William Brand WS – First Treasurer of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh

The Library at the Botanics has recently acquired a new member of staff – or should that be an old member of staff?  Certainly an old member of the Botanical Society of Scotland…

William Brand's bust in its new home at RBGE

William Brand’s bust in its new home at RBGE.  It was sculpted in 1860 by William Brodie R.S.A.

We were contacted recently by the curator at the Bank of Scotland, looking to rehouse some of their less well used artworks – could more appropriate homes be found for them? When looking to rehouse the bust of William Brand WS, the Secretary of the Union Bank of Scotland between 1846 and 1869, research showed he had botanical connections, and so we were contacted.  Of course we said yes!

Born in 1807, the son of a farmer at Blackhouse, near Peterhead, William Brand was initially educated in parish schools before being apprenticed to Writers (solicitors) in Peterhead then in Edinburgh where he entered legal classes at the University.  Having completed his legal education he became a Writer to the Signet in 1834 and a partner in the Edinburgh firm of Scott, Findlay and Balderston. In 1846 he was elected Secretary to the Union Bank of Scotland, a position he held until his death. In 1863 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

But what are his connections to RBGE?

The 1830nEdinburgh University Botany Class Lists, showing Brand's name (50)

The 1830 Edinburgh University Botany Class Lists, showing Brand’s name (50)

Whilst completing his medical degree at Edinburgh University, Brand developed a strong interest in botany, accompanying Professor Robert Graham (Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Professor of Botany at Edinburgh University) on collecting excursions throughout Scotland during 1830 and 1831.  In 1836, when meetings were being held to discuss the creation of a new Botanical Society, Brand was there.  He attended the inaugural meeting of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on the 8th February 1836 making him a founding member and also logical choice for its first Treasurer.  He developed ideas for a number of Society publications, devised methods for arranging and cataloguing the Society’s herbarium and collected a significant herbarium collection himself, discovering several new plants including Astragalus alpinus in the process.

Photograph of William Brand taken in 1865. From the Botanical Society Club Album.

Photograph of William Brand taken in 1865. From the Botanical Society Club Album.

He was also a member of the Botanical Society Club, an offshoot of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh initially comprising its original members, becoming its Secretary.  At the last Club meeting he attended, in June 1869, he complained of feeling ill.  After a couple of months he recovered enough to visit relatives in Peterhead, but became ill again on his return home, dying on October 15th 1869.  He left behind a widow, a son and two daughters.

John Hutton Balfour describes Brand in his obituary, published by the Botanical Society in 1870:

Mr Brand was a person of great energy and vigour, a shrewd and intelligent observer, an excellent and fearless cragsman, capable of enduring great fatigue, and of accommodating himself to all the discomforts which might happen during excursions.  His happy and cheerful disposition rendered him a most pleasant companion; whatever occurred, he was never out of temper, but on all occasions was a true peace-maker.

The bust itself was sculpted by William Brodie R.S.A. in 1860 and is now on display in RBGE’s Library at 20a Inverleith Row.  We’re very grateful to Douglas MacBeath, curator at the Bank of Scotland for offering the bust to us.  It is a reminder that without the Botanical Society of Edinburgh (now Scotland), RBGE’s Library, Archive and Herbarium collections would not be of the high standard that they are today as it was the Society’s collections that became the foundation of our own.

List of the original members of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh

List of the original members of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, Brand 6th on the list

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Leonie,

    How amazing to find your post about the Brodie bust of William Brand!

    I have been researching the life and works of William Brodie and his friends since the 1960s, and keep finding new sculptures.

    The Brand is not in my catalogue, so in he goes today!

    Many thanks for all the interesting information.

    My Facebook page about Brodie et al is called “Scotland’s Invisible Gaudi”.

    Yours sincerely,

    Tom Davies