David Douglas lived from 25 June 1799 to 12 July 1834. He was a botanist who gave his name to the Douglas Fir. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
David Douglas was born at Scone near Perth, the son of a stone mason. After leaving Kinnoull School at the age of 11, he was employed as an apprentice gardener at Scone Palace, where he worked for seven years. In 1817 he moved to work in the gardens of Sir Robert Preston, at Valleyfield in Fife, where he was given access to Sir Robert's extensive botany library. Three years later Douglas took up a post in the Botanical Gardens of the University of Glasgow. His potential was recognised by the Professor of Botany, Sir William Hooker, and the two mounted a number of botanical expeditions into the Highlands together.
In 1823 Sir William Hooker recommended Douglas to the Royal Horticultural Society in London, who were looking for a suitable plant collector to send to the United States. Douglas spent the latter half of the year based in Philadelphia, making contact with other botanists and collecting plants. The Royal Horticultural Society were pleased with the notes and seeds that Douglas sent back, and when the Hudson's Bay Company offered to sponsor an RHS collector to explore the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the RHS asked Douglas to sail to the Pacific.
He arrived in Fort Vancouver in April 1825 and began to collect. Douglas's trip was a spectacular success, resulting in the introduction of some 240 new species to Britain including the Douglas-fir, Sitka Spruce, Western White Pine and Monterey Pine among very many others, plus flowers like the Lupin and the Penstemon. It is fair to say that the species introduced to Britain by Douglas transformed many British gardens: as well as the landscape more widely when his firs started to be used by the forestry industry.
Douglas was still plant hunting when he died in mysterious circumstances in 1834. He was on Hawaii at the time and appears to have fallen into a trap intended to catch bullocks. Many believed he had been murdered by Englishman, Edward Gurney, at whose hut he had last been seen alive. Gurney was an escaped convict, and the purse of gold coins Douglas was known to be carrying was never found. He was buried in Honolulu. In 1847 a memorial was erected in his memory in the churchyard of the Old Parish Church in Scone.