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377-year-old book donated to Otago

Tuesday, 14 March 2017 1:57pm

Examining the extremely rare Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plantes or An Universall and Compleate Herball at yesterday's donation celebration (from left) Special Collections Librarian Dr Donald Kerr, University Librarian Howard Amos and donor Russ Finnerty. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

A close-up of the 377-year-old Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plantes or An Universall and Compleate Herball.

Special Collections at the University of Otago’s Central Library has just received a “new” addition to its botany collection – an encyclopedia that is almost four centuries old.

A 1640, first edition of John Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plantes or An Universall and Compleate Herball was donated to the Library yesterday by Russ Finnerty, on behalf of his wife Rosalba Finnerty (née Willis).

The extremely rare book, published in 1640, is a treatise of the history of plants and herbs, and contains hand-drawn sketches of the plants along with comprehensive uses and virtues. It was part of the personal collection of George Edward Wherry, Rosalba’s great-grandfather.

At yesterday’s presentation, Special Collections Librarian Dr Donald Kerr spoke highly of the family’s decision to donate the historical book, calling it a “marvellous” addition to the Library’s botany collection, and emphasised the importance of having books of its calibre made publicly available.

Mr Finnerty was also in Dunedin to attend a bioethics seminar by Dr Katharine Hall, as her research was partially based on a previous donation by the family, a 1667 Remmilini pharmaceutical encyclopedia.

Speaking about the decision to donate both books to the University, Mr Finnerty said Otago, with the country’s oldest Medical School, was the only logical choice for the new home of the Remmilini, and it seemed only right to have the Theatrum Botanicum join it.

University Librarian Howard Amos said he was very pleased by the donation as it could further enrich the study of Otago Botany students.

Printed on handmade paper and spanning a huge 1700 pages, the Theatrum Botanicum will be housed in Special Collections on the first floor of the Central Library and will soon be made available for students and the public to enjoy.