Burbidge, Frederick William (1847–1905), botanist, artist, and curator of the botanical gardens of TCD, was born 21 March 1847 at Wymeswold, Leicestershire, England, son of Thomas Burbidge, farmer, and Mary Burbidge (née Spencer). Educated privately and in local schools, he entered (1868) the Royal Horticultural Society at Chiswick as a student, later studying at the Royal Gardens in Kew. He showed considerable talent as a draftsman while a student and was employed making drawings of plants; his illustrations came to be renowned for their accuracy. Finishing his studies in 1870, he remained on the staff at Kew as a writer and artist for the Garden journal.
In 1877 he was employed by James Veitch & Son, the noted nurserymen, and sent to Borneo to collect samples of rare plants. During the next two years he travelled across Borneo and also visited Brunei, Johore, and the islands of the Sulu archipelago to the north-east of Borneo. He brought back almost a thousand specimens of plants including rare ferns, orchids, and pitcher-plants. Some of the species of plants were later named in his honour. These included types of orchid (the Dendrobium Burbidgei and Aërides Burbidgei) and types of ferns (the Alsophila Burbidgei and Polypodium Burbidgei). He was responsible for introducing into Europe the giant pitcher-plant of Kina Balu, Nepenthes Rajah. These specimens were presented by James Veitch to the Kew herbarium.
Since 1872 he had also published a series of books on botanical subjects, including The art of botanical drawing (1872), Domestic floriculture, window gardening and floral decorations (1874), and Cultivated plants, their propagation and improvement (1877). The latter became a standard text for gardeners and was praised by W. E. Gladstone. In 1880 Burbidge published an account of his travels in Borneo, The gardens of the sun: or a naturalist's journal on the mountains and in the forests and swamps of Borneo and the Sulu archipelago.
In 1880 he was appointed curator of the botanical gardens of TCD, then based in Lansdowne Road, Ballsbridge. He soon became renowned for his enthusiasm and trained a generation of Irish horticulturists. Encouraging staff members of TCD to bring him back seeds and bulbs from their travels, he soon had over thirty different types of snowdrops alone in the college park. He experimented with the slipperwort, cross-pollinating hybrid seedlings, and named the resulting type the ‘College slipperwort’. A keen cyclist, he travelled around Dublin and neighbouring counties, visiting well-kept gardens such as Straffan House and Kilmacurragh House, the homes of the Barton and Acton families respectively. At Straffan House he noticed that a continental snowdrop had cross-pollinated with a domestic type to produce a distinctive, late-flowering snowdrop, which he named Galanthus Straffan. A friend of the renowned Mrs Lawrenson of Howth, Co. Dublin, who wrote a gardening column under the pseudonym of ‘St Brigid’, he noticed a distinctive type of white Christmas rose in her garden. This was later christened the ‘St Brigid rose’ but is now believed to be extinct.
Elected a member of the RIA (January 1887), he was awarded an honorary MA by TCD in 1889, being appointed keeper of the college park in 1894. He was awarded the Victoria medal of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1897. During his time in Dublin he published The chrysanthemum: its history, culture, classification and nomenclature (1883) and The book of the scented garden (1905). He also wrote articles for the Irish Builder and the Irish Naturalist. In 1891 he published an article, ‘Gardening in Ireland: a retrospect’ in the Gardener's Chronicle.
He married (1876) Mary Wade (d. 1905) of Owston. They had no children. He died of heart disease, 24 December 1905, six months after the death of his wife.