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Alston, Charles

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Alston, Charles

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  • Dr. Charles Alston
  • Alston, Dr. Charles

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1685-1760

History

Born Lanarkshire 1685 (or 1683); died Edinburgh 1760
Charles Alston initially attended Glasgow University and then spent time in legal training through the patronage of the Duchess of Hamilton, before eventually being employed as her ‘principal servant’ where he was able to use his leisure time to study medicine. When the position of superintendent of the physic garden at the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh became vacant in 1715, the Duchess used her political influence to secure the post for her protégé. She acquired a commission from George I appointing him King’s Botanist in 1716, a post he held for life. He then returned to Glasgow to obtain a degree, taking a year out to study under Herman Boerhaave at Leiden, before graduating in 1719. After this his reputation developed rapidly. He was elected to the fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians in 1721 and appointed Secretary in 1725, a post he held for 21 years. He taught botany and materia medica at Edinburgh University where he played a major part in enhancing the international reputation of the medical school, and he was appointed professor in 1738, thereby combining the commission of the Kings Botanist in Scotland with the Chair of Botany at the University of Edinburgh, a pattern set for the next two centuries forging a link between the Garden's collections and the University's research and teaching. By 1746 Alston's reputation and stipend (from the Town Council, Patrons of the Chair) were such that he could take on the revival of the University’s botanical garden at Trinity Hospital. The city’s original Garden at St. Anne’s Yard and the Royal Garden at Holyrood also thrived under Alston. Alston first published in 1740 an index to plants demonstrated to pupils in the Botanic Garden. His research interests latterly focused on the medicinal qualities of quick-lime and water. He also made an ‘ill-judged’ attack on the Linnaean sexual system of plant classification.
Sources: DNB; Fletcher & Brown's ‘The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 1670-1970’; Desmond's Dictionary; Bown's '4 Gardens in 1'
by D.W.

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