Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sinclair, George (1786-1834)

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SINCLAIR, GEORGE (1786–1834), botanical writer, was born in 1786 at Mellerstain in Berwickshire, and was descended from a Scots family which had long been devoted to gardening. His father, George Sinclair (1750–1833), gardener to the Hon. G. Baillie of Jerviswood, was in his earlier years considered one of the best horticulturists in the south of Scotland, and his uncle was superintendent of the grounds, gardens, and farms at Bonnington, near Lanark. The son was himself originally in the service of the Gordon family, and became, upon the duke's marriage with Lady Georgiana Gordon in 1803, gardener to John Russell, sixth duke of Bedford [see under Russell, Lord John, first Earl Russell], at Woburn Abbey. By the instructions of the duke, and under the direction of Sir Humphry Davy [q. v.], he conducted an extensive series of experiments, the results of which were embodied in the costly folio, ‘Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis, or an account of the results of Experiments on the Produce and Nutritive Qualities of different Grasses and other Plants used as the Food of the more valuable Domestic Animals,’ London, 1816. The basis of these experiments was formed not by the actual feeding of cattle, but by the chemical process (recommended by Sir Humphry Davy) of extracting by the action of hot water the soluble portions of the respective grasses, as these soluble constituents formed the bulk of the feeding material. This, of course, was not an absolute test, but as a comparative guide it had, and has since had, a material value. After having for seventeen years superintended the gardens at Woburn Abbey, Sinclair left the service of the duke, and entered into partnership about 1824 with Messrs. Cormack & Son, nurserymen and seedsmen, New Cross. He became on 26 March 1824 a fellow of the Linnean Society, and he was also a fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society and of other botanical organisations. He remained a partner of the firm of seedsmen for some nine or ten years, till his death in the forty-eighth year of his age, at New Cross Nursery, Deptford, on 13 March 1834.

The folio (1816) edition of the ‘Hortus’ was dedicated to John, duke of Bedford, and was illustrated by dried specimens of the respective grasses. A second and cheaper octavo edition, published in 1824, was dedicated to Thomas William Coke (afterwards Earl of Leicester of Holkham) [q. v.], and in it the dried specimens were replaced by plates. Other editions appeared in 1825, 1826, and more recently in 1869, in a somewhat altered form, and with a preface giving some particulars about the book and its author. The work was also translated into German by Frederick Schmidt (Stuttgart, 1826). Sinclair edited the ‘Hortus Cantabrigiensis’ of James Donn, the ‘Essay on Weeds’ of Benjamin Holdich (1825), and a ‘Treatise on Useful and Ornamental Planting,’ published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.

[Obituary notice in Gardener's Mag. 1834, 192; Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, 1843, xiii. 442; Britten and Boulger's English Botanists; prefaces and appendices to Sinclair's works.]

E. C.-e.