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A Tribute to

John Bradbury


Celebrated botanist and explorer

Photo of John Bradbury Celebrated botanist and explorer of the interior of America, author and family man. Yet he is now better remembered in his adopted land of America than his native England. In partial redress of this fact, the Blue Plaque acknowledges his achievements.

Early Life

Bradbury was born at Souracre Fold, Stalybridge in August 1768 where he lived with his parents, sister and three elder brothers. A Memoir of John Bradbury by G Smith remarks of his parents :

"His father was a man rather above the ordinary capacity of general understanding and his mother was endowed with strong intellectual powers".

Bradbury quite clearly inherited their love of knowledge and learning. He was fortunate to be schooled by John Taylor at a humble academy on Cocker Hill. Taylor was a keen botanist and encouraged Bradbury's very evident interest and talent in this subject often taking him on botanical excursions. Indeed, Taylor recognised that Bradbury would outgrow the confines of the British Isles :

"I venture to predict that this island will soon be too narrow for him"

Work and Leisure

On leaving school Bradbury took a similar course to his fellow young men taking up work in one of the local mills. however, his enthusiasm for botany was undiminished and filled his leisure time. His generous spirit is reflected in his establishment aged 18 of a night school to teach other young men what he himself had learned. He made no charges for the classes and even provided a pair of globes and a powerful microscope for the study of entomology. A young Jethro Tinker was amongst his pupils. He also kept bees and created a botanical garden to aid his studies as well as a pet toad called Bob until to his despair it was eaten by an adder.

A Botanist of Note

Bradbury progressed to positions of management in the cotton industry but also established himself as a botanist of some renown through his articles in national journals. This attracted the patronage of eminent people amongst the aristocracy for whom he did much work in organising and laying out their various country seats and parks. A free spirited man he also travelled in Ireland afterwards dividing his time between Manchester and Liverpool.

In Liverpool he joined the very active Philosophical Society, a group keen to explore the interior of America not least for its potential to supply cotton to the mills of England. John Bradbury was the obvious choice for such a journey of survey and exploration in l809.

To America

Now in his early forties. John Bradbury was a married man with eight children. In "Bygone Stalybridge" by S Hill, he is described thus :

"in the prime of manhood, swarthy, broad-shouldered, and of medium height amiable yet stubborn in disposition, temperate in his habits and a most excellent marksman."

His strong constitution was vital in the three years spent on perilous expeditions in America often at the mercy of tribes of Indians. Many of his fellow explorers perished from starvation or the upturning of their canoes on tempestuous rivers. Bradbury survived, managed to collect many botanical samples and carried out valuable geological research.

Home to England

Returning to England in 1812, Bradbury spent five years writing 'Travels in the Interior of America in the years 1809, 1810 and -l811' which gave thrilling accounts of his adventures and life amongst the Indians. However, it sold poorly, and with such a large family to provide for. Bradbury found himself almost destitute. Disillusioned with England and the noisy frivolities of the bustling world he resolved to quit his native land for America again where he could exclaim :

"I'm monarch of all I survey. My right there is none to dispute".

Return to America

Bradbury's luck changed with a chance meeting in Liverpool with an American sea captain of his former acquaintance. This friend was appalled by Bradbury's circumstances and immediately offered free passage to America for the entire Bradbury family.

Bradbury was warmly welcomed back to America and he secured a position as curator and superintendent of the botanical gardens of St Louis giving his family good prospects in a new home.

Final Days

In St Louis, Bradbury was often visited by Indian Chiefs whom he had met in the wild. Maybe this prompted his desire to revisit their haunts and in 1825 he undertook an expedition which proved to be his last. Whether he died through natural causes or by accident is unknown. He was buried at Middletown in Kentucky but eighty three years later his body was exhumed by his great grandson, John Brinly and buried with other members of the family at Simpsonville. His descendants still live in America.

Blue Plaque for John BradburyA Tribute

John Bradbury of Stalybridge has the honour at being one of the first While men to explore, survey and publish an account of the hitherto unknown expanses of America, an area which subsequently furnished the bulk of the cotton used in Lancashire and helped England lead the world in the era of Industrial Revolution. He was also an early tutor of Jethro Tinker, who is also commemorated by a Blue Plaque.

Blue Plaque

A blue plaque to commemorate the life of John Bradbury is sited at the entrance to Stalybridge Country Park.