Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Templeton, John (1766-1825)

TEMPLETON, JOHN (1766–1825), Irish naturalist, was born in Belfast in 1766. The family had been settled since the early part of the seventeenth century at Orange Grove, afterwards Cranmore, about two miles from Belfast, on the road to Malone. James Templeton, the father of the naturalist, was a Belfast merchant, who married Mary Eleanor, daughter of Benjamin Legg of Belfast and Malone. John Templeton was educated at a private school, and before he was twenty became interested in the cultivation of plants. After his father's death in 1790 he began the scientific study of botany, at first, it is said, from a desire to find out how to extirpate weeds on his farm land at Cranmore. In 1793 he laid out an experimental garden according to a suggestion in Rousseau's 'Nouvelle Heloise,' and was very successful in cultivating many tender exotics out of doors. In 1794, on the occasion of his first visit to London, he made the acquaintance of Thomas Martyn (1735-1825) [q. v.], professor of botany at Cambridge, whom he afterwards supplied with many remarks on cultivation for his edition of Miller's 'Gardener's Dictionary.' Templeton also came to know Dr. George Shaw [q.v.], the zoologist, and James Dickson [q. v.], the cryptogamist, and he was chosen an associate of the Linnean Society. After his addition of Rosa hibernica to the list of Irish species in 1795, for which the Royal Irish Academy awarded him a prize of five guineas (not fifty, as stated by Sir James Edward Smith), he again visited London, where he met Dr. (afterwards Sir) J. E. Smith, Dr. Samuel Goodenough, Aylmer Bourke Lambert, James Sowerby, William Curtis, Sir Joseph Banks, and Robert Brown. Banks offered him three or four hundred pounds a year and a grant of land if he would go out to New Holland, as Australia was then called, presumably with Flinders's expedition, which Brown accompanied; but he declined the offer. Templeton also added Orobanche rubra to the list of the Irish flora, besides numerous cryptogamic plants; and, while diligently employing both pen and pencil in accumulating materials for a complete natural history of Ireland, made important contributions to the works of others, such as Sir J. E. Smith's 'English Botany' and 'Flora Britannica,' Lewis Weston Dillwyn's 'British Confervæ' (1802-7), Dawson Turner's 'British Fuci' (1802), and 'Muscologia Hibernica' (1804). and Messrs. Dubourdieu and Sampson's surveys of the counties of Down, Antrim, and Derry. The journals which he kept from 1805 to his last illness contain many references to zoophytes as well as to other branches of natural history, and many phrenological observations. The earlier volumes are still in existence at the Belfast Museum. He studied birds extensively, as is shown by his marginal notes in a copy of Montagu's 'Ornithological Dictionary,' now in the possession of the Rev. C. H. Waddell (Proceedings of the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club, 1891-2, p. 409). As to his collection of lichens, Dr. Thomas Taylor (d. 1848) [q.v.], writing in Mackay's 'Flora Hibernica' (1836), says (p. 156): 'The foregoing account of the lichens of Ireland would have been still more incomplete but for the extensive collection of my lamented friend, the late Mr. John Templeton.... I believe that thirty years ago his acquirements in the natural history of organised beings rivalled that of any individual in Europe.' He devoted special attention to mosses and liverworts, and, dissatisfied with many of the published drawings, made numerous careful pencil studies, shaded with ink or colour, which have been pronounced by experts to be unrivalled in their lifelike effects. There was in fact no branch of natural history to which he did not contribute. Though urged by many of his botanical friends to complete the 'Hibernian Flora,' his diffidence and desire of rendering it perfect prevented its publication. In 1808 the 'Belfast Magazine' was started, and Templeton contributed monthly reports on natural history and meteorology. He was an early member of the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge, and he drew up the first two catalogues of the Linen Hall Library. On the foundation of the Belfast Natural History Society in 1821, he was chosen its first honorary member; and on his death the society instituted a medal in his honour, which, however, seems to have been only once awarded. Though he visited Scotland and Wicklow, Templeton lived mainly in Ulster, and never visited the south or west of Ireland. He died at Cranmore on 15 Dec. 1825, and was buried in the new burying-ground, Clifton Street, Belfast.

Templeton married in 1799 Katherine, daughter of Robert Johnston of Seymourhill, near Belfast, by whom he left a son, Dr. Robert Templeton, deputy inspector-general of hospitals, an entomologist, who contributed numerous papers to the 'Annals and Magazine of Natural History' between 1832 and 1858, and died in 1894.

Templeton contributed papers to the 'Transactions' of the Linnean Society on the migrations of birds and on soils, and to those of the Geological Society in 1821 on peat-bogs (Royal Soc. Cat. v. 930). Several volumes of his manuscript 'Hibernian Flora,' with coloured drawings, are preserved in the Belfast Museum. Robert Brown dedicated to him the Australian leguminous genus Templetonia.

[Mainly from material communicated by the Rev. C. H. Waddell, B.D.; London's Mag. of Natural Hist. i. (1828) 403, ii. (1829) 305.]

G. S. B.