Balfour 1829. J.D. Hooker - Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker 1817-1911, accompanied Sir James Clark Ross on his trip to Antarctica and subsequently wrote Antarctic Flora in 1844-47. After extensive plant collecting expeditions in the central and eastern Himalayas, Sikkim and East Bengal he cooperated with T. Thomson in writing the first volume of Flora Indica. Later he wrote Genera Plantarum with George Bentham and edited Index Kewensis. He was assistant director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 1855-1865 and succeeded his father as director 1865-1885.
  7. ^ Bailey, Loring Woart. 1898. Dr. James Robb, A sketch of his life and labours. Bull. Nat. Hist. Soc. N.B. XVI:4.
  8. ^ Jacob Whitman Bailey was Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy and Geology at West Point Military Academy, N.Y. See Bailey, Joseph Whitman. 1925. Loring Woart Bailey, The Story of a Man of Science. J. & A. McMillan Ltd. Saint John. 9. Asa Gray 1810-1888. American botanist, professor at Harvard, known particularly for his work on plant taxonomy and on the distribution of North American plants. He was an able supporter of Charles Darwin. Louis Agassiz 1807-1873. Swiss-American zoologist-geologist. He was a professor at Harvard and was famous for his work on fossil fish, echinoderms and molluscs. He opposed the ideas of Charles Darwin but his careful work on glaciation led Darwin and others to find a satisfactory explanation for the discontinuous distribution of Arctic plants in widely separated areas.
  9. ^ Bailey, Joseph Whitman. 1925. Loring Woart Bailey. 72.
  10. ^ Ibid., 89.
  11. ^ Ibid., 44.
  12. ^ Ibid., 43.
  13. ^ Hay, G.U. 1893. The Flora of New Brunswick. Trans. Roy. Soc. Can. second series, section IV. 47. 14 Letter from James Fowler to L.W. Bailey, Sept. 27, 1867. Ganong Manuscript Collection, Box 23, pkt. 7. N.B. Museum Archives, Saint John.
  14. ^ Letter from James Fowler to L.W. Bailey, Feb. 23, 1867. Ganong Manuscript Collection, Box 23, pkt. 7. N.B. Museum Archives, Saint John.
  15. ^ Letter from James Fowler to L.W. Bailey, Dec. 8, 1869. Ganong Manuscript Collection, Box 23, pkt. 7. N.B. Museum Archives, Saint John.
  16. ^ Bailey, L.W. 1872. The Study of Natural History and the Use of a Natural History Museum. UNB encaenia address, appended extracts. June 17. H. Chubb Co. Saint John. See also University Calendar for 1868-69 where there is a description of the University museum at that time. Penhallow, D.P. 1897. A review of Canadian botany from 1800-1895. Proc. Roy. Soc. Can. second series, III, section IV, 23.
  17. ^ Bailey, L.W. 1872. The Study of Natural History and Use of a Natural History Museum. UNB encaenia address.
  18. ^ Bailey, Joseph Whitman. 1925. Loring Woart Bailey. 45.
  19. ^ Bailey, L.W. 1872. Encaenia address, quoted in Richard A. Jarrell.1973. Science education at the University of New Brunswick in the nineteenth century. Acadiensis. Spring. II. No. 2. 66.
  20. ^ Jarrell, Richard A. 1973. Science education at the University of New Brunswick in the nineteenth century. Acadiensis. Spring. II. No. 2. 75.
  21. ^ MacNaughton, Katherine F.C. 1947. The Development of the Theory and Practice of Education in New Brunswick 1784-1900. Univ. N.B. Hist. Studies. Fredericton. No. 1. 248.
  22. ^ Boivin, Bernard. 1980. Survey of Canadian herbaria. Provancheria No.10.3. Cox, Philip. 1905. A preliminary catalogue of plants in the herbarium of the Miramichi Natural History Association. Proc. Miramichi Nat. Hist. Assoc. 4:45-55.
  23. ^ Bailey, A.G. ed., 1950. The University of New Brunswick Memorial Volume. 73.
  24. ^ Miers, Sir Henry and S.F. Markham. 1931. Directory of Museums and Art Galleries. Museums Association, London. I am indebted to Dr. A.G. Bailey for information on the museum during the tenure of Dr. Cox (verbal communication).
  25. ^ I am indebted to Dr. A.R.A. Taylor for this information (verbal communication).
  26. ^ Ibid., The geological specimens from the museum were removed to the new geology building 1930-1931-see letter G.W. Bailey to W.F. Ganong, March 16, 1931. Ganong Collection. Box 1. pkt. 2. N.B. Museum Archives, Saint John.
  27. ^ Dr. A.R.A. Taylor, verbal communication. It should be noted that over the years many people have contributed to the herbarium on a voluntary basis; one of the greatest contributions was made by Mr. Brian Birch who worked for two years 1981 and 1982 mounting plants and organizing cabinets.
  28. ^ Ibid.
  29. ^ Roberts-Pichette, Patricia. 1966. Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Plants Collected from the Fredericton Region. N.B. Res. & Prod. Coun. Fredericton Record. 6 Dec. 1-76. Roberts, Patricia R. 1965. New records of Arctic species in southeastern New Brunswick. Rhodora. Jan.-Mar.67.No. 769. 92-3. The species were Dryas integrifolia Vahl. Salix myrtillifolia Anderss. and Solidago multiradiata Ait.
  30. ^ I am indebted to Harold R. Hinds, former Curator of the herbarium for this information (verbal communication). Hinds, Harold R. 1980. Annotated check-list of the vascular plants of Carleton County, N.B. Journ. N.B. Museum. 120-144.
  31. ^ Hinds, Harold R. & G. H. Flanders. 1999. The Flora of the Grand Manan Archipelago The Grand Manan Historical Society, Grand Harbour, NB (A revision of C.A. Weatherby and J. Adams original flora published by The Gray Herbarium of Harvard University).
  32. ^ Hinds, Harold R. 1979. The Rare Vascular Plants of New Brunswick. Syllogeus. No. 50 The National Museum of Canada.
  33. ^ Scientific notes, Robb Papers, UNB Archives.
  34. ^ Modern labels carry this data but many of the old labels have scant information. In a few cases the original labels have unfortunately been lost so that it is not possible to check the original information.
  35. ^ Boivin, Bernard. 1980. Survey of Canadian herbaria. Provancheria No. 10. 113.


I wish to thank Professor A.G. Bailey for permission to use and to quote from the Robb Papers, for information on the period of Dr. Cox's tenure and for directing me to useful sources. I also wish to thank Dr. A.R.A. Taylor for information on the herbarium during the 1940s and 1950s and the late Mr. H.R. Hinds, former herbarium curator, for many useful discussions on the herbarium material and particularly for information on the Katherine Connell collection. I am grateful for the gracious help of the archivists of the University of New Brunswick, the librarians of the Harriet Irving Library, University of New Brunswick, and the archivists of the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, in producing various documents. Thanks are also due to Mr. Roger Smith for the photographic work and to Miss Mary Flagg for locating the negative of the photograph of Dr. James Robb. I wish to thank the University of New Brunswick for making the publication possible through a grant from the Bicentennial Committee.