Sereno Watson
East Windsor Hill 1820-Cambridge, Mass 1892
American Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, Collection of 5 original ink drawings

Graphite, pen and brown ink on paper each drawing inscribed in pen and brown ink

[5] Numbered tab 40 Erimochloe../ N.S. Exploration 40th Parallel. King

292 x 180 mm. (11 x 7 1/8 in.)

Condition: The drawing is in an excellent condition, and the paper is white in colour, not greyish as the photograph may indicate.

An extremely rare and important group of five botanical ink drawings by the botanist, Sereno Watson , relating to Clarence King’s geological expedition through California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado, between 1867-69. The completed survey was published in the Report of the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth parallel, made by Order of the Secretary of War According to Acts of Congress of March 2, 1867,and March 3, 1869, under the Direction of Brig. and Bvt. Major General A. A. Humphreys, Chief of Engineers, by Clarence King.

Volume 5 of the report, entitled Botany, is by Sereno Watson. The illustrations of the plants are not identical to our drawings which are likely to be Watson’s fieldwork drawings of Western American plants being discovered and named for the first time.

Hailed as the first of the Great Surveys of the Fortieth Parallel, Clarence King’s vision was to survey across the West from the crest of the Sierra Nevada to the western slope of the Rockies. During five seasons between 1867-69 Watson collected over 19,000 plant specimens in Nevada and Utah. Many of these now form part of the Smithsonian’s botanical collection at the National Museum of Natural History.

Sereno Watson was raised on a farm in Connecticut. He graduated from Yale in 1847 and pursued a variety of occupations – teaching school, studying medicine, working in his brother’s insurance company, doing editorial work for Dr. Henry Barnard. He returned to Yale and studied chemistry and mineralogy at the Sheffield Scientific School from 1866 to 1867, his interest in botany is probably connected to his medical studies, and soon after leaving college he collected and catalogued plants when living in Illinois and Alabama. He sailed for California, via Panama, probably in March 1867. He literally walked to find the expedition: He spent two or three months in the Sacramento valley, and when at Woodville he heard that the expedition in the Sacramento valley, and when at Woodville he heard that the expedition under Clarence Kind just started across the mountains. He resolved to join it. From the terminus of the railroad he set out alone and on foot, crossed the Sierra Nevada, and found his way to the camp of the party, which was then on the Truckee River below the present town of Wadsworth. (Biographical Memoir of Sereno Watson 1820-1892 by William H. Brewer, red before the National Academy of Sciences. November 17 1903, p274). Clarence King’s Expedition, which was carrying out a survey of the 40th Parallel. Watson started working without salary and eventually came to be appointed the expedition botanist, after William Whitman Bailey left due to illness. Although he had no prior botanical training, it is likely he Watson wrote the Botany of the King Expedition (Vol.5 for the Geological Survey, published 1871), working at New Haven under Daniel Cady Eaton and at Harvard under Asa Gray. Watson’s botanical report is considered among the best of the survey expedition reports, owing in part to the careful notes on habitat made by Watson in the field. Asa Gray was much impressed with his work, and in 1873 appointed Watson an assistant in the Gray Herbarium. Watson’s term as curator lasted until his death in 1892. He was also an instructor in phytogeography from 1881 to 1884.’

After getting settled at Harvard, Watson was invited by W.H. Brewer to work on the Botany of California. The first volume, by Brewer, Gray and Watson, was published in 1876; the second volume, by Watson alone, was published in 1880. Watson spent much time preparing a Bibliographical Index to North American Botany: only the first part-Polypetalae-was published, in 1878. Watson took on the completion of the Manual of the Mosses of North America, begun by Thomas Potts James and Leo Lesqueriux, after James’ death in 1882. The Manuel appeared in 1884. With John M.Coulter, he published in 1889. At the time of his death, Watson was working on a continuation of Gray’s Synoptical Flora of North America. Watson also wrote a number of contributions which were published in the proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Watson made three trips after the King Expedition. In 1880 he travelled to the North Western U.S. in connection with the Tenth Census forest survey. He began a botanical tour of Guatemala in 1885 but had to stopdue to illness. In 1886 he travelled to Europe with George Goodale.