- GB/NNAF/P133784; VIAF ID: 52098074 (Personal); ISNI: 0000 0000 8382 4953
Regius Keeper between 1845 and 1879
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Regius Keeper between 1845 and 1879
Born Dumfriesshire 1875; died Edinburgh 1956
William Wright Smith graduated MA from Edinburgh University in 1896 and, with a teaching diploma from Moray House, taught in Edinburgh schools for 6 years while developing an interest in natural sciences. He lectured at Edinburgh University in advanced botany between 1902 and 1907 before being appointed keeper of the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta in 1907. The following year he became acting superintendent with responsibilities including the Botanic Garden in Darjeeling and the quinine factory at Mungpoo. Smith spent 4 years in India, officiating as Director of the Botanical Survey of India, plant collecting in the remoter regions of the Himalayas up to 14,000 ft. and gaining a wide knowledge of the flora of India, the Himalayas and Burma. In 1911 Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour appointed him Deputy Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, a post he held until Bayley’s retirement in 1922 when he succeeded to the dual post of Regius Keeper of the Garden and Regius Professor of Botany at the University. During the Second World War Wright Smith’s work for the timber supply department stimulated his interest in forestry and through his links with the newly formed Forestry Commission he was responsible for establishing the first specialist garden of the Royal Botanic Garden at Benmore on the Cowal Peninsula, a site suitable for rhododendrons and conifers. Wright Smith also made considerable contributions to taxonomy specialising in Sino-Himalayan plants, particularly Primula and Rhododendron. Known for his ‘homely’, humorous and kindly disposition, Wright Smith received many honours during his long career. On the occasion of his 70th birthday he was presented with two portraits, one by Stanley Cursiter RSA. He was knighted in 1932 and held the post of Keeper for 34 years until his death in 1956.
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’; press cuttings
Born Somerset 1918; died Edinburgh 1992
Peter Davis’s interest in botany began in 1937 with a training post at Ingwersen's Alpine Plant Nursery in East Grinstead. In 1938 he set off on his first botanical expedition, as an amateur and on his own initiative; early correspondence with Sir William Wright Smith at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh had dissuaded him from a more ambitious trip to the Andes. He visited Greece, the Middle East and Turkey, starting herbarium collections, but had to break off his trip in 1939 with the commencement of World War II. He was called up into the army and served until 1945, spending part of his time in Cairo. Immediately after he was demobbed, Davis moved to Scotland to study botany at the University of Edinburgh, taking a B.Sc. followed by a PhD. Awarded in 1952 and later a DSc. (1964). His PhD. Thesis on the taxonomy of Middle East Flora was the foundation for the project which was to become his life’s work on the Flora of Turkey and the East Aegean Islands. The first volume was published in 1965, the tenth and last in 1988. During the 1950s and 1960s Davis made many overseas trips, collecting plants in Kurdistan, Russia, Turkey and the Middle East, eventually accumulating 50,000 herbarium gatherings. In the 1970s he became reader then professor in Taxonomic Botany at Edinburgh University and was an honorary associate of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, providing the last formal link between the university and Garden, where his Turkish herbarium collections now reside. He received many awards over his lifetime including the Cuthbert Peek Award of Royal Geographical Society, the Gold Medal of the Linnaean Society of London, the Neill Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and was honoured by the Turkish government for his outstanding achievements in science. His other interests included modern art – his collection was exhibited at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 1964 - and Wemyss pottery. Under the terms of his will he endowed the Davis Expedition Fund, to assist Edinburgh students to undertake biological fieldwork abroad.
Sources: obituary folder; personal correspondence (IH); Deni Bown, ‘4 Gardens in One’.
William Purdom was born on the 10th of April at Heversham near Kendal but he spent most of his childhood at the Lodge, Brathay Hall in Ambleside, where his father, William, was head gardener. After leaving school at 14, Purdom's first four years of gardening training was under his father's tuition, before joining Low Nursery of Enfield, and then the Veitch Nursery of Coombe Wood.
