William Henry Harvey was one of the most important botanists of the 19th century. He was born in Limerick in 1811, and by the age of 15 had already established himself as an expert on the algae of Ireland. He studied at Trinity College in Dublin, and described several species for Flora Hibernica, by Townsend-Mackay. At the age of 25, he became the colonial treasurer at Cape Town in Africa. Whilst there, he continued his botanical interest, particularly in algae, collecting in the dawn and preparing them in the evenings. After a couple of years, he published 'the Genera of South African Plants.'
Harvey suffered from periods of ill health for much of his life, and after a particularly serious bought in 1842, he resigned his position in South Africa and returned to Ireland. A few years later, he took up a position as the Keeper of the Herbarium at Trinity College and became Chair of Botany in 1856. He began working on his Phycologia Britannica, and it was at this point that he encountered Sheffield's Margaret Gatty. The two regularly corresponded and became good friends. Gatty provided illustrations and specimens to Harvey, and also acted as a liaison between Harvey and other seaweed enthusiasts
His positions at Trinity provided the opportunity to travel around the world, collecting and describing new species of algae. His most important journey was to Australia, where he stayed for several years. Whilst there, he began work on his Phycologia Australica. This publication was the first major work on the marine botany of Australia, and Harvey is thus regarded as the father of Australian phycology. Harvey collated many of his specimens into albums which he sold to enthusiasts.