A 1910 view of Gilston Road

A 1910 view of Gilston Road


Robert Fortune

Dates: 1812 - 1880

Profession: Exploration

Address: 9 Gilston Road, SW10

Dates at address: 1857 - 1880

View PDF map (Adobe PDF document, approx 1Mb)


Fortune was born in Berwick and trained in botany in local gardens and at the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens. Intelligent, determined and inventive he explored parts of the world previously unknown to Europeans and transformed British gardens. He married a woman called Jane but no other details remain.

Hired by the Horticultural Society in Chiswick in 1840 he was sent to China as a collector from 1842 to 1846. He explored the country disguised as a local and collected new species of orchids, kumquats, palms and anemones. Appointed curator of Chelsea Physic Garden in 1846 he resigned in 1848 to join an East India Company expedition to China. His mission was to collect tea plants and seeds to be introduced to India, creating the first Indian tea plantations. Next he visited Taiwan before returning to China for the US Patent Office. His final expeditions were to Japan and Northern China. Over the years he also published several travel books.

Retiring to Chelsea in 1857 he concentrated on his writing while also spending some time farming in Scotland. Born the poor son of a Scottish hedger he died a wealthy and respected Chelsea gentleman.