Thomas Cleghorn

Earlier this year I put together an account of the history of East Princes Street Gardens which was primarily based upon the research of Connie Byrom:

Recently, John Adam, a Landscape Historian from New Zealand, wrote to me sharing  further details about Thomas Cleghorn (1799-1853) whose Nursery formed the beginning of East Princes Street Gardens.

John Adam [of Endangered Gardens] explained to me that he was writing a story for the University of Auckland about Thomas Cleghorn who had ‘cultivated the oldest standing oak trees that have just burst into leaf and are growing in the Old Government House grounds.’ John was interested to find out more about Thomas Cleghorn and where he had learned his trade and craft.  I have now done some more research and would like to share what I have found.

Thomas Cleghorn was born on the 30th March 1799:

Thomas was born in a rural setting, on a high mo0rland farm: this being Blackhopeland in the parish of Heriot, more than twenty miles south of Edinburgh:

By the 1820s Thomas was living in Edinburgh, and at the time of his marriage to Jane Nisbet, was living in George Street:

Thomas Cleghorn was then working for the Dickson brothers – Nursery Seedsmen and Florists:

The firm had been established in the previous century. This is an advert from 1787:

The founder of this Nursery is buried in St Cuthberts Churchyard at the west end of Princes Street:


The Dickson family had several Nurseries in Edinburgh including Broughton and Inverleith [this map of 1817 shows the Broughton Nursery]:

In 1825 there was a dissolution between two of the sons of the founder [following a legal dispute]. Thomas Cleghorn was a witness:A few years later, in 1828, Thomas Cleghorn opened his own business:

Thomas Cleghorn’s shop was on one side of the Theatre Royal and James Dickson’s shop on the other-side [Waterloo Place]:

This was the period of time of the ‘West Port Murders’ for which Burke and Hare were to be tried and convicted. The murdered corpses  were sold by Burke and Hare to Professor Robert Knox, Anatomist. The murder of ‘Daft Jamie’ was in the immediate viscinity of Waterloo Place:

In May 1832, it was reported that Thomas Cleghorn had become lessee of the North Loch Grounds:

Before draining the’Nor Loch’ was described as a ‘useless and unhealthy puddle’:

By 1804 the Nor’ Loch had been drained:

This is an advert from 1830:

This is a map made a few years later:

This is a porrait of Thomas Cleghorn from around this time:

The Cleghorn Nursery – on leased land and opposite Prince Street and the New Town – was soon to face a number of challenges, including the coming of the railway:

Other ‘challenges’ also emerged, as outlined in this letter:

Cleghorn’s Nursery had become political – December 1839:

Towards the end of 1840, Thomas Cleghorn sold his business and with his wife and young family emigrated to New Zealand.

Here is a further account from around this time:

Sadly, in 1844, Jane, his wife  died [Thomas was later to marry again]:

In the summer of 1851, Thomas, along with his second wife, and youngest son Archibald sailed on the brig ‘Sisters’ to Honolulu, leaving behind in New Zealand his two older sons:

Across the seas, many changes were underway at Cleghorn’s Nursery:

24 September 1853: