James Donaldson (publisher)

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Sir James Donaldson
Born (1751-12-10)10 December 1751
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 16 December 1830(1830-12-16) (aged 79)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Occupation Newspaper publisher
Spouse(s) Jane Gillespie
Family Alexander Donaldson, father
The original Donaldson's Hospital (renamed Donaldson's College), built in 1851 by the Scottish architect William Henry Playfair, in West Coates, Edinburgh
James Donaldson's grave, St Johns, Princes St, Edinburgh

Sir James Donaldson (10 December 1751 – 16 December 1830)[1] was a Scottish printer and newspaper publisher. He bequeathed a large part of his estate to the founding of Donaldson's Hospital.[2]

Early life[edit]

Donaldson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1751. His father, Alexander Donaldson (1727–1794), was the founding publisher of the Edinburgh Advertiser, but was perhaps better known as a bookseller and litigant, most notably Donaldson v Beckett, during the era known as the Battle of the booksellers. His mother was Anna Marshall, a merchant's daughter.[3] He had younger brothers, but all died young.[4]

His paternal grandparents were James Donaldson (died 1754), a textile manufacturer, and Treasurer of Edinburgh; and Elizabeth Weir (died 1768). He had an uncle, John Donaldson, a London bookseller and partner of his father who was also an appellant in Donaldson v Beckett.[2]


At age 22, Donaldson became the second publisher of the Tory biweekly newspaper the Edinburgh Advertiser, the paper having been turned over to him by his father.[4] His printing house was located at Castlehill.[5] His apprentices and apprentice compositors included William Wilson, James Campbell, William Begg, Robert Miller, and James Thomson. In 1820, Donaldson sold the paper to Claud Muirhead, son of James Muirhead, the paper's principal manager and superintendent.[2][6]

Donaldson was a member of the Edinburgh Bookseller's Society. In 1782, like his father, he became a Burgess and Guild Brother of Edinburgh.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Donaldson married Jane Gillespie, eldest daughter of an Edinburgh physician, on 29 September 1792.[2] They had no children.

He spent most of his life in Edinburgh. He owned two homes, one in town, the other in the country. The former was located on Princes Street, now the site of New Club. The later, Broughton Hall, had been his father's home. He inherited £100,000 from his father, and doubled that through wise investing. Known for his benevolence, Donaldson gave money to beggars each week. He was also known for being an eccentric.[7]

Donaldson died at Broughton Hall in 1830.[8] Shortly after his death, Broughton Hall's attached garden was converted into zoological gardens. He bequeathed £220,000 of his estate for the foundation of Donaldson's Hospital to maintain and educate poor children, with a preference for those named Donaldson or Marshall.[7]

He is buried against the southern wall of the churchyard of St Johns at the west end of Princes Street, backing onto the north section of St Cuthberts Churchyard.


  1. ^ Monuments and monumental inscriptions in Scotland: The Grampian Society, 1871
  2. ^ a b c d e "Scottish Book Trade Index (SBTI)". nls.uk. National Library of Scotland. Archived from the original on 13 September 2007. Retrieved 24 April 2010. 
  3. ^ Sher, Richard B. (2006). The Enlightenment & the book: Scottish authors & their publishers in eighteenth-century Britain, Ireland, & America. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology Series. University of Chicago Press. p. 312. ISBN 0-226-75252-6. 
  4. ^ a b Couper, William James (1908). The Edinburgh periodical press: being a bibliographical account of the newspapers, journals, and magazines issued in Edinburgh from the earliest times to 1800. 2 (Digitized 14 Aug 2007 ed.). E. Mackay. p. 109. 
  5. ^ Bulloch, John Malcolm (1906). Scottish notes and queries (Digitized 8 Jun 2007 ed.). D. Wyllie and Son. p. 151. 
  6. ^ Boase, Frederic (1897). Modern English biography: containing many thousand concise memoirs of persons who have died since the year 1850, with an index of the most interesting matter. 2 (Digitized 5 Jun 2008 ed.). Netherton and Worth. p. 1906. 
  7. ^ a b Hogg, James (1950). Titan: a monthly magazine. 4 (Digitized 21 Nov 2007 ed.). J. Hogg. p. 103. 
  8. ^ "Deaths". Blackwood's Edinburgh magazine. William Blackwood. 28 (Digitized 8 Aug 2005): 996. December 1830. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Donaldson, James (1751-1830)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.