Home > Europa > Grossbritannien > Edinburgh  

Royal Botanic Garden Library

Address. 20A Inverlieth Row, Edinburgh EH3 5LR [Map]
Telephone. (0131) 248-2853
Fax. (0131) 248-2901
e-mail. [library@rbge.org.uk]
Internet. http://www.rbge.org.uk/

Governing body or responsible institution. Royal Botanic Garden (with a Board of Trustees appointed by the Secretary of State of Scotland)
Function. Research library.
Subjects. Botany and horticulture, history of medicine, agriculture and travel, biography of botanists.

Access. Open to bona fide researchers, for reference only. - Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 9.30 a.m. - 4.30 p.m.; Friday 9.30 a.m. - 4.00 p.m.
Special facilities. Photocopying, microfiche reader-printer available.
Printed information. Information sheet.
Travel directions. Bus routes 23, 27 and 37 travelling north from Princes St.


1.1 The standard of medical practice in the Edinburgh of the second half of the 17th century can be illustrated by the continued existence of the Incorporation of Surgeons and Barbers, whose rules, drawn up in 1505, required that its members must ``knaw anatomie, nature, and complexion of everie member of the humanis bodie, and in lykewise knaw all the vaynis of the samyn, that he mak Flewbothomia in dew tyme, and alseu that he knaw in quilk member of the signes hes domination for the tyme'.

1.2 When Dr Andrew Balfour (1630-1694) and Dr Robert Sibbald (1641-1722), who had received their medical training on the Continent, opened their physic garden in Edinburgh in 1670 to provide medical practitioners in the city with a regular supply of medicinal plants, the standard of medical practice had not improved significantly. Indeed seventy years later the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia still included such ingredients as spiders' webs, gizzard of hen, spawn of frogs and juice of woodlice.

1.3 The first site secured by Balfour and Sibbald for their physic garden was a small plot of ground, measuring some 180 square yards, not far from Holyrood Abbey. With the assistance of James Sutherland (c. 1639-1719), the first Intendant, the collection of plants had increased so much that a larger site adjoining Trinity Hospital was required, which was used for nearly ninety years. However, as demand increased, so did the need for more space and in 1763 the physic garden was transferred to a five acre site off the present-day Leith Walk, where it remained until 1823, when it finally moved north-west to Inverleith.

1.4 In a continuous line from the time of James Sutherland, who was a skilled gardener and botanist, the Garden has been engaged in the dual role of botanical teaching and research, as the Keepership of the Garden was held jointly with the Chair of Botany at Edinburgh University for many years until 1970, when they were separated. Among Sutherland's more illustrious successors can be named John Hope (1725-1786), John Hutton Balfour (1808-1884), his son, Isaac Bayley Balfour (1853-1922) and William Wright Smith (1875-1956).

1.5 Up to the middle of the 19th century the entire responsibility for the Garden's maintenance and development, including the provision of plants and books for the library, fell on the Keeper, whose personal property the Garden could rightly be considered. Therefore many books which belonged to successive Keepers were removed from the Garden on their retirement or death. However, over the years very many books which were present at one time or another for the use of an individual Keeper have returned there, as can be seen in the library of John Hope (c. 220 titles), which was removed on his death and finally handed back to the Garden in 1899. In this way the book stock forms a continuous if perhaps fragmentary link with the founders of the Garden.

1.6 Under John Hutton Balfour, who assumed the Chair of Botany in 1845, the size and quality of the library increased in the 19th century, and he helped to establish the Botanical Society of Edinburgh in 1836 with the aim of advancing a knowledge of, and research in, botanical science. In order to achieve this, a library was formed, which by 1872 numbered around 1,000 vols and had outgrown the Society's premises in St Andrews Square. In that same year it was offered to the Crown, which then transferred it to the Garden. Some evidence can be gleaned from the University's Calendar for the academic years 1858/59 to 1873/74 of that institution's political manoeuvring in support of Balfour's attempts to persuade the Treasury to accept the Botanical Society's wish to transfer its library to the Garden.

1.7 In securing that library for the Garden Balfour ensured indirectly the presence there of a large part of the book stock of two other scientific societies founded in the first quarter of the century, the Wernerian Natural History Society and the Plinian Society of Edinburgh. The former, founded in 1806, had joyed some years of great activity, but had virtually ceased to function by the 1840s. It was wound up in 1857 and the books on botany were transferred to the Botanical Society. The Plinian Society, which had been set up in 1823 for the advancement and study of natural history, antiquities and the physical sciences in general, was active until 1835. Although the bulk of its library was transferred to the Royal Medical Society, which disposed of them by auction along with its own book stock in 1969, the volumes on botany were secured by members of the Plinian Society and were handed over to the Botanical Society.

