Wade, Walter (c.1740–1825), botanist, was born in Dublin, son of John Wade (d. 1799), chemist and apothecary, and Katherine Wade. In 1767 John Wade's proposal, sanctioned by (Royal) King and Queen's College of Physicians Ireland ((R)K&QCPI; forerunner of RCPI), to establish a pharmacy in Dublin to dispense medicines to the poor, was approved when the Irish parliament allowed the Dublin Society £250 to finance his Chymical Elaboratory and Dispensary for the Poor, 66 Capel Street. It was the first pharmacy in Ireland – predating Apothecaries Hall (1791), for the establishment of which he signed a petition in 1790 – and he devoted his time to chemistry in order to supply apothecaries with unadulterated medicines. Between 1768 and 1770 he treated 1,570 patients, mostly in their own homes and often without charge, and freely gave his services to the Rotunda Hospital. Appreciating the uselessness of providing medicines to those whose most urgent need was food – ‘Food is the friend to medicine; it assists its operations, and adds to its force’ (Wade, 9) – he suggested a householders' tax to finance a fund for sick paupers. His philanthropy resulted in bankruptcy, and his appeal to parliament for funds (1783) was sympathetically received, though the result of his petition is not known. He was author of The family physician; being a collection of useful family remedies (c.1764).
Walter Wade may have studied in a French university like his uncle, Walter Wade (fl.1735–68) who graduated in medicine from the University of Rheims (1735) and made a career in Portugal; for he apparently graduated Doctor of Medicine (MD) before 1776, when he established a practice as a man-midwife at 13 Bolton Street, Dublin. Admitted licentiate (1787) and subsequently elected honorary fellow (1811) of the (R)K&QCPI, he gave public lectures in midwifery (1789) and was physician to the Dublin General Dispensary. His uncle's period of study at the University of Rheims suggests Wade was from a catholic family but converted to the Church of Ireland at some point. He may have been the Walter Wade of Donnybrook who converted on 26 April 1781. Six days earlier he is known to have married a quaker Mary Chambers (d. 1831), who was, however, expelled from the quakers for marrying a non-quaker. They had no children.
He combined his medical career with botany. A self-taught botanist and a member of the Experimental Society of Dublin for Promoting Natural Knowledge, he advertised for subscribers (1787) for his proposed book ‘Flora Dubliniensis [sic]’; he printed sample sheets of which only the superbly engraved illustration of henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and its letterpress survive (National Library of Ireland). This ambitious work was modelled on Flora Londinensis by William Curtis (1746–99); though financial difficulties prevented its publication, its promotion established Wade as a prominent Irish botanist and he gave public lectures in botany (1789) at his home in Capel Street. An ambitious man, he was successful in his application (1792) to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) to lecture on botany and vegetation, and was later appointed (1804–25) founding professor of botany.
Elected an honorary member (1792) of the Dublin Society for Improving Husbandry, Manufactures and the Useful Arts, he presented the society with his manuscript Catalogus systematicus plantarum indigenarum in Comitatu Dublinensi inventarum, which the society published (1794); a scholarly work, written in Latin and dedicated to John Foster (qv), it introduced the Linnean system into Irish botany. Listing the native plants of Co. Dublin in Latin, English, and Irish, Wade identified every plant and its habitat, and added many species not previously recorded. The first Irish botanist to study native grasses, he presented (1795) the society with his manuscript listing forty-one species of grasses, which included dried specimens and information on their agricultural, economic and other uses, which was placed in the society's library.
In 1790 Wade submitted a petition to the Irish house of commons for the establishment of a botanical garden in Dublin; probably instigated and certainly supported by John Foster, speaker of the house, whom Wade described as his revered patron, the Dublin Society Act (1790) was passed, providing the society with £300 towards establishing the (National) Botanical Gardens. Land was purchased (1795) in Glasnevin and Wade was appointed professor and lecturer in botany (1796–25) and invited to undertake the arrangement of the gardens. Responsible for the original design, he enthusiastically undertook the procurement of plants, travelling to famous nurseries and gardens in England, receiving gifts of rare and interesting plants and seeds from all over the world for the largest publicly supported botanical garden in Europe; opened in 1800, it subsequently earned an international reputation. The first catalogues (from 1800) of the plants in the gardens and the Prospectus of arrangements in the Dublin Society's … garden at Glasnevin (1818) are attributed to Wade. He was relieved of routine responsibilities (1802) when he was assigned the house in the gardens and took up his professorship.
