Sir Francis Ronalds and his Family

Hugh Ronalds and Brentford Nursery

The Ronalds family's Herbarium (1822), in its purpose-built cabinet, inherited by Lucy Harris. On display at Eldon House, Terry Fieldhouse photography

Main avenue at Kensal Green Cemetery, lined with trees planted by the Ronalds nursery

London Road Cemetery in Coventry

The Ronalds family ran an important garden nursery in the period 1760-1880. It was founded by "Old Hugh" Ronalds (1725-1788) - Sir Francis Ronalds' grandfather - at Brentford, West London. The home nursery was next to the Church of St Lawrence, but up to 50 acres were under cultivation at six sites. A close relationship developed with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, which was established at the same time and is situated on the opposite bank of the Thames from Brentford.

The nursery had an international reputation and plants were imported and exported around the world. When the Colony in Australia was settled by Britain in 1788, Sir Joseph Banks requested the family to supply plants and seeds for its new inhabitants. Innumerable varieties of trees, flowers, herbs and vegetables were transported and gardeners tended them on their voyages. Fruit trees and seeds from the nursery were also sent to the Colony of New Zealand.

Nearly all the family enjoyed gardening. Sir Francis sent seeds home during his Continental travels and his mother exhibited unusual plants at the Horticultural Society's shows. His brother Hugh pursued horticulture in Illinois. His great-nephew Archibald Sim Montgomrey created a herbarium inspired by an earlier one collated by the Ronalds family.

The best known of the family's horticulturalists today is Sir Francis' uncle Hugh Ronalds (1760-1833). He published a book in 1831 entitled Pyrus Malus Brentfordiensis: or, a Concise Description of Selected Apples that described many of the 300 varieties of apples grown at the Brentford nursery. It was illustrated by his daughter Betsey. Just recently it has been reaffirmed as "the best account of the most useful varieties of the most valuable fruit which our climate produces", sitting "among the standard works in Horticulture".

Hugh's wife Elizabeth née Clarke (1758-1823) also created a book that endures today - it is a manuscript collection of recipes. She was again assisted in its compilation by daughter Betsey.

Hugh and Elizabeth's son John Ronalds (1792-1850) landscaped new cemeteries, supplying literally thousands of trees for the Kensal Green Cemetery in West London and the London Road Cemetery in Coventry. Many of the beautiful specimens he planted in the 1840s survive today.

The nursery at Brentford closed with the death of John's youngest brother Robert Ronalds (1799-1880) at the age of 81. "Old Hugh" Ronalds and his wife Mary, their son Hugh and his wife Elizabeth, and grandchildren Betsey, John and Robert were all laid to rest in the Ronalds family vault at St Lawrence's church.

The family's horticultural activities continued, however, on the other side of the world. Sir Francis' brother Alfred Ronalds and Alfred's children Maria, Nathaniel and Alexander established nurseries in Victoria, Australia, as did several of Alfred's grandchildren. Another grandson, Oscar Ronalds, was a renowned amateur daffodil breeder. Granddaughters including Henrietta and Lily, and various great-granddaughters, set up in business as florists in Melbourne.


Further Information

Ronalds Nurserymen in Brentford and Beyond (2017) - published by the Gardens Trust

Sir Francis Ronalds: Father of the Electric Telegraph (2016) - published by Imperial College Press

The Ronalds Family in Brentford and Ontario (2016)
- published by the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society

Drawing of Brentford High Street with the Ronalds home on the far left (1796)

Picture of Ronalds' seed store in Brentford End (c.1800)

One of Hugh Ronalds' invoices to Sir Joseph Banks for plants for the Colony of NSW

Hugh's paper describing 13 varieties of broccoli (1822) - published in the Transactions of the Horticultural Society

John Ronalds' paper describing his house for propagating plant cuttings (1832) - published in the Horticultural Register

One of Robert Ronalds' obituaries (1880)

Royal Horticultural Society article (2010) on Hugh Ronalds' book

An Ancestor's Life seen through her Recipe Book (2021) - published in Women's History

Mrs Hugh Ronalds' Recipe Book (1795-1820) (2020)