1.8 In 1889 the Garden's library received an important part of the large library built up by the alpine botanist and traveller, John Ball (1813-1889), who had died that year. These, added to the books transferred to the Garden from Kew, represented a considerable acquisition. A similarly important acquisition was that of Dr Hugh Francis Clarke Cleghorn (1820-1895), a former Chief Conservator of Forests in India. Discussions for the transfer of his collections, including a very large number of books, from the Royal Scottish Museum to the Garden had been started towards the d of 1928, but governmental approval was not given until early 1938. When the volumes, numbering some 4,000, arrived in 1941, they added immeasurably to the quality of the Garden's library, as many were very rare classical texts on botany which the Garden could never have hoped to acquire in any other way.


2.1 The library now holds c. 25,000 vols of pre-1850 imprints of which c. 40 per cent are German-language items or from presses in German-speaking countries.

2.2 The early, close links between medicine and botany can be traced throughout the library's pre-1800 imprints, of which the following examples are from German presses: Pedacius Dioscorides, De medicinali materia libri sex, I. Ruellio interprete (Frankfurt 1543), Curzio Marinelli, Pharmacopæa, sive de vera pharmaca conficiendi, & praeparandi methodo (Hanau 1617), Heinrich Johann Nepomuk Crantz, Materia medica et chirurgia juxta naturae digestae (Vienna 1762) and Jacob Reinbold Spielmann, Institutiones materiae medicae praelectionibus academicis accommodatae (Strasbourg 1774).

2.3 Among the rare classical texts on botany in which the Garden's library is now strong are the works of Caspar Bauhin, e.g. Πρoδρoμoς theatri botanici (Basel 1671), Πιναξ theatri botanici (Basel 1623) and Πυτoπιναξ seu enumeratio plantarum (Basel 1596), Leonhard Fuchs, e.g. De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Basel 1542), Otto Brunfels, e.g. Herbarum vivae eicones (Strasbourg 1532) and Pietro Andrea Mattioli, e.g. Neu vollkommenes Kräuter-Buch, von allerhand Gewächse der Bäumen, Stauden und Kräutern (Basel 1678).

2.4 Of as much importance to earlier botanists as to contemporary ones are descriptions of the flora of other regions, examples from the German-language areas of Europe being Johann Georg Volckamer, Flora Noribergensis, sive catalogus plantarum in agro Noribergensi tam sponte nascentium, quam exoticarum (Nuremberg 1700), Carl August von Bergen, Flora Francofurtana (Frankfurt/Oder 1750), Johann Jacob Dillen, Catalogus plantarum sponte circa Gissam nascentium (Frankfurt a. M. 1718), Joannes Christopherus Wulff, Flora Borussica denuo efflorescens auctior (Königsberg and Leipzig 1765) and Johann Christian Gottlob Baumgarten, Flora Lipsiensis sistens plantas in agris circuli Lipsici tam sponte nascentes quam frequentius cultas (Leipzig 1790). There are also works by Albrecht von Haller, e.g. Enumeratio methodica stirpium Helvetiae indigenarum (Göttingen 1742) and Antonius Joannes Krocker, e.g. Flora Silesiaca renovata, emendata continens plantas Silesiae indigenas (Breslau 1787-1790). Examples of flora in farther-flung regions described by German authors are Johann Georg Gmelin's Flora Sibirica sive historia plantarum Sibiriae (St. Petersburg 1747-1769) and Olof Swartz' Observationes botanicae quibus plantae Indiae Occidentalis ... illustrantur (Erlangen 1791).

2.5 More interestingly, perhaps, because they are in languages other than the still standard Latin, are works such as Georg Franz Hofmann's Germany's flora or a botanical pocket-companion for the year 1791 [-1795] (Erlangen 1791-1795) and Philipp Maximilian Opitz's Deutschlands cryptogamische Gewächse nach ihren natürlichen Standorten geordnet: ein Anhang zur Flora Deutschlands von J. C. Röhling (Prague 1816).


3.1 Modern catalogue

Card catalogue

[Contains details of all materials received up to 1986 when the computerised catalogue was begun. This latter catalogue is still not available online and there are no immediate plans for making it so.]

Computerised catalogue

[contains material received after 1986]

3.2 Historic catalogue

Catalogue of the library. A. Periodicals, transactions of societies, and the like. Edinburgh 1911

3.3 Special catalogues

Kelly, W. A.: Catalogue of James Sutherland's library. In: The Bibliotheck 14 (1987) pp. 30-106

Bird, D. T.: A catalogue of sixteenth-century medical books in Edinburgh libraries. Edinburgh 1982


4.1 Archival sources

Correspondence relating to the Royal Botanic Garden and other office business

4.2 Publications

Fletcher, H. R.; Brown, W. H.: The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 1670-1970. Edinburgh 1970

Mathew, M. V.: James Sutherland (1638(?)-1719): botanist, numismatist and bibliophile. In: The Bibliotheck 14 (1987) pp. 1-29

Mathew, M. V.: The Royal Botanic Garden Library Edinburgh. Edinburgh 1987

Bown, D.: 4 Gardens in one. Edinburgh 1992


Morton, A. G.: John Hope 1725-1786: Scottish botanist. Edinburgh 1986

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 644-645

July 1998

William A. Kelly

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.