John Donaldson (agriculturalist)

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Smith's Steam Cultivator at Work, from Donaldson's British agriculture, 1860.

John Donaldson (1799–1876) was Scottish agriculturalist, professor of Botany at the Royal Agricultural Training School, Hoddesdon, government land drainage surveyor, and author of prize essays works,[1] best known as author of the 1854 Agricultural Biography.[2]


Donaldson was born in Northumberland in 1799. He was probably related to James Donaldson (fl. 1794),[3] writer on agriculture and land surveyor from Dundee, whose subjects he made his own.

In his early years in the 1820s Donalson had the management of large farms, and extensive estates, such as those of Loudon Castle in Ayrshire, and Donnington Park in Leicestershire, both in Scotland and England.[4] In the 1840s Donaldson was appointed Head of Agricultural School at Hoddesdon, which at that time had just been established.[5] In the title pages of his chief writings, Donaldson is described as "Professor of Botany" and "Government Land Drainage Survey."[6] He was elected Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of London.[2]

Donaldson was presented to the Charterhouse by the Prince Consort in August 1855, and died a poor brother there on 22 March 1876, leaving a will in favour of Elizabeth Saine, a widow.[7] In the year after his death a posthumous work on 'Suburban Farming' was edited by Robert Scott Burn.[6]


Donaldson is described by Fussell (1983) as "another of these Victorian goliaths whose output was large, and... was intimate with the writings of all his bucolic and farming literary ancestors."[8]

His chief writings Agricultural Biography, (1854) : contains a chronological series of articles on the life and writings of the British authors on agriculture, from the earliest date in 1480 until the mid 19th century. It was considered a very useful specimen of biographical grouping, though the notices are often merely bibliographical.

His 1860 British Agriculture : Cultivation of Land, Management of Crops, Economy of Animals, is an elaborate compilation dedicated to the Duke of Argyll.[6]

Selected publications[edit]


  1. ^ Frederick Law Olmsted (1852) Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England. p. 483
  2. ^ a b William White (1888) "John Donaldson F.S.A." in: Notes & Queries, 1888. p. 4
  3. ^ Gordon Goodwin. Donaldson, James (fl.1794), in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 15.
  4. ^ John Claudius Loudon The Gardener's Magazine and Register of Rural & Domestic Improvement, Vol. 6 (1840), p. 94-95
  5. ^ George Edwin Fussell. Agricultural history in Great Britain and western Europe before 1914: a discursive bibliography. Pindar Press, 1983. p. 28
  6. ^ a b c Thomas Seccombe. Donaldson, John (1799-1876) in Sidney Lee. Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement. London: Smith, Elder & Co
  7. ^ Times, 29 March 1876: an account of the inquest of which Donaldson's sudden death by syncope was the cause.
  8. ^ George Edwin Fussell. The old English farming books: vol. IV, 1840-1860, 1983, p. 6

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Thomas Seccombe. Donaldson, John (1799-1876) in Sidney Lee. Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement. London: Smith, Elder & Co