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Born Cyprus 1907; died 2003
Hagop "David" Davidian graduated in botany from Edinburgh University in 1946 and in 1947 was offered a post at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh by Sir William Wright Smith, Regius Keeper, to work on the taxonomy of rhododendrons. Rhododendrons became his life long specialism and enthusiasm. He contributed regularly to the RHS Rhododendron and Camellia Yearbook and at one stage identified 2,000 rhododendrons from the Arnold Arboretum in the USA. Honoured twice by the RHS and in Sweden, after his retirement in 1972 he set to work writing, in four volumes, books on the genus based on the Balfourian system.
Source; cuttings and obituary files
Robert Chapman Davie was born in Lisbon in October 1886, but moved to Glasgow and was schooled there at the Glasgow High School, before going to the University of Glasgow in 1904, where he graduated with a first class honours M.A. in English. This degree included some scientific courses, including one on Elementary Botany taken in 1905, and Davie found himself drawn more to that subject than English, so went on to pursue this by enrolling for another degree, a BSc. in Botany, Chemistry, Zoology and Geology, graduating in 1909 after winning the Dobbie-Smith gold medal for Botany along the way. He stayed at the University of Glasgow, becoming an assistant in the Botany Department before moving to the University of Edinburgh in 1912 to become a Botany lecturer under RBGE Regius Keeper and Professor of Botany, Isaac Bayley Balfour. Davie was given special charge of the large Teachers in Training classes and lectured on hepatics (liverworts) and mosses to Edinburgh University Botany students at the Garden. He carried on with his own studies throughout his teaching career, and soon had enough material to research a doctoral thesis on the subject of pinna-trace in ferns, and he completed this at the University of Glasgow, graduating with a DSc in April 1915 whilst still teaching and working at Edinburgh.
Davie’s research was interrupted in 1914, not by the war at first, but when he obtained a grant from the Royal Society to travel to Brazil to research comparisons between flowering plants. He was still working on the material he collected there when the call to join the military service finally came in 1917.
Due to effects of ill health when he was younger, it was known that Davie would not have been fit for a role in a combative branch in the army, and this may be why he wasn’t called upon to enter service until 1917, despite him apparently offering his services when war broke out. Another reason may be that his specialism in mosses meant that he was heavily involved in the work RBGE was doing in offering specialist advice to those engaged in collecting sphagnum moss to aid the war effort – the moss was used as an alternative to cotton in making would dressings, it being highly absorbent and antiseptic too. Finally though, in 1917 he was enlisted to the Royal Army Medical Corps, to a role which took full advantage of his scientific training – a Lieutenant, later promoted to Captain, and Senior Chemist in the 4th Water Tank Company, providing clean and sterile water to the troops on the Front Line, a vital and often forgotten service. He was in France with his unit during the German’s Spring Offensive, and the subsequent Allied advance in the last months of the war.
After the Armistice, in January 1919, Davie was granted some leave to return home to Largs to visit his wife and infant daughter who was born in 1917, and it was whilst he was there he succumbed to influenza, (possibly the Spanish Flu?) which turned to pneumonia with fatal effect; he died at home on the 4th February 1919 at the age of 32. https://stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/30481
Born Edinburgh 1836; died Peeblesshire 1887
Alexander Dickson graduated MD from Edinburgh University in 1860, lectured in botany at the University of Aberdeen and in 1866 was appointed to the chair of botany at Dublin University, returning to Scotland as professor of botany at Glasgow until 1879. He was then appointed professor of botany at Edinburgh University (the first appointee solely to this discipline) and Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, a post he held from 1880 until his death. While in post he inherited a number of problems over integrating the Garden with the Arboretum which remained unresolved. He was regarded as an excellent research and field botanist, his studies including work on phyllotaxis, flower and embryo development and carnivorous plants. He published around 50 papers in a number of journals including the Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, of which he was twice president. He died in 1887 while curling near his Peebleshire home.
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography; HR Fletcher and WH Brown ‘The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 1670-1970’; (Deni Bown, ‘4 Gardens in One’); (R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists)
Born Perthshire 1799; died Hawaii 1834
David Douglas was apprenticed at the age of ten in the gardens of Scone Palace, Perthshire; in 1818 he became under-gardener at to Sir Robert Preston at Valleyfield near Culross, from where he moved to the botanical garden at Glasgow. There he attended the botanical lectures of William Hooker who he accompanied on several expeditions to the Highlands. Hooker recommended Douglas as a plant collector to the Horticultural Society of London and in 1823 he was sent to the eastern United States and Canada and then in 1825 to the Pacific North West where he spent two years in pursuit of new species of plants, birds and mammals along the Columbia River. Returning to England, his rich collection of live plants was greeted with great enthusiasm by the botanical world. In 1829 he returned to north west America, first exploring the interior of Oregon and Washington, then collecting along the Spanish mission trail in California. In 1833 he sailed to the Sandwich Islands, arriving in 1834 where he met his death on the slopes of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii when he fell into a pit trap and was gored by a wild bull. Douglas made over 200 introductions including the Douglas fir Pseudotsuga taxifolia and the sugar pine Pinus lambertiana. His introductions can be seen in many of great houses of Britain. Most of the ‘big trees’ at the Younger Botanic Garden, Benmore were introduced in the first half of the nineteenth century as a result of David Douglas’s explorations and some of Dawyck’s largest conifers were raised from Douglas’s original seed collections.
