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Significant Scots
Aiton, William


AITON, WILLIAM, an eminent horticulturist and botanist, was born, in 1731, at a village in the neighbourhood of Hamilton. Having been regularly bred to the profession of a gardener, as it was and still is practised by numbers of his countrymen, with a union of manual skill and scientific knowledge, he removed to England in 1754, and, in the year following, obtained the notice of the celebrated Philip Miller, then superintendent of the physic garden at Chelsea, who employed him for some time as an assistant. The instructions which he received from that eminent gardener laid the foundation, it is said, of his future fortune. His industry and abilities were so conspicuous, that, in 1759, he was pointed out to the Princess-Dowager of Wales as a fit person to manage the botanical garden at Kew. His professional talents also procured him the notice of Sir Joseph Banks, and a friendship commenced which subsisted between them for life. Dr Solander and Dr Dryander were also among the number of his friends. 

The encouragement of botanical studies was a distinguished feature of the reign of George III., who, soon after his accession, determined to render Kew a repository of all the vegetable riches of the world. Specimens were accordingly procured from every quarter of the globe, and placed under the care of Mr Aiton, who showed a surprising degree of skill in their arrangement. Under his superintendence, a variety of improvements took place in the plan and edifices of Kew gardens, till they attained an undoubted eminence over every other botanical institution. In 1783, on a vacancy occurring in the superintendence of the pleasure-gardens at Kew, Mr Aiton received the appointment from George III., but was, at the same time, permitted to retain his more important office. His labours proved that the king's favours were not ill bestowed; for, in 1789, he published an elaborate description of the plants at Kew, under the title, "Hortus Kewensis," 3 vols. 8vo, with a number of plates. In this production, Mr Aiton gave an account of no fewer than 5600 foreign plants, which had been introduced from time to time into the English gardens; and so highly was the work esteemed, that the whole impression was sold within two years. A second and improved edition was published by his son, William Townsend Aiton, in 1810. After a life of singular activity and usefulness, distinguished, moreover, by all the domestic virtues, Mr Aiton died on the 1st of February, 1793, of a schirrus in the liver, in the 63d year of his age. He lies buried in the churchyard at Kew, near the graves of his distinguished friends, Zoffany, Meyer, and Gainsborough. He was succeeded by his son, Mr William Townsend Aiton, who was no less esteemed by George III. than his father had been, and who, for fifty years, ably superintended the botanical department at Kew, besides taking charge of the extensive pleasure-grounds, and being employed in the improvement of the other royal gardens. In 1841, he retired from office, when Sir William Jackson Hooker was appointed director of the botanic gardens. Mr Aiton died at Kew, in 1849, aged 84.


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