Neill, Patrick (1776-1851) (DNB00)

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NEILL, PATRICK (1776–1851), naturalist, was born in Edinburgh on 25 Oct. 1776, and spent his life in that city. He became the head of the large printing firm of Neill & Co., but during the last thirty years of his life he took little active part in its management. Early in his career he devoted his spare time to natural history, especially botany and horticulture. The Wernerian Natural History Society was established in 1808, and in 1809 the Caledonian Horticultural Society was founded. Neill was the first secretary of both societies, holding the latter post for forty years. In 1806 appeared his ‘Tour through Orkney and Shetland,’ 8vo, a work which gave rise to much discussion, owing to its exposure of the then prevalent misery. In 1814 he issued a translation, ‘An Account of the Basalts of Saxony, from the French of Dubuisson, with Notes,’ Edinburgh, 8vo. He was the author of the article ‘Gardening’ in the seventh edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ which, subsequently published under the title of ‘The Flower, Fruit, and Kitchen Garden,’ ran through several editions. In 1817 Neill, with two other deputies from the Caledonian Society, made a tour through the Netherlands and the north of France, and he prepared an account of it, which was published in 1823.

Edinburgh is indebted to Neill for the scheme of the West Princes Street gardens. In 1820 that portion of the north loch was drained, and five acres of ground were laid out and planted with seventy-seven thousand trees and shrubs under his direction; it was also due to his public spirit that several antiquities were preserved when on the point of being demolished.

His residence at Canonmills Cottage, near the city, was always open to visitors who cared for those pursuits in which Neill took an especial interest, and his garden was noted for the character of the collection and its high cultivation. A short time before his death he became enfeebled by a stroke of paralysis, and after several months of suffering he died at Canonmills on 3 Sept. 1851, and was buried in the cemetery at Warriston, Edinburgh. His tombstone states that he was ‘distinguished for literature, science, patriotism, benevolence, and piety.’

He was fellow of the Linnean and Edinburgh Royal Societies, and honorary LL.D. of Edinburgh University. He died unmarried, and among his various charitable bequests was one of 500l. to the Caledonian Horticultural Society to found a medal for distinguished Scottish botanists or cultivators, and a similar sum to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for a medal to distinguished Scottish naturalists. He is botanically commemorated by the rosaceous genus Neillia.

[Particulars furnished by his nephew, Patrick Neill Fraser; Proc. Linn. Soc. ii. 191; Gard. Chron. 1851, p. 663; R. Greville's Algæ Brit., Introd. pp. 4, 25; Gent. Mag. 1851, p. 548; Fleming's Lithol. Edinb. 1859, pp. 15, 16; Crombie's Modern Athenians, 1882, p. 115; Descr. Testim. pres. 22 June 1843, Edinb. 1843, 12mo; Journ. Bot. 1890, xxviii. 55.]

B. D. J.