Hidden horticulturalists

Quite a while ago now – back in the Glasgow book festival – I went to a talk about horticulturalists – two parts, of which the one that really interested me was about the early gardening trainees of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The story of the book began with the discovery in the RHS archives of a book of handwritten records by the young men who were the original trainees in their garden at Chiswick, dating back to the early 1820s. This was essentially the start of modern gardening – the first time that you would expect to have plants gathered from around the world in a garden, and would need to know how to look after them.

I ended up with the impression that the RHS don’t seem to have valued anyone who worked for them particularly highly – the trainees were so poorly paid that it was a requirement that they weren’t married, as they wouldn’t be able to support a wife! But hopefully they went on to better things.

The only one of the trainees who everyone has heard of, apparently, is Joseph Paxton, who went on to build the Crystal Palace – I hadn’t heard of him, but I have now, and it was while he was working at Chiswick that he first came to the attention of the Duke of Devonshire, who owned the land where the garden was.

I enjoyed the talk, and I liked the festival, but the one thing I do prefer about the Edinburgh book festival is the format of talks based around readings, as well as around discussion – I think it gives you a better idea of the book, as well as the topic.

Anyway, the library has the book on order, and I have a preemptive reservation on the currently non-existent book, so hopefully I will know more about it all soon.

The other half of the talk, although the wrong period, was about a man with the wonderfully Northumberland name of Collingwood Ingram, so I feel that he deserves a mention, although there was nothing Georgian or even northern about him – his great project was saving all the different varieties of cherry tree which had once been popular in Japan, and were vanishing in favour of only one or two kinds.


Two Bridges on the Tay


The day I went up to Scone, I also visited Dunkeld – mostly to go walking, but also to have a look at Telford’s great bridge over the Tay, an important link in his work on the Highland road system. However, before I got there my attention was attracted by another old bridge, built between 1766 and 1771 to cross the river at Perth.

There had been various bridges nearby in medieval times, all eventually destroyed by floods, and for about 150 years before this bridge was built only ferries had crossed the river. But with travel increasing and trade expanding a new bridge was proposed, and designed by John Smeaton, best known for the Eddystone lighthouse – this was before the main work on the Highland roads, but it must have been in mind, because the bridge was partly paid for from the forfeited Jacobite estates.

Smeaton’s Bridge

A century or so later the bridge was made wider, but it has been done quite neatly, leaving the basic arch of the bridge alone and adding walkways on either side.

It’s a beautiful thing, but one of my favourite things about it is that it’s made of something just a little bit like puddingstone, so where the stone is wearing, tiny pebbles are showing through.


Floods on the Tay were fairly common, and the new bridge had to stand up to one only three years after it was finished, which it did well. Several have happened since then, and there is a record of flood heights on the back of the first pillar.

Flood records

Plaques on the bridge record its building and the later widening.

Smeaton bridge plaque

I did finally make it up to Dunkeld, although I didn’t have much time for looking at the bridge. This was one of the first achievements of Telford’s work for the Commission for Highland Roads and bridges, built in 1809, and an essential link in the main route north to Inverness. Wade’s military road had taken a different route north, crossing the Tay at Aberfeldy where his bridge still stands, but otherwise there was no bridge over the Tay north of Perth.

Dunkeld bridge

It’s a beautiful bridge but a very plain one, with only this tiny bit of decoration at the ends, and apparently it only got that because a local landowner paid for it – the government funding only paid for substance, not for decoration.

Subtle decoration

Collingwood Society – Thomas Hardy

This month’s Collingwood Society talk was about another underrated character of the age, possibly even more in Nelson’s shadow – famously Nelson’s flag captain at the time of Trafalgar, and as the talk put it, one of the few men famous for a conversation.

He was born in 1769, the same year as two even more famous characters of the age – Wellington and Napoleon – but making him 10 years younger than Nelson and 20 years younger than Collingwood, and came from a family which had already produced four admirals.

He was briefly at school in Crewkerne before starting his naval career as a captain’s servant – one of the usual designations for young boys there to learn about the life – on Helena, under the command of Francis Roberts, known as a survivor of the explosion of the Quebec, and for a scrap with the Spanish while taking dispatches through the blockade to Gibraltar. A letter written from Helena mentions a dog called Bounce, a nice coincidence, and also talks about him being sent back to school, which happened a year or two later – his name appears on the books on the Carnatic for part of this time, but he probably wasn’t there.

From 1785 to 1789 his name vanishes from the naval records, and he may have been in the merchant service, possibly because of financial troubles in the family. In 1790 he reappears as a midshipman on Hebe, becoming a master’s mate by the end of the year, and after another couple of transfers he became a lieutenant in 1793 on Meleager, in Nelson’s squadron – a squadron lucky with prize money – and then on Minerve, which Nelson joined as commodore.

While serving on board a prize, Santa Sabina, in December 1798, Hardy was captured and briefly held as a prisoner at Cartagena, but he was soon exchanged. Another adventure saw him setting out in a small boat to rescue a sailor who had fallen overboard while the ship was under pursuit – when Nelson shortened sail to retrieve the boat this confused the pursuing Spanish enough that they did the same, allowing Minerve and all concerned to get away safely.

