Aiton, William

, an eminent botanist, was born m 1731, at a small village near Hamilton, in Lanarkshire. He had been early initiated in horticulture; and in 1754, coming for employment to the southern parts of the kingdom, he attracted, in the following year, the notice of Mr. Philip Miller, author of the Gardener’s Dictionary, who was at that time superintendant of the botanical garden at Chelsea. The instructions which he received from that eminent gardener, it is said, laid the foundation of his futnre fortune. His attention to his profession procured for him a recommendation to the late princess dowager of Wales, and his present majesty. In 1759, he consequently was appointed to superintend the botanical garden at Kew, an opportunity for the exertion of his talents which was not neglected. The most curious plants were collected from every part of the world, and his skill in the cultivation of them was evinced by his attention to the various soils and degrees of warmth or cold which were necessary for their growth. The borders in the garden were enlarged for the more free circulation of the air where it was required, and the stoves were improved for the reception of plants, and, as near as it was thought possible, adapted to the climates from which they were produced. His professional abilities were not unnoticed by the most eminent botanists of the time; and in 1764 he became acquainted with sir Joseph Banks, when, equally honourable to both, a friendship commenced which subsisted for life. In 1783, Mr. Haverfield, having been advanced to a higher station, was succeeded by Mr. Aiton, in the more lucrative office of superintending the pleasure and kitchen gardens at Kew, with which he was permitted to retain his former post. His labours proved that his majesty’s favours were not injudiciously bestowed; forin 1789 he published an ample catalogue of the plants at Kew, with the title of “Hortus Kewensis,” 3 vols. 8vo. In this catalogue was given an account of the several foreign plants which had been introduced into the English gardens at different times. The whole impression of this elaborate performance was sold within two years, and a second and improved edition was published by his son William Townsend Aiton in 1810. Though active and temperate, Mr. Aiton had for some time been afflicted with a complaint which is thought by the faculty to be | incurable. It was that of a scirrhous liver, nor was it to be surmounted by the aid of medicine, though every possible assistance was liberally bestowed. He died on February 1st, 1793, in the 63d year of his age, having left behind him a wife, two sons, and three daughters. He had been distinguished by the friendship of those who were most celebrated for their botanical science. The late earl of Bute, sir Joseph Banks, the late Dr. Solander, and Mr. Dryander, were the friends to whom he always was inclined to declare his acknowledgements for their kindness, and to the three latter for the assistance which they afforded hint in completing the “Hortus Kewensis.” He was assiduous in his employment, easy in his temper, and faithful to his duty. As a friend, a husband, and a father, his character was exemplary. On his burial in the church-yard at Kew, his pall was supported by those who knew and esteemed him; by sir Joseph Banks, the Rev. Dr. Goodenough, Mr. Dryander, Dr. Pitcairn, Mr. Dundas of Richmond, and Mr. Zoffany. The king, attentive to his faithful servants, demonstrated his kindness to Mr. Aiton, by appointing his eldest son to his father’s places. There is a portrait of our author in the library at sir Joseph Banks’ s, Soho square, which is thought a good likeness. He holds in his hand a plant called, in compliment to him, Aitonia, by the celebrated Thunberg. 1


Gent. Mag. 1793. Lysons’s Environs, vol IV.