In 1902 Purdom applied for a student position at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew where he stayed for six years before being chosen to lead a plant collecting expedition to China in 1909 planned by Veitch and the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts. He returned to England in 1912.
Reginald Farrer heard of Purdom's achievements and determined to travel to China to collect plants with Purdom as his assistant. He chose Kansu / Gansu in northern China as it was hoped that this area would yield alpine plants suitable for the British climate. The dangerous and difficult expedition took place between 1914 and 1915 and was funded by Charles Hough of White Craggs, Ambleside and William Groves of Holehird.
Farrer returned to England in 1915, but Purdom elected to remain in China to become a forestry advisor to the Chinese Government. He died in November 1921 in Peking / Beijing after a short illness at the age of 41 while working on a comprehensive forestry survey for the Chinese Railways.
Biographical information on William Purdom was compiled by Margaret I. Perkins, Hon. Archivist for the Lakeland Horticultural Society.
George Paxton, born 1 July 1850, was the eldest son of George Paxton senior of Richardland House, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, who was a partner in the Richardland Brewery. Around 1887, by then in sole charge of the brewery in succession to his father and uncle, Paxton took up photography, a pastime to which he devoted increasing amounts of energy. A founder member of Kilmarnock Amateur Photographic Society, by 1890 he had joined Talbot Circulating Album Club, ‘founded for the monthly circulation and criticism of members’ work’, which connected a network of dedicated enthusiasts across Britain.
In his lifetime Paxton was best known for his the quality of his photographs of trees and other botanical subjects, mainly taken in Ayrshire, which he used for lecture slides and illustrations for his journal and magazine articles. In 1894 he was commissioned by RBGE Regius Keeper, Professor Isaac Bayley Balfour, to produce an album named 'Remarkable Trees in Ayrshire Photographed and Measured by G. Paxton, Kilmarnock'. This album, which remains in the collection of RBGE Library, contains 34 photographs of trees, each annotated by hand with the identity, history and measurements of the tree and the date of photography. Paxton went on to be elected to membership of the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society, and was appointed Photographic Artist to the Society in January 1897. He provided formal images of members during their annual summer excursions, including to the Upper Forth Valley and Loch Lomond District (1896), southern Ireland (1897), Ulster (1900), Ayrshire and Glasgow (1901) and an extended visit to Sweden in 1902. Thereafter, already suffering from the effects of the neurological disease which soon proved fatal, he was replaced by A.D. Richardson.
Paxton died in Bournemouth on 16 May 1904, leaving his entire estate to his only child, Edith.
Born c 1638/39; died Edinburgh 1719.
Little is known of Sutherland’s early life but by the 1670s he was responsible for maintaining the original Edinburgh botanic gardens at St. Anne’s Yards near Holyroodhouse. In 1676 was appointed ‘intendant’ of the new Edinburgh Physic Garden, leased by the town council at a site near Trinity Hospital (later known as the Botanic Garden) where his responsibilities included teaching botany to medical students. He built an international network of correspondents who sent him seeds and plants and he is credited with the introduction a number of new species including the common larch. By the early 1680s the Trinity Hospital garden contained over 2000 plants, described by Sutherland in his ‘Hortus Medicus Edinburgensis’. The Garden was heavily damaged in 1689 during the siege of Edinburgh Castle when the Nor’ Loch drained into its grounds and Sutherland supervised its repair and successful renovation. In 1695 he was appointed to a new post as professor of botany at Edinburgh University and in the same year he assumed responsibility for planting the Town College Garden (known as the Physick Garden) as well as the running of the private Royal Garden at Holyrood, known as the Kings Garden. In recognition of his contribution he became the King’s Botanist under a royal warrant of William III in 1699. In 1706 he resigned from his professorship and the town and college keeper posts, though in 1710 in a Warrant of Queen Anne he was created the first Regius Professor of Botany for the Royal Garden, a rival to the University. In retirement he continued his botanical work as well as his specialist interest in coins and medals.
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).
created the rhododendron gates at the RBGE East Gate entrance, Inverleith