In May 1797 Hardy was appointed Master and Commander of the brig Mutine, which he had captured in a cutting out expedition, and went on to command her at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, becoming captain of Nelson’s flagship, Vanguard, after the battle when Edward Berry was sent home with dispatches. He transferred with Nelson to Foudroyant, but returned to England after Berry’s return, arriving home on Christmas Eve 1799. A year later he was back with Nelson on St George with the Baltic fleet, although the ship took no active part in the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson having transferred to Elephant for the battle.

He was lucky enough, or well connected enough, to be employed through the Peace of Amiens as the captain of Isis, carrying out diplomatic missions including taking the Duke of Kent to Gibraltar and Lord Robert Fitzgerald to Lisbon. By late 1802 he was back with Nelson, on board Victory, and in spring 1805 Victory led a chase of a French and Spanish fleet to the West Indies and back. The combined fleet slipped back into Cadiz, under blockade by Collingwood’s fleet, and Hardy and Nelson returned briefly to England, where Hardy was summoned to tell the royal family about Nelson’s actions, and in September sailed to join the fleet off Cadiz, setting the scene for Trafalgar.

Hardy and Nelson were together for the first part of the battle, walking together on deck, where Nelson observed that it was ‘too warm work to last long’, and Hardy visited Nelson after he had been shot, where the famous request was made – also Nelson’s observation that he had hoped for 20 captured enemy ships, and a request that his body not be thrown overboard.

Here we had a digression on ‘Kiss me, Hardy’ and the Victorian suggestion that what was actually said was ‘Kismet, Hardy’ – unlikely both because the word ‘kismet’ isn’t recorded in English until 1849, and because Hardy did kiss Nelson, to Nelson’s apparent satisfaction, but which hung around for long enough to provoke furious debate in the Mariner’s Mirror in 1925.

Victory was badly damaged in the battle and was towed to Gibraltar by Neptune, returning to Portsmouth 5 weeks later with Nelson’s body aboard, and Hardy took part in Nelson’s funeral procession in January 1806. In February he was made a baronet for his part in the battle, and awarded the naval gold medal – he was also left £100 and all Nelson’s telescopes.

Hardy’s next appointment was as captain of Triumph, first with Strachan in the Atlantic and then with Berkeley in North America, and while in America he married Berkeley’s daughter Louisa. He then went to Portugal as his father-in-law’s flag captain in Barfleur, supporting Wellington’s operations there. In 1812 Berkeley retired and returned to England, and Hardy went back to North America, where the United States were once again at war with Britain, on Ramillies, and was attacked by a submarine which fortunately failed to attach an explosive to the ship.

By now Hardy had three daughters, and he spent some time in London as captain of the Royal Yacht at Deptford, becoming involved in an odd affair where he first won a libel case against the Morning Herald, who had alleged that his wife had run off with the Marquess of Abercorn, and then fought a duel with Lord Buckingham, who he believed had been writing anonymous letters about his wife.

In 1818 he was made Commander in Chief for South America, a mainly diplomatic post – his letters home are greatly concerned with his daughters, another similarity with Collingwood. In 1825 he became a Rear Admiral, and ended up in command of an experimental squadron in the Channel, advising on ship construction and recommending the building of heavier ships. In 1830 he became First Naval Lord, encouraging the introduction of steam warships, resigning in 1834 to become Governor of Greenwich Hospital, where he died in 1839, having become a Vice Admiral in 1837.

David Douglas and Scone


The current Scone Palace is Georgian neo-Gothic, built between 1802-1808 as an extension of a late 16th century building.

Scone Palace

The site is much older than that – just beyond the house is the Moot Hill which is the ancient crowning place of the kings of Scotland, now with a Georgian chapel on top.

Chapel on the Moot Hill

The village of Scone was one in the grounds of the house – or possibly the abbey and the old house were in the village – but about the same time the house was rebuilt the owners got tired of having a village so close and moved it a couple of miles away.

There are various remnants of the old village left in the grounds – the gate in the old walls, the market cross, and even old graves.

Scone gate

This stone, near the original site of the church but now alone in the woods, marks the grave of John Wright, minister of Scone in the late 18th century, and his son.

Old tomb

I might come back and visit the house some time, but this time I had really come to look for David Douglas. He was born in the old village of Scone in 1799, just before all this was going on, and started his career as an apprentice gardener at the palace. The first Douglas fir in Scotland is in the grounds, grown from seeds which Douglas sent back in 1826.

The Douglas Fir

A little pavilion nearby holds information about Douglas and other Scottish botanists and plant collectors of the time.

David Douglas pavilion

It’s a nice little building, decorated with carved cones, all with the distinctive three-tongued bract of the Douglas fir.

Cone in the ceiling

One of the boards told me that there was a memorial to Douglas in the grounds of Old Scone church, but although the handful of remaining buildings of Old Scone are just outside the gates, it turns out that Old Scone church has been moved up to New Scone. So that’s something I really will have to go back and see, along with the plant collectors pavilion at Pitlochry…