About the book
Things you might like to know about
The Daisy Chain
When I finished The Daisy Chain, I realised there were a lot of people in it. Then again this is the great ‘Age of Enlightenment’ – that period of history where new ideas and philosophies proliferated. It’s a period that fascinated me and no character fascinated me more than Joseph Banks, without doubt one of the greatest scientists England has ever known (see below for more details of him).
My story is set around 1771-72 (with only the slightest hint of artistic licence!) when Banks had just returned from his incredible voyage with Captain Cook on HMS Endeavour between 1768-1771. Banks, primarily a botanist, returned with over 2,000 samples of plants and seeds and was installed as Director of Kew Gardens.
It’s an amazing period of history and I hope that by dropping some fictitious characters into the still waters of Kew Gardens I can get you to share my excitement of this amazing age of discovery.
Real life characters in order of appearance
Banks was an extraordinary man and also extraordinarily wealthy. After studying botany and natural sciences at Oxford, at the age of only 25, he raised £10,000 (the best part of £1 million in today’s money) to fund Captain Cook’s 1768 voyage on HMS Endeavour to observe the transit of Venus in the Pacific and discover the Australias. Upon his return he was appointed Director of Kew Gardens. Later he became President of the Royal Society, a post he held for 41 years.
A Scottish born plantsman and gardener, Masson went to work at Kew Gardens in the 1760’s. He was the first person to be officially appointed as a plant hunter by Banks and sailed with Captain Cook in 1772 on HMS Resolution, disembarking in South Africa where he discovered the Bird of Paradise flower, named Strelitzia Regina in honour of Queen Charlotte.
Queen Charlotte von Mecklenburg Strelitz
A Princess in a minor German family, Charlotte came to England aged 17 to become King George III’s wife and remained married to him for 57 years until she predeceased him in 1818. During that time she bore him 15 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood. An amateur botanist she helped expand Kew Gardens and spent large periods of time in her cottage there. There have been suggestions that Charlotte was England’s first ‘black Queen’. This is based on only one of many portraits painted during her lifetime. Although the recent TV drama Bridgerton had her played by a black actress, on balance of evidence she was white.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown
The greatest (and best paid) landscape architect of the period, Capability Brown applied for the post as Director of Kew Gardens. Surprisingly he was overlooked in favour of Banks. Banks did however invite him back to construct ‘The Long Walk’ at Kew, long since vanished.
Lancelot ‘Lance’ Brown
Lance Brown was Capability Brown’s son and initially worked with him for a few years. Eventually he got fed up of getting his hands dirty and became a Member of Parliament (possibly getting his hands even dirtier!).
King George III
‘Mad’ King George or ‘Farmer’ George (due to his interest in agriculture) has been somewhat poorly treated by history. He suffered from a genetic blood disease called ‘porphyria’ which caused mental illness, the first short-lived bouts of which occurred in the 1760s. At the time of this story however he had all his mental faculties, which he applied to the problems of war with America. He became ill again in 1788, again in 1801 and was permanently deranged by 1810. His eldest son took his place as regent before becoming George IV in 1820.
Gainsborough was arguably the greatest society portrait painter of his time. He was commissioned by Queen Charlotte to paint the royal family and produced portraits of both the King and Queen and 11 of their children.
Fictional characters in order of appearance
My fictional characters are total contrivances for the sake of a good story and are entirely my own inventions. Understandably their pen profiles are somewhat shorter than the real-life characters. I will leave it to you, the reader, to flesh them out and put a face to them.
An intellectual talented botanical painter and amateur scientist who, with her father dead and no inheritance, moves to live with her sister and by chance ends up as painter in residence at Kew Gardens, and the confidante and Lady-in-Painting to the Queen. She is the catalyst around which the story manifests itself.
Johannes Van der Humm
A roguish but urbane and cosmopolitan Dutchman who rescues Daisy from trouble when they first meet, Van der Humm then creates mischief throughout. Purporting to be a tulip merchant he is, in fact, an agent of the Dutch government involved in tea smuggling, the triangular trade and all sorts of skulduggery. He vies for Daisy’s hand with Rupert Fitzgerald (see below).
Daisy’s elder sister, the second wife of the noxious Lord Hugo, Fanny mentors Daisy and tries to match-make for her.
Lord Hugo Godolphin
An awful and beastly man, many years older than his wife Fanny, Hugo owes his fortune to plantations in the Americas and the ‘triangular trade’.
Kate, a black slave owned by Hugo, becomes Daisy’s lady’s maid. An intelligent and well-read woman, wise to the ways of the world, she becomes Daisy’s friend and confidante.
Another of Hugo’s black slaves, Gardner is a gardener with a fascination for growing melons. He is also Kate’s husband.
Banks’ protégé, Rupert is a botanist at Kew Gardens – he is also, unbeknown to Daisy, the son of the Earl and Countess of Clonmel (see below). Red haired and scholarly, he is the antithesis of Van der Humm but also becomes a suitor for Daisy’s hand. He accompanies Masson to South Africa and brings home the treasured flower.
The Countess and Earl of Clonmel
Madeleine, Countess of Clonmel, is Queen Charlotte’s senior Lady-in-Waiting and best friend. Her husband, the Earl, is King George’s spymaster. If they ever made a film of The Daisy Chain I would love these characters to be played by real-life husband and wife Emma Thompson and Greg Wise.
Spymaster for the Dutch, De Vries ‘runs’ Van der Humm and finances lots of his misdeeds. At this time the Dutch were smuggling tea into America and generally fomenting unrest. England would eventually go to war with the Dutch in 1780, at the same time as they were fighting the American War of Independence. It didn’t turn out well for the Dutch!
Soldier of fortune and international man of mystery, O’Flynn joins the narrative in South Africa as guide to Masson’s plant hunting expedition. He then helps Rupert bring the prize back to Kew and provides an unexpected twist in the tail for the story.