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Significant Scots
William Forsyth


FORSYTH, WILLIAM, distinguished in the science of arboriculture, was born at Old Meldrum, in Aberdeenshire, in 1737. Having been bred to the business of a gardener, he went to London in 1763, and soon after became a pupil of the celebrated Philip Miller, gardener to the company of apothecaries, at their physic-garden in Chelsea. In 1771, he succeeded his master in this respectable situation, in which he remained till 1784, when he was appointed by George III, chief superintendent of the royal gardens at Kensington and St James’s, which employments he held till his death.

About the year 1768, Mr Forsyth paid particular attention to the cultivation of fruit and forest trees, and turned his thoughts more especially to the discovery of a composition to remedy the diseases and injuries incident to them. After repeated trials, he at length succeeded in preparing one which fully answered his expectations; and in the year 1789, the success of his experiments attracted the notice of the commissioners of the land revenue, upon whose recommendation a committee of both houses of parliament was appointed to report upon the merits of his discovery. The result of their inquiries was a perfect conviction of its utility, and in consequence, an address was voted by the house of commons to his majesty, praying that a reward might be granted to Mr Forsyth, upon his disclosing the secret of his composition to the public; which was accordingly done: and in 1791, Mr Forsyth published his "Observations on the diseases, defects, and injuries of fruit and forest trees," which also contains the correspondence between the commissioners of the land revenue, the committee of parliament, and himself. In 1802, he published the final result of his labours in "A treatise on the culture and management of fruit trees." In this work, or in Rees’s Cyclopedia, article "Composition for trees," may be found a complete account of Mr Forsyth’s discoveries and mode of treating injured wood. It may be sufficient here to mention, that his composition, or medicament, was formed according to the following receipt: "Take one bushel of fresh cow-dung, half a bushel of lime-rubbish of old buildings, (that from the ceilings of rooms is preferable,) half a bushel of wood-ashes, and a sixteenth part of a bushel of pit or river sand; the three last articles are to be sifted fine before they are mixed; then work them well together with a spade, and afterwards with a wooden beater, until the stuff is very smooth, like fine plaster used for the ceilings of rooms."

Mr Forsyth, who was a member of the Antiquarian, Linnaean, and other societies, died July 25, 1804. He enjoyed the honours paid to him for his useful invention, with an unaffected modesty, which gave them a higher grace; and his benevolence and private worth were warmly attested by his friends. A particular genus of plants has been named Forsythia, in honour of his name.


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