Trees from the past go on show

George Paxton's Sweet Chestnut at Fullarton, 1890s. The photograph was taken at Fullarton House, near Troon, probably in August 1891.
George Paxton's Sweet Chestnut at Fullarton, 1890s. The photograph was taken at Fullarton House, near Troon, probably in August 1891.

The extraordinary story of an amateur photographer and botanist who blossomed into a respected documenter of Scotland’s natural history is told at Logan Botanic Garden, near Port Logan, this autumn.

Running until October 31, the exhibition, entitled Remarkable Trees: George Paxton (1850-1904) and his Collection, features prints from Paxton’s original glass plate negatives and shows him to be one of the of the most significant research contributors of his time.

Illustrating Paxton’s fascination for trees, these photographs, taken around the country in the late 1800s, are part of a rich collection of some 700 glass plate negatives gifted by his family to Logan’s parent organisation, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). It may be seen as a particularly fitting legacy as the photographic work of Paxton, a brewer, had come to the attention of RBGE’s Regius Keeper, Professor Isaac Bayley Balfour, in 1894.

Following a request by Bayley Balfour, Paxton presented RBGE with an album of his photographs – Remarkable Trees in Ayrshire Photographed and Measured by G Paxton, Kilmarnock. A year later, Paxton was elected to membership of the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society and, in recognition of his talent, served as photographic artist to the society from 1897 to 1902.

Some 100 years after Paxton’s encounter with RBGE, the organisation was contacted by his grandson, Ian Marshall, who subsequently donated his grandfather’s collection of 700 glass plate negatives. This exhibition has resulted from an initial cataloguing and study of the collection in the organisation’s library archive and features selected images printed from digital scans of the original negatives.

“The history of photography is closely bound to the study of botany,” explained Logan’s curator Richard Baines. “Many of the early pioneers of photography such as William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins used botanical subjects for their photographs and this continued throughout the Victorian period and into the early 20th century. Initial cataloguing and research in the RBGE archives has revealed the need to know more about this little-known Scottish photographer and his collection.

“It is a delight to be able to offer garden visitors the opportunity to see such stunning images – mostly of trees – including details of leaves, fruits and bark that have been printed from Paxton’s original negatives. The hope is that this exhibition may stimulate interest in Paxton’s work as a photographer and these images in particular and also create some understanding of conservation and research role of the RBGE’s Library archive”.

Logan Botanic Garden is open from 10am seven days a week from March 15 to October 31.