John Matthew describes the most likely tree from which all the historic and monumental Matthew Trees seeds came
Patrick Matthew's 1854 published letter on page 373, Vol 14 of the Gardener's Chronicle includes interesting information about the giant redwoods that supplied the seeds which became the famous Matthew Trees in Britain. Two of Matthew's sons went to California to pan for Gold. In the following account, from a letter sent to Patrick Matthew, by his son John Matthew, dated 1853, (published in the Gardener's Chronicle in 1854) mentions pockets of quartz, because quartz rock often indicates where gold it to be found. John Matthew refers to the giant Californian redwood as the 'Wellingtonia', the name which was eventually officially dropped - although its unofficial usage continues in some circles to this day. Notably, John describes that he had quite a struggle getting to the tree that provided the seeds for the Matthew Trees in Britain. They found it in a swamp and John calculated it was some 1800 years of age. He describes a fallen tree nearby with a hollow inside that could stable 50 horses. From the size of specimens today, and the general stock of 19th century images provided of these trees, this was no exaggeration.
Most remarkably, John Matthew provides early negative feelings towards the destruction of these ancient monumental trees - a rare sentiment in that 'age of destiny,' which began in the US press a year earlier.
THE BEGINNING OF THE CONSERVATION AND SUSTAINABILITY MOVEMENTS
Most significantly, it was progressive thinking about conserving thee giant redwoods that kick-started the entire modern conservation movement - and the most recent 'sustainability movement ' - over 160 years ago
The John Matthew letter, which proved he and Patrick Matthew had priority for bringing the first giant redwood trees into Britain.
'Wellangtonia - The following is an extract of a letter from my son, ( mining engineer and surveyor), dated Jamestown Tuolumne county, Alta California, July 10 1853 :- "Last Saturday, I went along with one of my partners to see the "Big Tree," discovered in Calaveras county near the head-waters of the Stanislaus river. We crossed the river near Carson's Hill, where the richest pockets in quartz yet discovered in California, have been found. From Carson's Hill, we went on to Murphy's Camp, where we got horses. and after a three hours ride over a tolerably good trail, ascending pretty rapidly towards the base of the Sierra Nevada, at first through woods chiefly of Oak and Pine (Spruce), and afterwards of immense Pines, Fir, Arbor vitae, and Cedar, we reached a closely wooded-bottom, where the trees were more luxuriant than I have seen in any other region, with a good deal of under- brush, through which we had to force our way, and in this swamp we found the Wellingtonia, whose dimensions are as follows; - Diameter at the ground, 34 feet; diameter about 120 feet up; 20 feet diameter about 120 feet up; 14 feet, height, 290 feet age estimated at nearly 3000 years. I do not think, however, that it is so old, as I find there is on an average about 15 annual rings in the cross-section of its wood near the root to the inch, and taking the tree above the swell of the root at 10 foot to the centre, that is 120 inches, at 15 years to the melt gives only 1800 years. They are now cutting the tree down, and should it be perfectly solid to the centre, the exact age will soon be ascertained. In all climates, which have a decided summer, and winter so as greatly to vary the activity of vegetation the wood deposit of each year, viewed in the cross-section presents a distinct ring. In the same swamp there are many other trees of nearly the same diameter. I stepped round several 30 yards in circumference, while one which had fallen has a hollow inside fit to stable 50 horses. This gigantic Methusalem forest of the olden time seems to have extended back into periods anterior to any but geological record. The whole surface of the ground is strewed with immense trunks, or their remains, in every stage of decay, in many instances covered with vegetation - so as to look like green earthen mounds the mural vestiges ancient camps - and only by cutting into them are they found to be rotten wood. The other trees of the swamp consist of one species of Balsam Fir, two species Pine, from 3 to 7 feet in diameter, and from 250 to 300 feet high; and two species allied to the Cedar, of the same diameter as the Pines, but not so tall. Amongst the underwood are Hazel, Raspberries, Currant, Gooseberry, Dogwood, Poplar and Willow, with a number of others which we do not have in Europe, one of them the Rhus Toxidendron, or poison vine, poisonous to touch. The bark for about feet has been removed from the "Big Tree" for the purpose of putting it up in its natural figure, at World's Fair, New York, along with a section of both. There has been much talk here of the Goth-like act of cutting down the tree, the largest and oldest in the world, as the Californians boast. It would have been a pity to do so, were there no others like it; but 1 many in the same swamp are nearly of the same dimensions, and I see it reported in the Stockton papers that one found on the head waters of the Moquelumnc, in the same county is 40 feet in diameter. P. Matthew Gourdie Ilill Errol NB.'
Botanical naming of the giant Californian redwood tree
The name 'Wellingtonia gigantea"was disliked in the USA - from where the trees originated. Debates to name the tree went on for a number of years, Eventually the tree was officially named 'Sequoiadendron giganteum' to reflect its botanical link to the coastal or California redwood, 'Sequoia sempervirens'.