His lectures (1802–23), which were free, open to the public, and associated with practical sessions in the gardens, were so well attended that his Syllabus … of lectures on botany, and its connexion with agriculture, rural economy and the useful arts (1802) and other of his prospectuses (1818, 1820, 1823) were published by the Dublin Society; they reveal his enthusiasm for botany, which he described as the ‘loveliest of all the sciences’ (Nelson, 1981, 25). Associated with his lectures, a library of botanical and agricultural books was established which predated the library at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew by over fifty years, and prizes were given for the best performance in examinations. The lord lieutenant, the duke of Bedford (qv), attended his lectures (1806), and in 1819 Wade recorded that he gave eighty-two lectures in Leinster House and at the Botanic Gardens, which were attended by 2,554 during the summer months; but often, in his correspondence to Foster, he expressed his disappointment at the low attendance, the neglect of the gardens, and the apathy of members of the Dublin Society towards ‘our botanical establishment, the brightest jewel … in the Society's cap’ (Nelson and McCracken, 69). Failing health and disenchantment with lecturing may partly explain the diatribe vented on Wade by the Lancet's columnist, ‘Erinensis’, who described him as an ‘old fashioned prig … [who] imagined that the wearing of a sky-blue vest, and counting the pistils and stamens of some showy flowers in the theatre of the society constituted the whole duties of a professor of botany’ (Erinensis, 255); whereas Foster testified to his ‘great worth, [and] zeal’ and believed that ‘no man could excel him in his perfect knowledge’ of the nomenclature of plants ‘nor in the clearness and accuracy with which he explained the simplicity and beauty thereof’, though he found Wade ‘deficient’ in the practical applications of botany (Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, lxii (1826), 9).
Thorough, observant, the leading Irish botanist, Wade was the first to stimulate a general interest in botany and added considerably to the knowledge of the distribution of Irish plants. Commissioned to explore the flora of western Ireland, he was the first to discover (1801) the American pipewort, Eriocaulon aquaticum, which he found in Connemara, and published Catalogus systematicus rariorum in Comitatu Gallovidiae, praecipue Cunnemara, inventarum (1802). Other works include Plantae rariores in Hibernia inventae (1804), which included flowering plants, lichens, bryophytes, marine algae, and a coloured engraving of a rare moss, Buxbaumia aphylla, which he discovered near Killarney; and his most substantial work, Salices (Dublin, 1811). Quercus or oaks (Dublin, 1809), his translation from the French of François Michaux's treatise Histoire des chênes de L'Amerique septentrionale (1801), lists species growing in the Botanical Gardens. He was elected an associate of the Linnean Society, (1792), fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) (1811), and member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) (1811).
Probably a member of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen in the early 1790s, he appears to have become disenchanted, for in the process of seeking Foster's help for the post of inspector of breweries for Dublin (1809), and his recommendation for the position of physician (1811) to Newgate prison, Dublin, he complained that he has not yet received any favours from government ‘though my exertions in 1798 and 1803 so fully intitle [sic] me to it, as a loyal protestant’ (Nelson and McCracken, 65). A member of the Grand Master's Lodge of the Irish Freemasons, he served from 1794 as deputy grand master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland and was still in office when the lodge polarised into hardline loyalist and moderate factions in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion. Described in 1797 as a zealous supporter of the government, he facilitated efforts to have members with links to the United Irishmen expelled. In December 1798 grand lodge members passed a resolution calling for his dismissal and declaring any discussion of religion, politics or controversial subjects off limits. The members’ hostility eventually forced his resignation as deputy grand master in 1800.
He was also a member of the Hibernian Catch Club, a choral group, and also secretary (1782–9) and grand treasurer (1782–96) of the Friendly Brothers, a benevolent society. He died 12 July 1825 at his home, Dorset Street, Dublin. Correspondence between Wade and Foster is held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (Belfast) collection of Foster–Massereene papers.