Papers of Professor John Hutton Balfour (1808-1884)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-293
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      4 volumes, 11 letters.
  • Location
      Dk.6.20/10-11; Dk.8.4/3; Dc.4.101-103; Gen. 524; MS 2738; E97.48

Scope and Content

The collection consists of: letters to Sir William Jardine (1800-1874), dated January 1838, and February 1841, at Dk.6.20/10-11; a letter to J. B. Davis, October 1858, at Dk.8.4/3; letters about Queen Victoria's visit to Edinburgh, botanical specimens, and collection of Indian plants, 1860-1865, at Dc.4.101-103; letters to Sir Archibald Geikie (1835-1924), 1873-1879, at Gen.524; dictates of botany lectures, 1855, at MS2738; and, letter to S. Thompson, 1844, at E97.48.

Administrative / Biographical History

The botanist, John Hutton Balfour, was born in Edinburgh on 15 September 1808. He was educated at the Royal High School in the city and then studied at St. Andrews University and Edinburgh University, graduating with degrees of M.A. and then M.D., the latter in 1832. His original intention had been to seek ordination in the Church of Scotland but instead started medical practice in Edinburgh in 1834 after studying abroad. With an interest in botany, and a botanical knowledge which he continued to expand, Balfour was prominent in the moves to establish the Botanical Society of Edinburgh in 1836 and the Botanical Club in 1838. In 1840 he began giving lectures on botany with some success and in 1841 he became Professor of Botany at Glasgow University. In 1845, Balfour was appointed Professor of Botany at Edinburgh University and nominated Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden. He was for many years Dean of the Medical Faculty, Edinburgh University. Under his care the Royal Botanic Garden was enlarged and improved and a palm-house, arboretum, and teaching accommodation was built. His publications include botanical text-books such as Manual of botany (1848), Class book of botany (1852), Outlines of botany (1854), and Elements of botany for schools (1869), Botanist's companion (1860), Introduction to palaeontological botany (1872), and The plants of scripture. He also contributed to the article on botany in the 8th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Balfour retired in 1879. Professor John Hutton Balfour died at Inverleith House, Edinburgh, on 11 February 1884.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Letters to Sir William Jardine acquired probably 1958, Accession No. E58.10. Letters at Dc.4.101-103 presented by G. W. Walford, London, 1965, Accession no. E65.3. Dictated botany lectures purchased October 1991, Accession No. E.91[bis]81. Letter to Thompson, 1844, purchased July 1997, Accession No. E97.48. Faculty and other papers presented by Professor Isaac Bayley Balfour, March 1890.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Cooper, Thompson (ed.). Men of the time: a dictionary of contemporaries 9th edition. p.59. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1875. (2) Rice, D. Talbot (compiler). The university portraits. pp. 6-8. Edinburgh: University Press, 1957. (3) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 1. Abbadie-Beadon. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show other references to Balfour related material (check the Indexes for more details): mention in a letter, July 1841, at Dk.6.20/115; letter to, 1854, at Gen. 1996/12/94; letters to, 1858, at Dc.2.56 ff.150, 155; and letters to, 1868, and 1875, at Dc.4.101-103. There is also said to be papers both printed and manuscript relating to medical curricula in universities and to Balfour's period of office as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, at Da.43.

Corporate Names