Richard Anthony Markham was born in Leeds, England, the son of Richard Markham, a cloth merchant. He attended the University of Edinburgh—possibly instructed by John Hope—and became friendly with James Edward Smith. He changed his last name to Salisbury following a supposed financial arrangement for support in his studies. This arrangement made with a Mrs. Anna Salisbury, related by marriage to his grandmother, or so he claimed in correspondence with Joseph Banks.
Salisbury married Caroline Staniforth in 1796. One child, Eleanor, was born to the couple in 1797; the two separated shortly thereafter. Salisbury had apparently misrepresented his finances when he had proposed marriage, and had large debts at the time of his daughter's birth and had declared bankruptcy for dubious purposes. His honesty in legal and financial matters seems to have been questionable, if not devious. He apparently recovered financially by 1802, when he bought a house.
He established substantial gardens at one of his father's estates, Chapel Allerton, near Leeds, and purchased the former estate of Peter Collinson, Ridgeway House. It was at the latter that a long running dispute began between Smith and him.
Salisbury contributed annotations to Edward Rudge's Plantarum Guianæ Icones (1805–7), and descriptions to Paradisus Londinensis (1806–9). The latter was illustrated by William Hooker, and contained the genus name Hookera honouring him. The genus was renamed by Smith a few years later, Brodiaea, after his wealthy "friend and patron", James Brodie of Brodie.
In 1809, Salisbury was appointed the first honorary secretary of the Horticultural Society. His successor Joseph Sabine found he had left the accounts in disarray. He moved to London around this time; his small garden contained a large number of exotic and rare plants.
Salisbury opposed the use of Linnaeus's systema sexuale for classifying plants, which was one reason why others ignored his work. Another was the belief that Salisbury had behaved unethically. The censure was later reported as: "there was a tacit understanding on the part of the botanical leaders of the period, including Brown, Banks, and Smith, that Salisbury's botanical work and names should, as far as possible, be ignored"—Journal of Botany, 1886, p. 297."
Salisbury was known as a man who was difficult to get along with, and was shunned by many botanists of his day. Nonetheless, he was a meticulous botanist who contributed significantly to the science. His contributions to English botany include a Corsican pine (Pinus nigra) delivered to Kew Gardens, his herbarium was also passed there via his adopted son, Matthew Burchill. Salisbury has met Alphonse de Candolle in his later years, and offered to leave him his inheritance if he would take the name of 'Salisbury'.
He died in 1829. His manuscripts were obtained by John Edward Gray, who published part as Genera Plantarum and deposited the remaining documents at the British Museum. The portrait in pencil by Burchell (1817), acquired by Kew, and Smith's genus Salisburia, a synonym for Ginkgo, denote his part in the history of British botany.Works
He published a manuscript in 1809 under the name of a friend, Joseph Knight, entitled On the cultivation of the plants belonging to the natural order of Proteeae, which contained only 13 pages related to cultivation techniques, but over 100 pages of taxonomic revision. However, it turned out that the work had nonetheless freely plagiarised the work of yet another botanist (Brown) who was at odds with Salisbury. Salisbury had memorised the plant names from Robert Brown's reading of his On the Proteaceae of Jussieu to the Linnean Society of London in the first quarter of 1809, which was subsequently published in March 1810. Knight and Salisbury thus beat Brown to print and claimed priority for the names that Brown had authored.
Salisbury was accused of plagiarism, ostracised from botanical circles, and his publications were largely ignored during his lifetime. Samuel Goodenough wrote: How shocked was I to see Salisbury's surreptitious anticipation of Brown's paper on New Holland plants, under the name and disguise of Mr. Hibbert's gardener! Oh it is too bad!.
Robert Brown himself wrote of Salisbury: I scarcely know what to think of him except that he stands between a rogue and a fool.
Although Salisbury's generic names have almost all been overturned, many of his specific epithets have been reinstated; since the nominal author was Knight, not Salisbury, Knight is now considered the author of a great many Proteaceae species.
Contributions mentioned above, and other published works include:
- Icones Stirpium rariorum, 1787
- Prodromus Stirpium in horto ad Chapel Allerton, 1796
- Dissertatio botanica de Erica, 1800
- Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 1820Salisbury, Richard Anthony; Gray, J. E. (1866). The Genera of Plants (Unpublished fragment.). Retrieved 26 October 2014.
- On the cultivation of the Polianthes Tuberosa. 1806. p. 41. Retrieved 1 November 2014. In Horticultural Society of London (1820)
- Observations on the diffferent species of Dahlia. 1808. p. 84. Retrieved 1 November 2014. In Horticultural Society of London (1820)
- A short account of Nectarines and Peaches. 1808. p. 103. Retrieved 1 November 2014. In Horticultural Society of London (1820)
- Some account of the Red Doyenne Pear. 1811. p. 230. Retrieved 1 November 2014. In Horticultural Society of London (1820)
- On the cultivation of rare plants. 1812. p. 261. Retrieved 1 November 2014. In Horticultural Society of London (1820)
- On the cultivation of the Jamrosade. 1811. p. Appendix 11. Retrieved 1 November 2014. In Horticultural Society of London (1820)
- On the vegetation of high mountains. 1811. p. Appendix 15. Retrieved 1 November 2014. In Horticultural Society of London (1820)
- Description of a bank for Alpine Plants. 1811. p. Appendix 15. Retrieved 1 November 2014. In Horticultural Society of London (1820)