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Arnold Arboretum


John George Jack (1861–1949)

John George Jack

In 1905, John George Jack embarked on a year-long trip to the Far East that focused principally on Korea and Japan, and may have also been planned in order to include spending time with his younger brother, the Reverend Milton Jack of the Presbyterian Foreign Ministry, who had long been stationed in Taiwan.

In addition to collecting seeds and herbarium specimens, Jack returned with images, many in a format especially useful for teaching purposes—lantern slides. Covering some of the ground that Arboretum plant explorer Ernest Henry Wilson would later visit, Jack photographed the forest preserves in Japan, as well as the forests of Taiwan and Korea.

Search the database for Jack’s images (172)

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178 images (1905)

Born in Chateauguay, Quebec, Canada on April 15, 1861, John George Jack was one of twelve children of Robert and Annie Jack. Robert Jack (1821-1900) was a farmer and fruit grower who, for over 40 years, introduced and experimented with varieties of fruit new to the Province of Quebec. Annie Linda Jack (1839-1912), a poet, author, and a noted horticulturist, wrote a series of newspaper articles entitled “Garden Talks” and authored The Canadian Garden: A Pocket Help for the Amateur (1903).

As a boy, J. G. Jack was interested in natural history with a special attraction to insects. Self taught with a minimum of private instruction, his formal education included only approximately six months of high school. Through his  observations and collections he was introduced to a variety of correspondents including Sir John William Dawson, the Principal of McGill University (1855-1893) who helped establish the Peter Redpath Museum of Natural History and who became Jack’s friend and mentor. Jack became a member of the American Association for the advancement of Science in 1882 where he made contacts that eventually led to employment at the Arnold Arboretum.   Beginning in 1882 and continuing for the next three years, Jack spent the winter months in Boston attending lectures given by Harvard professors including  Dr. Hermann August Hagen (1817-1893), a  professor of entomology and author of Bibliotheca Entomologia, published in 1862-63. He also studied zoolology with Professor Alpheus Hyatt and attended lectures on botany given by Professor by George Goodale. In 1883, Jack spent the summer working in River Edge, New Jersey, on the 80-acre farm of Elbert Sillick Carman (1836-?), editor-in-chief of The Rural New Yorker (1878-1964), where Carmen had been conducting experiments on plants since 1877.

In April 1886, Jack visited Arboretum director Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927) at his Brookline estate, Holm Lea. Promised only manual labor at small compensation, he began working at the Arnold Arboretum. Within a short time his botanical knowledge became apparent, earning Sargent’s confidence and an increase in pay to a dollar a day. Jack continued his education by taking a Harvard Summer Course in botany and attending various lectures. By the terms of the Arboretum’s original indenture, the director, as the Arnold Professor of Botany, was to teach the knowledge of trees at the College. With the approval of the trustees, Sargent delegated this function to Jack, who became Lecturer in Arboriculture in 1890 (the title was later changed to Lecturer in Forestry). Jack taught forestry at Harvard, often with the first director of the Harvard Forest Richard T. Fisher (1876-1934), and also at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he held a lectureship from 1899 to 1908. In 1907, Jack married Cerise Emily Agnes Carmen (?-1935), daughter of his former employer, E. S. Carmen, and in 1908 he was made an Assistant Professor of Dendrology at the Arnold Arboretum.

Jack taught throughout his career. In the fall and spring he conducted courses in dendrology using the Arboretum’s living collections as his classroom. Jack’s courses were geared toward the layperson and his amicable disposition made his classes popular. According to Sargent’s annual report for 1890/91, Jack “gave twice a week during the months of May and June instruction to a class of twenty-six men and women who paid a small fee for the privilege. His lessons, which treated of the plants, in their botanical, economic, and ornamental aspects, were practical and interesting.” He was also regular contributor to the Arboretum’s Bulletin of Popular Information, and produced over 100 citations in Garden and Forest

Soon after Jack joined the Arboretum, he began collecting and documenting plants in the United States and abroad. During the summers of 1898 and 1900, Jack was an agent for the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He explored the forests of central Colorado and the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and produced detailed documentation and photographs of the forest and soil conditions of the Pikes Peak, Plum Creek, and South Platte Forest Reserves. In 1891, he visited botanic gardens in France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, and England, and he and Arboretum taxonomist Alfred Rehder collected plant specimens and took photographs in the western United States and in Canada in 1904.

Already experienced in plant exploration when he embarked on a year-long trip to the Far East in 1905, Jack became the first staff member after Sargent to visit Asia. He focused his travels on Korea and Japan, as political unrest at the time made travel in mainland China dangerous. Although Sargent’s Annual Report for the Year Ending July 31, 1905, states that “Mr. J. G. Jack has started on a journey to the East to obtain material for the Arboretum in Japan, Korea, and northern China,” his year long Asian journey was self-financed. Jack may have planned his trip to spend time with his younger brother, the Reverend Milton Jack of the Presbyterian Foreign Ministry, who had long been stationed in Taiwan. Jack’s introduction to an undated, unpublished manuscript entitled “Notes on Some Recently Introduced Trees and Shrubs” outlined his goals and itinerary for the Asian trip:

On the first of July, 1905, I left Boston for Japan . . . the object of my trip was primarily rest and recreation for three or four months, combined with a desire to observe some of the interesting arborescent flora of central and northeastern Japan . . . a short visit was also made to Korea and to Peking in China.

In addition to collecting seeds and herbarium specimens representing 258 plants, Jack took photographs of individual specimens and landscape views. He returned with 172 images, many of them lantern slides, a format especially useful in his teaching. Jack photographed the forest preserves and activities of the lumbering industry around Mt. Fuji and elsewhere in Japan, as well as scenes he captured in Beijing that include formal portraits of people in traditional costumes.

Jack retired from full-time employment at the Arboretum in September 1935 at age 74. His wife Cerise died later that same year. Jack spent retirement at his home “Folly Farm,” in East Walpole, Massachusetts, with his daughter, Betty Jack Wirth and her husband. In 1948, while tending his orchard, Jack fell and broke his hip and was confined to bed. The following year on May 20, John George Jack, Arnold Arboretum Assistant Professor of Dendrology, Emeritus, died at age 88.

The John George Jack (1861-1949) papers, 1887-1990 finding aid is available on our website.

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