Harry Bolus

Harry Bolus (28 April 1834 – 25 May 1911)[1] was a South African botanist, botanical artist, businessman and philanthropist. He advanced botany in South Africa by establishing bursaries, founding the Bolus Herbarium and bequeathing his library and a large part of his fortune to the South African College (now the University of Cape Town). Active in scientific circles, he was a Fellow of the Linnean Society, member and president of the South African Philosophical Society (later the Royal Society of South Africa), the SA Medal and Grant by the SA Association for the Advancement of Science and an honorary D.Sc. from the University of the Cape of Good Hope. Volume 121 of Curtis's Botanical Magazine[clarification needed] was dedicated to him. He is commemorated in five genera: Bolusia Benth., Bolusafra Kuntze, Neobolusia Schltr., Bolusanthus Harms and Bolusiella Schltr., as well as numerous specific names.

Harry Bolus
Harry bolus.jpg
Born(1834-04-28)28 April 1834
Died25 May 1911(1911-05-25) (aged 77)
OccupationBotanist, botanical artist, businessman


Bolus was born in Nottingham, England. He was educated at Castle Gate School, Nottingham. The headmaster George Herbert regularly corresponded with and received plant specimens from William Kensit of Grahamstown, South Africa. Kensit requested that the headmaster send him one of his pupils as an assistant; Harry Bolus duly landed at Port Elizabeth from the ship Jane in March 1850. He spent two years with Kensit and then moved to Port Elizabeth. Following a short visit to England, he settled in Graaff-Reinet, where he would live for the next 19 years. In 1857 he married Sophia Kensit, the sister of William Kensit. Between 1858 and 1870 they had 3 sons and a daughter. In 1864 he lost his eldest son of six years, and Francis Guthrie who had become a close friend, suggested his taking up botany to ameliorate his loss. He started his botanical collection in 1865 and was soon corresponding with Joseph Hooker at Kew, William Henry Harvey in Dublin and Peter MacOwan in Grahamstown. One of his most treasured gifts was a copy of De Candolle's Prodromus received from Guthrie in 1869. In 1875, he joined his brother Walter in Cape Town, settling in the suburb of Kenilworth, where they founded a stockbroking firm called Bolus Bros. The following year he and Guthrie made their first visit to Kew, taking with them a large number of plant specimens for naming. Bolus described the period as 'forty happy days'. Returning in the Windsor Castle in October 1876, the ship struck a reef off Dassen Island with the loss of his specimens and notes.[2][3] Not daunted, he set about the collection of new specimens and organised expeditions to various corners of South Africa. He was an excellent field botanist and published numerous books on his observations. Although adventurous by nature, he was also quiet and unassuming.

His business flourished so he was able to acquire many fine botanical books. Complete sets of the Botanical Magazine, Botanical Register, Refugium Botanicum, and the large folios of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin, Ferdinand Bauer and Francis Masson formed part of his collection. He founded the Harry Bolus Professorship at the University of Cape Town and left a large trust for scholarships. He also donated his extensive herbarium and library to the South African College. He was one of the founding Members of the South African Philosophical Society.

Harry Bolus loved visiting England and made a total of 28 voyages (14 each way) to and from South Africa. He died of heart failure at Oxted, Surrey, on 25 May 1911. His youngest son Frank married Harriet Margaret Louisa Kensit, William Kensit's granddaughter, the following year.

Eulophia streptopetala Lindl., 1901 painting by Harry Bolus


Harry Bolus corresponded widely with his contemporaries, including a number of famous people such as the Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace,[5] the English botanist and explorer Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker and the South African writer and poet C. Louis Leipoldt.[6]

Collecting expeditionsEdit


  • A Preliminary List of the Cape Orchids 1881
  • The Orchids of the Cape Peninsula. South African Philosophical Society. 1888.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Descriptions of the 117 Cape Peninsula Orchids illustrated by 36 plates drawn and coloured by himself.
  • A Sketch of the Flora of South Africa 1886
  • Icones Orchidearum Austro-africanarum Extra-tropicarum: Or Figures, with Descriptions, of Extra-tropical South African Orchids. William Wesley and Son. 1896.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Icones Orchidearum Austro-Africanum Extra-tropicarum Volume 1 Part 1 comprising 50 plates 1893.
  • Icones Orchidearum Austro-Africanum Extra-tropicarum Part 2 1896.
  • Icones Orchidearum Austro-Africanum Extra-tropicarum Volume 2 comprising 100 plates 1911 (shortly after his death).
  • Icones Orchidearum Austro-Africanum Extra-tropicarum Volume 3 edited by his grand-niece Miss H. M. L. Kensit, and containing 9 plates painted by his son Frank 1913.
  • A List of Flowering Plants and Ferns of the Cape Peninsula with Wolley-Dod
  • "Ericaceae" for Flora Capensis with Francis Guthrie and N. E. Brown


  1. ^ Gunn, Mary; Codd, L. E. W. (1981). Botanical Exploration Southern Africa. CRC Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-86961-129-6.
  2. ^ "Windsor Castle (1)". bandcstaffregister.com. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  3. ^ "Wreck of Windsor Castle". UCT Libraries Digital Collections. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  4. ^ IPNI.  Bolus.
  5. ^ University of Cape Town Manuscripts and Archives Department. BC234: Bolus Papers: Botanical Correspondence: Wallace 1893–94.
  6. ^ Leipoldt 1979.

External linksEdit