Alston | Charles | 1683-1760 | scientific writer

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Charles Alston 1683-1760 was brought up by the Duchess of Hamilton whose wish it was that he should study law; however, Alston preferred botany and medicine. In 1715 he went to Leyden to study under the Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738). It was also while at Leyden that Alston made the acquaintance of Dr Alexander Monro (1697-1767). When both men returned to Edinburgh they brought new impetus into the teaching of medicine. Alston was appointed lecturer in botany and materia medica in the Faculty of Medicine, and also secured in 1716, through the influence of the Duke of Hamilton, the office of King's Botanist and Keeper of the Garden at Holyrood which he enriched with plants that he had brought over from Holland. Both of these posts he held until his death in 1760.

Upon the resignation of George Preston in 1738, Alston was appointed the fourth College Professor of Botany and materia medica, in the Faculty of Medicine. He gave a course of lectures on botany every Summer and one on Materia Medica every Winter. In 1740 he published for the use of students, a list of the officinalium plants in the Physic Garden, and in 1753 an Introduction to botany, entitled, Tyrocinium Botanicum Edinburgense. The new era in Botany that had been heralded, was epitomised by the publication of Systema Naturae by Carl Linnaeus, which established the existence of sex in plant-life. Unfortunately, like many of his contemporaries, Charles Alston resisted the new system, and indeed it was in his introduction to Botany that he attacked the Linnaean system of classification.


Charles Alston frequently corresponded with Dr John Fothergill (1712-1780).

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

Index of the Plants in the Edinburgh Garden, (1740)

Tyrocinium Botanicum Edinburgense, ( 1753)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments



List of sources for the biographical information:

Grant, Sir Alexander, The Story of the University of Edinburgh During its First Three Hundred Years, Vol II, ( London, Longmans, Green and Co, 1884)

The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, ( Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992)

Birse, Ronald M, Science at the University of Edinburgh 1583-1993, (Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh, 1994)