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Robert John Thornton (1768–1837) was an English physician and botanical writer, noted for "A New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus Von Linnæus" (1797-1807) and "The British Flora" of 1812.
He was the son of Bonnell Thornton and studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. Inspired by Thomas Martyn's lectures on botany and the work of Linnaeus he switched from the church to medicine. He worked at Guy's Hospital in London, where he later lectured in medical botany. After spending some time abroad, he settled and practised in London. Robert inherited the family fortune after the death of both his brother and mother.
Thornton died in destitution.
The most ambitious part of the "New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnæus" was Part III, the "Temple of Flora" (1799-1807).The first plates were engraved by Thomas Medland in May 1798, from paintings by Philip Reinagle. Between 1798 and 1807, they produced a total of 33 coloured plates, engraved in aquatint, stipple and line. When he planned the project, Thornton had decided to publish 70 folio-size plates. Lack of interest from the general public spelled disaster for the scheme, and the holding of a lottery could not save it from financial ruin, neither did a page in the work dedicated to the spouse of George III, Queen Charlotte, patroness of botany and the fine arts.
The standard author abbreviation Thornton is used to indicate this individual as the author when citing a botanical name.