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography; R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists; Deni Bown, ‘4 Gardens in One’; Ann Lindsay and Syd House ‘The Life and Explorations of David Douglas’.
Born Aberdeenshire 1851; died Dumfriesshire 1930
After graduating with an MB from Glasgow University in 1872, George Watt was appointed Professor of Botany at the University of Calcutta in 1873 which in turn led to his entry into the Indian Government Service. His many appointments during 22 years in the service ranged from Secretary of the Indian Revenue and Agricultural Department 1884, Commissioner for India at the Colonial Exhibition London 1885-86, President of the Pharmacological Section, Indian Medical Congress 1894, Officer in Charge Industrial Museum, Calcutta 1894-1903, and Reporter on Economic Products to Government of India 1887-1903. He retired from the Indian Service in 1903 and returned to Britain where he continued scientific research. In 1912 he visited Portuguese West Africa to study cocoa cultivation and for 5 years lectured on Indian botany at Edinburgh University. He was a prolific author drawing on experience in his many Indian postings. After 1910 he became actively involved in county life around his home in Lockerbie, serving on the county council, the local education authority and as a JP.
Sources: R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists; obituary folder.
Born Derbyshire 1907; died Edinburgh 1978
Harold Fletcher graduated in botany from Manchester University in 1929, and obtained a doctorate from Aberdeen University in 1933 where he lectured in botany. In 1934 he moved to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, continuing work on the taxonomy of Asiatic floras and gaining a DSc from Edinburgh University in 1939. Jointly with William Wright Smith he authored a key monograph on the genus primula, his other specialism being rhododendrons. Turning his attention to horticulture, he was appointed Director of the RHS Garden at Wisley in 1951 before returning to Edinburgh in 1954 as assistant Keeper at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and then Regius Keeper in 1956 (the point at which the posts of Regius Keeper and Regius Professor of the University were no longer held by one person). He energetically set about rejuvenating botany and horticulture in the Garden and oversaw a number of major developments including the refurbishment of Inverleith House as an art gallery, a purpose build Herbarium and Library which opened 1964, a new range of glasshouses, and the acquisition of the Logan Estate in Wigtownshire as a subtropical garden. He stimulated the post war revival of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh and was President of the International Association of Botanical Gardens 1964-69, having brought the Tenth International Botanical Congress to Edinburgh in 1964. Fletcher was appointed Queen’s Botanist in Scotland in 1967 and Honorary Professor of Botany at Edinburgh University in 1968. With W.H. Brown, he wrote the ‘History of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh 1670-1970’ and also authored books on the history of the RHS and plant explorers. Fletcher had a deep love of the arts and after his retirement in 1970 served on the board of the Edinburgh College of Art.
Sources: R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists; HR Fletcher and WH Brown ‘The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 1670-1970’; Deni Bown, ‘4 Gardens in One’.
Born Fife, 1837; died Edinburgh 1882
John Sadler joined the staff of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1854, working in the propagating department and herbarium before becoming assistant to Regius Keeper Professor J.H. Balfour, a post he held for almost 25 years. He was appointed curator (principal gardener) at the Garden in 1879. An inveterate rambler he gained a great knowledge of the Scottish flora, especially the flora of Perthshire, and discovered many new stations for plants, several of which perpetuate his name. Sadler lectured regularly to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, which he served as Assistant Secretary from 1858 until 1879. Known as a genial, good natured man his many other professional and social memberships included being a founder member of the Scottish Alpine Botanical Club (1868) and Secretary of the Scottish Arboricultural Society from 1862 to 1879. An all round practical botanist, he was awarded the Neill Prize in 1869 and also lectured in botany at the Royal High School for over 20 years. In 1881 he took charge of the development of the Arboretum, then administered separately from the Garden. While engaged in planting the Arboretum in December snow he caught a chill and died at the age of 45, leaving a widow and 7 children.
Sources: R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists; HR Fletcher and WH Brown ‘The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 1670-1970’; (Deni Bown, ‘4 Gardens in One’); obituary folder.