George Forrest

Plant Hunter

      George Forrest was born at Grahams Road, Falkirk on the 13th March 1873, the youngest son of George Forrest and his wife Mary Bain and one of thirteen children. Both his father and his mother’s families originated from the Larbert and Stenhousemuir areas and many of them were employed by Carron Company from the earliest times. His father, George senior, was apprenticed at an early age to a Mr Young, who had a drapers shop in the High Street, Falkirk. In April 1876, George senior opened his own drapers shop at 124 High Street, a shop on the north side of the street previously occupied for many years by a James Russell. Sometime in the late 1880s, George’s health began to fail which necessitated his retiral from his business in Falkirk and moving with his family to reside with his son, the Rev. James Forrest, in Kilmarnock. It was in that town that the young George Forrest completed his education.

      He wasn’t destined to follow his father into business, but instead started his career as an apprentice apothecary. However, with the help of a small legacy, he set off to explore the wilds of Australia and South Africa. He developed an enthusiasm for plant life and gradually built up a valuable collection of British plants; but it was not until 1902 that he decided to make a career of the study of botany and horticulture. That year, he became an assistant at the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, and in 1904 he undertook for Mr Bulley of Neston, an expedition to south-west China to collect new plants suited to British gardens. This expedition, from 1904-1906, was the prelude to a series. During his time, he brought back more than 30,000 plants, many of which, such as various species of rhododendrons and primulas, ended up being cultivated in British gardens. He took the time to describe and make notes upon many of his specimens, and these were housed at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. He had many honours conferred upon him for his work, such as the Victoria Medal of Honour from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1920. At the end of his seventh expedition to China, he died of heart failure at Tengyueh on January 5th, 1932 and was laid to rest among the mountains.

Note. Forrest’s shop in the High Street is thought to have been situated near to the entrance into Wooer Street. According to the 1881 Census, the Forrest family were then living at 34 Grahams Road (Gardener’s Building), which is now occupied in part by the Sepia Restaurant.

Brian Watters (2006)