Donaldson, James (1751-1830) (DNB00)

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DONALDSON, JAMES (1751–1830), the founder of Donaldson's Hospital, Edinburgh, was the son of Alexander Donaldson, an Edinburgh bookseller, who is frequently mentioned in Boswell's ‘Correspondence with the Honourable Andrew Erskine,’ and who incurred the wrath of Dr. Johnson by opening a shop in London where he sold pirated editions of popular works (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ch. xvi.). James Donaldson was born in Edinburgh on 10 Dec. 1751, and ten years later is said by Mr. Erskine to have very much wanted correction. ‘The eldest son, when I was there [at Donaldson's shop], never failed to play at taw all the time, and my queue used frequently to be pulled about’ (Letter ix. in Boswell's Correspondence with Erskine). His somewhat uneventful life was passed almost entirely in Edinburgh and the neighbourhood. From his father he inherited about 100,000l., and this sum he more than doubled by judicious investments in the funds. His town house was in Princes Street, Edinburgh, on the site now occupied by the New Club, and to his country seat, Broughton Hall, about half a mile from Bellevue Crescent, was attached a fine garden, which after his death was converted into Zoological Gardens. He was proprietor and editor of the ‘Edinburgh Advertiser,’ a tory bi-weekly newspaper founded about 1764, and now extinct; but it is uncertain when he first became connected with the paper. The earliest number in the British Museum is dated 13 May 1785, and is described as ‘printed by and for James Donaldson, and sold at his printing-house in the Castle Hill,’ and he was at that time a partner in his father's Edinburgh business. He died on 16 Dec. 1830. Donaldson was very benevolent, and perhaps rather eccentric. Once a week he caused money to be distributed to a large number of beggars, and on another night of the week the ‘waits’ or street musicians used to play in the lobby of his house; he invariably dressed in the costume of the eighteenth century.

Donaldson left the bulk of his fortune, about 220,000l., for the maintenance and education of three hundred poor children, much to the annoyance of some of his relatives, who attempted to set aside the will on the plea of madness. The building known as the Donaldson Hospital is in the Elizabethan style, and was designed by Mr. W. H. Playfair. In 1848 the governors decided that one side of the hospital, consisting of ninety-six beds, should be fitted up for the reception of deaf and dumb children, and it was opened in 1851. The ultimate fate of the charity is uncertain; but it has been proposed by the Scottish educational endowments commission that both the funds and the hospital should be devoted to the secondary education of women.

[Information from Mr. Donaldson's nephews, Mr. James Gillespie, M.D., and Mr. William Wood; Documents relating to Donaldson's Hospital, Edinburgh, 1851.]

L. C. S.