Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lightfoot, John (1735-1788)

LIGHTFOOT, JOHN (1735–1788), naturalist, was born at Newent, Gloucestershire, 9 Dec. 1735. His father, Stephen Lightfoot, was a yeoman, and Lightfoot was sent in due course to the Crypt school, Gloucester. In 1753 he entered Pembroke College, Oxford, as an exhibitioner, and graduated B.A. in 1756, not proceeding M.A. until 1766. After he had taken holy orders, his taste for botany and conchology, his courtly manners and cheerful disposition, recommended him to the Dowager-duchess of Portland, who appointed him her librarian and chaplain at a stipend of 100l. a year. Besides officiating at Bulstrode, Buckinghamshire, the duchess's seat, he acted as curate at Colnbrook, and afterwards, until his death, at Uxbridge. In 1765 he also received from Lord-chancellor Northington the rectory of Shalden, Hampshire, which he resigned in 1777 on being appointed by the Duke of Portland to the rectory of Gotham, Nottinghamshire, with which he held Sutton-upon-Lound and Scrooby, worth in all some 500l. per annum (Gent. Mag. 1777, p. 296). In 1772 Thomas Pennant [q. v.] proposed to Lightfoot that he should join him in a tour through Scotland and the Hebrides, and agreed to publish the ‘Flora Scotica,’ which Lightfoot drew up as the result of the journey, at his expense. On the death of the dowager-duchess in 1785, Lightfoot catalogued her extensive collections of plants, shells, &c., for sale; but he did not long survive his patroness, dying, after a few hours' illness, at Uxbridge, 20 Feb. 1788. He was buried at Cowley, Middlesex. Lightfoot was elected fellow of the Royal Society 1 March 1781 (Thomson, Hist. Roy. Soc. App.), and was one of the original members of the Linnean Society.

In November 1780 he married the only daughter and heiress of William Burton Raynes, a wealthy miller of Uxbridge, by whom he had two sons and three daughters. One son, John, entered Merton College, Oxford, in 1802, when eighteen years of age, graduated in 1806, became B.D. in 1819, and tutor in 1822, was appointed vicar of Ponteland, Northumberland, in 1823, and died 23 Nov. 1863 (Foster, Alumni Oxonienses).

The ‘Flora Scotica,’ published in 1778, forms two thick octavo volumes, with thirty botanical and five zoological plates. It is arranged on the Linnean system, with descriptions, full synonymy, and English, Scottish, and Gaelic names to the plants. The cryptogamic plants are treated with a care and detail that was then unusual. In this work Lightfoot was assisted by Dr. Hope of Edinburgh, Dr. Burgess, the Rev. Dr. John Stuart of Luss, Dr. Parsons of Oxford, Sir Joseph Banks, Solander, and John Sibthorp. Pennant prefixed a ‘Fauna Scotica’ to the work, and to the second edition, issued in 1789, added a life of the author.

Lightfoot described the reed-warbler, a bird not previously observed, from the banks of the Colne, near Uxbridge, under the name Motacilla arundinacea (Philosophical Transactions, 1785, lxxv. 8); and in the following year (ib. 1786, lxxvi. 160) gave an account of several minute shells from fresh waters near Bulstrode, adding an explanation of the so-called ‘gold shells’ of the West Indies, which he showed to be merely the cocoons of an insect. A manuscript journal by him of a botanical excursion in Wales is preserved in the Department of Botany of the British Museum, and his herbarium, interesting from his critical knowledge of willows and sedges, was purchased for 100l. by George III, as a present to the queen, and is now at Kew. His name was commemorated by L'Héritier in the genus Lightfootia, among the Campanulaceæ.

[Life by Pennant in Flora Scotica, 1789; Rees's Cyclopædia, by Sir J. E. Smith; Gent. Mag. 1788, 183, 269.]

G. S. B.