Johnston, Alexander Keith (1804-1871) (DNB00)

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JOHNSTON, ALEXANDER KEITH, the elder (1804–1871), geographer, fourth son of Andrew Johnston, by Isabel, daughter of Archibald Keith of Newbattle, was born at Kirkhill, near Penicuik, Midlothian, on 28 Dec. 1804. He was educated at the high school and university of Edinburgh, was apprenticed in 1820 to the Edinburgh engraving firm of James Kirkwood & Sons, and in 1826 went into partnership as an engraver with his brother William [q. v.] His first maps appeared in ‘A Traveller's Guide Book,’ 1830. On 8 Feb. 1840 he was appointed geographer at Edinburgh in ordinary to the queen. In 1842 he made a tour in Germany, visited Berlin, Dresden, Munich, and Frankfort, and was introduced to some of the most eminent German geographers. For the rest of his life he resided chiefly in Edinburgh, but paid a visit to Paris, where he met Humboldt, in 1845, and made a tour in Palestine in 1863. He was elected fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1843, of the Geological Society in 1845, and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1850. The Royal Geographical Society of Berlin gave him a diploma in 1848, and the London International Exhibition of 1851 awarded him a medal for a globe illustrative of physical geography, the first ever constructed. In a paper read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1851 he exposed the perfunctory manner in which the work of the Scottish ordnance survey was done, and thus initiated a salutary reform. He was honorary secretary and one of the founders of the Scottish Meteorological Society, was elected in 1862 a member of the Edinburgh Geological Society, received the degree of LL.D. from the Edinburgh University in 1865, and was awarded the patron's or Victoria medal by the Royal Geographical Society in 1871. He was also a fellow of the Geographical Society of Paris, and a corresponding member of the Imperial Geographical Societies of Vienna and St. Petersburg, of the Geographical Society of Bombay, and of the Geographical and Statistical Society of America. He died at Ben Rhydding, Yorkshire, from effusion of blood on the brain, on 9 July 1871, and was buried on the 14th in the Grange cemetery, Edinburgh. He was a member of the congregation and a personal friend of Dr. Candlish, whom, on the secession in 1843, he followed to his new free St. George's Church, with which he remained closely connected throughout life.

Johnston married, on 3 Aug. 1837, Margaret, daughter of Robert Gray of Edinburgh, by whom he had eleven children, of whom six survived him. His eldest son was Alexander Keith Johnston [q. v.] Johnston's principal publications were: 1. ‘The National Atlas of Historical, Commercial, and Political Geography, accompanied by Maps and Illustrations of the Physical Geography of the Globe by Dr. Heinrich Berghaus, Professor of Geography, Berlin, and an Ethnographic Map of Europe by Dr. Gustaf Kombst,’ Edinburgh, 1843, fol.; lithographic edition, omitting the section on physical geography, 1854, fol. 2. ‘The Physical Atlas of Natural Phenomena: a series of Maps and Illustrations of the Geographical Distribution of Natural Phenomena, embracing: i. Geology, ii. Hydrography, iii. Meteorology, iv. Natural History,’ Edinburgh and London, 1848, 1850, 1856, fol. This work, the first physical atlas ever published in England, was dedicated to Humboldt, at whose suggestion it had been undertaken. 3. Atlas to Alison's ‘History of Europe,’ Edinburgh, 1848, 1850, 1853, 4to. 4. ‘The Dictionary of Geography, Descriptive, Physical, Statistical, and Historical, forming a complete general Gazetteer of the World,’ London, 1850, 1859, 1860, 1862, 1864, 1867, 1877, 8vo. 5. ‘Atlas of Physical Geography,’ Edinburgh and London, 1852, 4to. 6. ‘Atlas of General and Descriptive Geography,’ Edinburgh and London, 1852, 1863, 4to; ‘school’ edition, 1852, 4to; ‘elementary school’ edition, 1853, 4to, 1858, 8vo. 7. ‘A School Atlas of Physical Geography,’ Edinburgh and London, 1852, 1869, 8vo. 8. ‘Atlas of Classical Geography,’ Edinburgh and London, 1853, 1866, 4to. 9. ‘Atlas of Astronomy,’ ed. J. Hind, Edinburgh and London, 1855, 1869, 4to, 8vo; ‘school’ edition, 1855, 8vo. 10. ‘Atlas of the United States, British and Central America,’ 1857, fol. 11. ‘The Royal Atlas of Modern Geography, exhibiting in a series of entirely original and authentic Maps the present condition of Geographical Discovery and Research in the several Countries, Empires, and States of the World,’ Edinburgh and London, 1861, 1868, 1872, 1873, 1877, 1887, fol.; ‘Handy Atlas,’ 1868, 1873, 1887, 1890, fol. 12. The atlas in Bryce's ‘Family Gazetteer and Atlas of the World,’ London, 1862, 8vo. 13. ‘The Half-crown Atlas of General Geography,’ Edinburgh, 1869, 1880, 1884, 8vo. 14. ‘The Shilling Atlas of Modern Geography,’ Edinburgh, 1869, 8vo; 1876, 4to. 15. ‘The Sixpenny Atlas,’ Edinburgh, 1869, 8vo; 1876, 4to. 16. ‘Atlas of the British Empire,’ Edinburgh and London, 1870, 12mo. 17. ‘The Half-crown Atlas of British History,’ Edinburgh and London, 1871. Besides the above-mentioned works, Johnston was the draughtsman of a vast number of maps of all sorts and sizes, published separately and in series.

[Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, xiii. p. xxxii; Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, xv. 247, xvi. 304; private information; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

J. M. R.