Creation of Edinburgh Botanic Garden, 1670

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In late 1667, the physicians Sir Andrew Balfour (1630-1694) and Sir Robert Sibbald (1641-1722) established a small botanical garden designed partly to supply them with plants of use in materia medica and partly as a display collection. A little over two years later, in 1670, they formally established a larger garden in grounds belonging to Holyroodhouse, and quickly assembled a collection of some eight or nine hundred plants. The young James Sutherland (c1639-1719) was employed to look after it. In 1675, Sutherland obtained from the Town Council of Edinburgh, the lease of terrain adjoining to Trinity Hospital. Here, with the support of Balfour and Sibbald, he laid out a larger garden intended to supply the needs of the physicians of Edinburgh. In 1676, Sutherland was formally appointed attendant of the 'Edinburgh Physick Garden' and his post was joined to other 'professions' taught at Edinburgh University. Sutherland was thus ipso facto Professor of Botany but was only formally confirmed in the Chair in 1695. The creation of the Botanic Garden was a fundamental step in the creation of a Faculty of Medicine at Edinburgh University and lay the foundations for Edinburgh's reputation as an international centre for medical teaching and research.


  • Ronald M. Birse, Science at the University of Edinburgh 1583-1993: An Illustrated History to Mark the Centenary of the Faculty of Science and Engineering 1893-1993 (University of Edinburgh, 1994)