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

Oscar Ronalds in 1926 with the bust of Sir Francis Ronalds at Kelmscott House Museum

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.

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, who lived close to the Brentford nursery, created a herbarium inspired by the 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".

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.

Hugh's son John Ronalds 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 at the age of 81, but horticultural activities continued on the other side of the world. Sir Francis' brother Alfred and nephew Nathaniel (1840-1898) established nurseries in Victoria, Australia. Nathaniel also opened Ronalds Central Florist in the heart of Melbourne's business district, which remained in the family to the mid-20th century. Oscar Ronalds (1873-1955), Nathaniel's nephew, has many daffodil hybrids to his name.

"Old Hugh" Ronalds, his son Hugh, and grandchildren Betsey, John and Robert were all laid to rest in the Ronalds family vault at St Lawrence's church.

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)

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

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