Humphrey Morrison Burkill



Humphrey Morrison Burkill (b. 8 December 1914, Singapore112 July 2006, Plymouth, United Kingdom2) was the director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1957 to 1969. He was the son of former Gardens director, Isaac Henry Burkill. In 1992, the Director’s House in the Gardens was renamed Burkill Hall in honour of the only father and son who were both directors of the Gardens.

Early life
Burkill’s father was Isaac Henry Burkill,3 who was also director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1912 to 1925.4 His mother was Ethel Maud Morrison.5 Burkill was born in 1914 in the Director’s House on the grounds of the Gardens and lived there until he was four.6 He received his Bachelor of Arts (Natural Sciences Tripos) from Cambridge University in 1936 and obtained his postgraduate degree in crop husbandry in 1939.7 He then left for Malaya as an understudy to a field research officer in 1938.8 In 1948, after the war,9 he transferred to the Botanical Division of the Rubber Research Institute of Malaya.10

It was only after Burkill was appointed director of the Gardens in 1957 that he stayed — for 12 years — in the Director’s House again.11 Burkill was the successor to J.W. Purseglove who had been director since 1954. He was assistant director to Purseglove from 1954 to 1957.12

Accomplishments
Burkill’s administration saw the Gardens overcome a crucial transition period — from British rule to being part of Malaya. At the time, the Gardens were seriously short-staffed, with only three officers to cover nine senior posts in 1957. With the help of the University of Malaya, the Gardens came up with a scheme that enabled them to attract more foreign botanists.13

Burkill oversaw the first serious investigation of Malayan seaweeds.14 At the 4th World Orchid Conference in 1963, the first time it was held in Singapore,15 Burkill delivered a paper on the Role of Singapore Botanic Gardens in the development of orchid hybrids in Singapore.16 He also contributed to The Gardens Bulletin, a publication of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. One of his pieces was “The Botanic Gardens and conservation in Malaya”. Published in the 1959 centenary issue, it proposes nature conservation as being “a complementary anodyne for a modern society in the age of concrete”.17

On 1 January 1970, Burkill was awarded the O.B.E. by the U.K. Government.18 After his retirement, he continued to work at the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, contributing to the influential six-volume publication Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa, which covers 5,300 species and was produced between 1985 and 2004.19 For his work from 1969 to 1998, he was awarded the Kew Medal for Excellence in 1998.20

The Singapore Botanic Gardens also recognised his and his father’s contributions to botany. On 1 October 1992, Burkill and his wife returned to Singapore to attend the naming ceremony of the Director’s House (a bungalow built in 186621), which had been restored and renamed Burkill Hall in honour of him and his father.22 To date, they are the only father and son duo to have both held the title of director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.23

Family
Burkill married Joan Bloomer on 28 June 1946.24 They have a son and daughter.25



References
1. Burkill, H. M. (2004, July). The Burkills of Burkill Hall. Gardenwise, 23, 16.
2. Deaths announcements - Burkill. (2007, July). The Telegraph. Retrieved from: http://announcements.telegraph.co.uk/deaths/7535/burkill
3. Obituary: Humphrey Morrison Burkill. (2006). The Gardens' bulletin, 58: 133. Retrieved from: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/147981#page/143/mode/1up
4. Tinsley, B. (2009). Gardens of perpetual summer: the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore: National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, p. 176. (Call no.: RSING 580.735957 TIN)
5. Obituary: Humphrey Morrison Burkill. (2006). The Gardens' bulletin, 58: 134. Retrieved from: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/147981#page/143/mode/1up
6. Lim, J. (Interviewer). (1999, October 1). Oral history interview with Humphrey Morrison Burkill [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 002152/9/1, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
7. Lim, J. (Interviewer). (1999, October 1). Oral history interview with Humphrey Morrison Burkill [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 002152/9/1, Biographical information]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

8. Lim, J. (Interviewer). (1999, October 1). Oral history interview with Humphrey Morrison Burkill [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 002152/9/1, p. 6]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

9. Obituary: Humphrey Morrison Burkill. (2006). The Gardens' bulletin, 58: 134. Retrieved from: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/147981#page/143/mode/1up
10. Lim, J. (Interviewer). (1999, October 1). Oral history interview with Humphrey Morrison Burkill [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 002152/9/1, p. 10]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
11. Tinsley, B. (2009). Gardens of perpetual summer: the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore: National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, p. 176. (Call no.: RSING 580.735957 TIN)
12. Tinsley, B. (2009). Gardens of perpetual summer: the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore: National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, p. 60. (Call no.: RSING 580.735957 TIN)
13. Tinsley, B. (2009). Gardens of perpetual summer: the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore: National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, p. 60. (Call no.: RSING 580.735957 TIN)
14. Tinsley, B. (2009). Gardens of perpetual summer: the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore: National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, p. 60. (Call no.: RSING 580.735957 TIN)
15. 3½ years' preparation for this conference. (1963, October 2). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Orchid world comes to Spore. (1963, October 2). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Burkill, H. M. (1959, December 5). The Botanic Gardens and conservation in Malaya. The Gardens’ Bulletin, 17, 204.
18. Burkill, H. M. (2004, July). The Burkills of Burkill Hall. Gardenwise, 23, 19.
19. Obituary: Humphrey Morrison Burkill. (2006). The Gardens' bulletin, 58: 135. Retrieved from: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/147981#page/144/mode/1up
20. Burkill, H. M. (2004, July). The Burkills of Burkill Hall. Gardenwise, 23, 19.
21. Burkill Hall: An environment-friendly building that is 128 years old. (1994, November 6). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Director’s message. (1992, December). Gardenwise, 4, 2.
23. Tinsley, B. (2009). Gardens of perpetual summer: the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore: National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, p. 176. (Call no.: RSING 580.735957 TIN)
24. Mr. R.E. Prentis And Mrs. B.E. Ablitt. (1946, July 13). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Obituary: Humphrey Morrison Burkill. (2006). The Gardens' bulletin, 58: 136. Retrieved from: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/147981#page/144/mode/1up



The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Botanic Gardens (Singapore)
Colonial administrators
Science and technology>>Botany>>Horticulture
Botanical garden directors--Singapore
Burkill, Humphrey Morrison, 1914-
Personalities>>Biographies>>Colonial Administrators