Walker, John (1731-1803) (DNB00)

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WALKER, JOHN (1731–1803), professor of natural history at Edinburgh, was born in 1731 in the Canongate, Edinburgh, where his father was rector of the grammar school. He himself writes, ‘I have been from my cradle fond of vegetable life,’ and it is recorded of him that he enjoyed Homer when he was ten years old. At this age also he read Sutherland's ‘Hortus Edinburgensis,’ his first botanical book. From his father's grammar school he went to the university of Edinburgh in preparation for the ministry, and about 1750 his attention was attracted by the neglected remains of the museum left by Sir Andrew Balfour [q. v.] He was licensed to preach on 3 April 1754, and on 13 Sept. 1758 was ordained minister of Glencorse, among the Pentland Hills, seven miles south of Edinburgh, where he made the acquaintance of Henry Home, lord Kames, a member of the board of annexed estates, with whose wishes for the improvement of the highlands and islands he was in hearty sympathy. On 8 June 1762 Walker was transferred to Moffat, and in 1764 he was appointed, by the interest of Lord Kames, to make a survey of the Hebrides, being at the same time commissioned to make a report to the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. On this occasion he travelled three thousand miles in seven months; and his report, which was found among his papers after his death and printed by his friend Charles Stewart under the title ‘An Economical History of the Hebrides’ (Edinburgh, 1808, 2 vols. 8vo; reissued in London in 1812), is of a most comprehensive and practical character. Robert Kaye Greville records in his ‘Algæ Britannicæ’ (p. iii) that in manuscript notes by Walker, dated 1771, it is suggested that the Linnæan genus Alga may be divided into fourteen genera, among which he included Fucus almost with the limits now adopted, and Phasgonon, precisely equalling Agardh's Laminaria—a somewhat remarkable anticipation.

Walker was appointed regius professor of natural history at Edinburgh on 15 June 1779, while retaining his clerical post at Moffat. His lectures proved attractive by their clearness, although distinctly dry and formal in character; and the only works separately printed by him during his lifetime were a series of syllabuses for the use of his students, stated in the most categorical form of Linnæan classifications and definitions. These included: ‘Schediasma Fossilium,’ 1781; ‘Delineatio Fossilium,’ 1782; ‘Classes Fossilium,’ 1787; and ‘Institutes of Natural History,’ 1792.

On 7 Jan. 1783 he was transferred from Moffat to Colinton, near Edinburgh, where he devoted much attention to his garden, cultivating willows and other trees. On the incorporation of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in this year, Walker was one of the earliest fellows, and one of his most valuable papers, ‘Experiments on the Motion of the Sap in Trees,’ was contributed to its ‘Transactions,’ but the last papers which he published during his lifetime on kelp, peat, the herring, and the salmon, appeared in those of the Highland Society (vols. i. ii.). On 20 May 1790 he was elected moderator of the general assembly of the Scottish church. During the last years of his life Walker was blind. He died on 31 Dec. 1803. On 24 Nov. 1789 he married Jane Wallace Wauchope of Niddry, who died on 4 May 1827. On 28 Feb. 1765 he received the honorary degree of M.D. from Glasgow University, and on 22 March 1765 that of D.D. from Edinburgh University.

Walker's chief works were the two issued by his friend Charles Stewart after his death. The first has been already mentioned; the other was ‘Essays on Natural History and Rural Economy’ (London and Edinburgh, 1812, 8vo).

[Memoir in Sir William Jardine's Birds of Great Britain, London, 1876; Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scot. I. i. 149, 282, ii. 657.]

G. S. B.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.273
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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74 i 17-18 Walker, John (1731-1803): for Glencross read Glencorse