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Prof. John Hutton Balfour


1808 - 1884

Botanist. Born in Edinburgh, where his father was printer and publisher, Balfour was a relation of geologist James Hutton (1726-97). He was educated at the High School of Edinburgh, the University of St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh.

He was appointed to the Chair of Botany at the University of Glasgow in 1841, moving to the University of Edinburgh in 1845, where he also became Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Her Majesty's Botanist in Scotland. His numerous publications include a Manual of Botany (1848), Outlines of Botany (1854), Elements of Botany for Schools (1869), Botanist¿s Companion (1860), and Introduction to Palaeontological Botany (1872).

Balfour was at the centre of a notable legal case relating to the right of access in the Scottish countryside when the Duke of Atholl and his ghillies blocked access to Balfour and his students who were doing fieldwork in Glen Tilt. The case established the role of the Scottish Rights of Way Society (now ScotWays) as the defender of public access.

He was elected an Honorary Fellow of Edinburgh Geological Society in 1863 and awarded honorary degrees by the University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow and University of St Andrews on his retirement due to illness in 1879. He continued to live in Inverleith House until his death. His name is commemorated in the genus Balfourodendron, the rare Californian pine Pinus balfouriana. The actress Tilda Swinton is his great-great-granddaughter.


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