John Hutton Balfour
The founder of the Edinburgh Botanical Society and an influential figure in the promotion and understanding of botanical sciences. He was born in Edinburgh, educated at the Royal High School then studied at St. Andrews and Edinburgh Universities, graduating with degrees of M.A. and then M.D in 1832. After completing his medical degree at Edinburgh; chosen because of its intellectual proximity to botanical studies, Balfour began to shift his focus from people to plants. In 1840 he began teaching a summer course in Botany at the University of Edinburgh, did the same the following year, and then, in 1841, became Chair of Botany at Glasgow University. In 1845, after a bitter contest with Joseph Dalton Hooker, Balfour was appointed Professor of Botany at Edinburgh University and nominated Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). Under his care the RBGE was enlarged and improved with the addition of a palm-house and arboretum alongside the foundation of the first dedicated botanical library. He also added new teaching accommodation and he took between 2000 and 3000 students on botanical excursions. He served for many years as dean of the faculty of medicine in the University of Edinburgh and was an enormously successful teacher of botany, lacing his scientific lectures with theological asides, as he remained profoundly wedded to natural theology. In January 1862, he corresponded with Charles Darwin on botanical matters, recollecting their evenings together at the Plinian Society with his brother-in-law William A.F. Browne. He continued living in Inverleith House within the grounds of the RBGE until his death on the 11th February 1884. During his life he published extensively and contributed to the article on botany in the 8th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. As well as a lifetime of botanical achievements, Balfour’s legacy also extends to California where a rare pine (Pinus balfouriana) is named after him, and to Hollywood, as the actress Tilda Swinton is his great-great-granddaughter!