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Neill, Patrick

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Neill, Patrick

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  • Patrick Neill

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1776-1851

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Born Edinburgh 1776; died Edinburgh 1851
Descended from East Lothian printers, Patrick Neill attended Edinburgh University though did not graduate. He joined the family firm of printers and eventually established his own firm of Neill & Co. ; the success of his company allowed him to devote much time to scientific pursuits. In 1804 he visited Orkney and Shetland and accounts of his natural history and economic observations appeared in The Scots Magazine. In 1808 he became a founder member of the Wernerian Natural History Society comprising leading lights of the Scottish scientific community as well as eminent international members. In 1809 he became first secretary of the Caledonian Horticultural Society (CHS), a position he was to hold for the next 40 years. This Society, still active today, brought together professional and amateur gardeners, academics, landowners and nurserymen. William Neill had inherited Canonmills Cottage in north Edinburgh and in its half acre garden created a ‘mini’ botanic garden with thousands of rare and unusual plants from all over the world, as well as a small menagerie. In 1813 Neill produced a report on Scottish Gardens and Orchards, the first general survey of Scottish horticulture, and in 1817 was commissioned by the CHS to examine the state of horticulture in Northern Europe involving an extensive trip through France and the Low Countries. In the 1820s he advised Edinburgh town council on the development East Princes St Gardens leading to new plantings of 27,000 trees and shrubs, though the design was subsequently wrecked by the building of the railway and Scott Monument in the 1840s. Neill was held in high regard by his fellow citizens as evidenced by his 1843 testimonial silver vase paid for by working gardeners, and the Caledonian Society’s successful growth and influence owed much to Neill’s enthusiasm and careful administration. He died in 1851 and among his charitable bequests was £500 to the Royal CHS to found a medal for a distinguished botanist or cultivator, and the same amount to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for a medal for distinguished Scottish naturalists.
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography; ‘Patrick Neill , Doyenne of Scottish Horticulture’Forbes W Robertson; (R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists).
D.W.

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