E. S. Marshall in West Sussex

Source: Sturt, Nick. “E. S. Marshall in West Sussex.” Sussex Botanical Recording Society Newsletter, no. 57 (January 2004). http://sussexflora.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Newsletter_Jan_2004.pdf.


The initials ESM will probably strike a familiar chord with anyone who has browsed through the county floras of Arnold and Wolley-Dod.  In the list of contributors to the second (posthumous) edition of Arnold’s Flora the author acknowledges information given in correspondence and notes on West Sussex plants published in the Journal of Botany for 1901.  Thirty years later Wolley-Dod is duly appreciative of the data ESM and another distinguished contemporary collected during this short period in his introduction to the Flora of Sussex (p xlviii), commenting, ‘As critical botanists he and Salmon have added greatly to our knowledge of the stations of our more difficult species and varieties, which rarely appear in the lists drawn up by less experienced collectors’.  But who was ESM?

Edward Shearburn Marshall (1858-1918) was one of that large brotherhood of Victorian clerical botanists.  Having been educated at Marlborough College (where he developed an active interest in natural history) and Oxford (where the focus of his attention shifted from ornithology to botany), Marshall entered the Church.  Beyond his calling his chief interest was in the recording of vascular plants and the first fruit of this resulted from his collaboration with Hanbury to produce the Kent Flora (1899).  While he was working on this he was vicar of Milford in Surrey.  The Sussex years followed (1900-1901) as something of a backwater in his career as he performed the humbler duties of Curate in the parish of East Lavington.  It was the fieldwork undertaken during this period that resulted in the article in the Journal of Botany to which Arnold makes reference.  He would go on to make significant contributions to the study of the flora of Wiltshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Before proceeding it will be as well to correct a rare slip made by Wolley-Dod. The Lt-Colonel would have ESM’s curacy in West Lavington, a small settlement just to the south-east of Midhurst.  Some years ago I visited the church (passing up an incline from the lane where a fine patch of Umbilicus rupestris is to be enjoyed) in the hope of finding some reference to ESM’s stay…. to no avail.  Consulting the relevant years of Crockford’s Clerical Directory revealed that our subject was curate at East Lavington: this church is several miles distant, wedged below the north escarpment of the Downs hard up against Lavington House, now the home of Seaford College.  So it was from a centre just outside Duncton that Marshall explored West Sussex.  There remains, however, the question of why Marshall was at East Lavington in the capacity of curate at all, for he had been vicar of Milford, Surrey for the previous ten years and after the Sussex sojourn was appointed vicar of Keevil in Wiltshire.  I have not been able to discover the facts, but I suspect that the move may have been connected with the susceptibility to depression that troubled him intermittently throughout his adult life.  Although very often it was the curate who did the donkey work for an absentee vicar, in a very small parish such as East Lavington the duties cannot have been onerous – scarcely more than satisfying the spiritual needs of the family of the big house and their estate workers, so leaving Marshall ample time, arguably, to recuperate with some restorative botanising.

One of the most notable Sussex finds of the Reverend Marshall was Chenopodium glaucum in ‘Calloways Farmyard, Graffham’; although the record did not emerge until 1905 it surely belongs to the time of his curacy.  This is the first county record for the species but Salmon was hard on the heels of his fellow botanist spotting the plant ‘Near buildings of Cranmore Farm, Heyshott Green’.  The Oak-leaved Goosefoot was found very near to Calloways Farm as recently as the 1990s, but it is one of those annuals of farmyards and waste places which come and go, sometimes giving the impression of being possessed of a fiendish elusiveness – as when Sussex seed was being sought in vain two years ago for the Millennium Seedbank.

Marshall and Salmon together added considerably to the knowledge of the vascular plants of West Sussex. Writing his Introduction to the Flora in 1937, Wolley-Dod remarked ‘… in modern times the Division [ie Western Rother] has probably been better worked than any in the county’, and he goes on to mention these two men in addition to the inevitable Arnold, the redoubtable Guermonprez, and the less well known trio of J E Little, Prebendary Burdon and Rev H E Fox.  When Wolley-Dod refers to Marshall’s work on the critical species he doubtless has in mind particularly his efforts in the formidable (and to many rebarbative!) field of batology: a glance through the relevant pages of the Flora of Sussex reveals the large number of entries for varieties of Rubus attributed to ESM, specimens which for the most part he discovered on the commons of West Sussex.

Turning to less arcane plants, many of ESM’s stations in the 1937 Flora are still extant, for example: Papaver argmeone, East Lavant; Cardamine amara between Lurgashall and Selham; Cakile maritima, Thorney; Geranium pusillum, Graffham; Trifolium ornithodioides, West Wittering; Drosera intermedia, Midhurst Common. Others have vanished tantalisingly, such as Filago pyramidata  near Bosham, Pulicaria vulgaris ‘Dried up pond on Lodsworth Common’, and Pyrola minor ‘Fir Wood near Graffham’.

It would be remarkable if a botanist of even Marshall’s ability never made mistakes: the matchless Borrer himself was known to have had second thoughts! We have recently learned of one of Marshall’s errors through the labours of Tim Rich when he was researching historical records of the rarer Cudweeds for Plantlife. Among the stations in Division I cited by Wolley-Dod for Filago apiculata (now F lutescens, Red-tipped Cudweed) are a group of Marshall’s: ‘Selham, locally abundant; sandy fields near Graffham; Norwood Farm and near Lower Barn, Lavington, with the finder’s comment ‘mostly the scarce form with straw-coloured phyllaries, only two or three specimens of the usual red-tipped plants were found’.  Alas, Marshall’s specimens did not pass muster with Tim when he was reviewing herbarium material: he determined them as F. vulgaris.  I cannot condemn ESM, for F.  lutescens is a subtle herb….

A black and white photograph of the portrait of ESM in the possession of the British Museum (Natural History) is reproduced in D. E. Allen’s The Botanists: the rather sombre eyes set in a long face seem to reflect what is known of Marshall’s nature.  In Allen’s excellent history there are also allusions to Marshall’s reservations about the direction in which G. C. Druce was taking the Botanical Exchange Club, and his conduct in the affair clearly characterises him as a man of principle.  But let us leave ESM with the memoir of a friend from Wiltshire days, Dr Walter Watson: ‘He was a keen and active botanist in the field and allowed no obstacle to daunt him if he wished to obtain a plant.  A stream was waded or a long walk was undertaken in a light-hearted manner.  Sometimes the pace was rather too great and I remember a jaunt on Exmoor when Mrs Marshall and my wife were uncomfortably tired out.’  The somewhat obsessive nature of the male of the species continues, I fear, to tax his partner and helpmeet….