Orkney Botanist Exhibition at Stromness Museum

A winter exhibition opening this month will celebrate Stromness Museum’s roots as the Orkney Natural History Society. ‘James Sinclair, the Botanist from the Bu’ celebrates the life a Hoy man whose love of plants took him from the Bu to Borneo.

James Sinclair Orkney Botanist

James Sinclair Orkney Botanist

Exhibition launch

The exhibition will be launched at Stromness Museum with an evening of informal talks. Bea Watson will read from her highly commended Fereday project on her great-great uncle James Sinclair. John Crossley, Orkney Plant Recorder, will give an overview of the attraction of Hoy for plant-lovers in his illustrated talk ‘The island of Hoy: a great place for plants and botanists’.

James Sinclair wrote the chapter on Orkney Flora in the New Orkney Book. His interest in plants developed early, when he was a schoolboy, with his interest being encouraged by the Orkney botanist Henry Halcro Johnston. James discovered a number of plants which were new to Orkney.

He went on to Edinburgh University in 1932 graduating with a degree with honours in Botany. James then studied to become a teacher, teaching in Stronsay and Kirkwall. He collected plant specimens including algae, mosses and ferns throughout Orkney and by 1937 he had collected over 500 species and scores of varieties.

Royal Air Force

He joined the RAF in 1941. James made a collection of specimens of local plants in Burma during the war in Burma. After the war he joined the staff of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, then moving to Singapore to take up post of curator of the Herbarium there. He lived and worked in Singapore for nearly 20 years undertaking collecting expeditions in various parts of the Malay Peninsula also to Sarawak, Sabah and the Philippines. Characterised by his intense attention to his work, James excelled in botany becoming an authority on the custard apple and nutmeg families.

Although work took him abroad and he enjoyed his travels, his heart was in his native Hoy, and he intended to settle there after his retirement. Sadly, ill-health brought him home early. James Sinclair, born at the Bu, Hoy in 1913, died in 1968 and is buried in the Hoy churchyard.

This exhibition travels from the Hoy Kirk where it was shown as the first exhibition of the Hoy Heritage project. The papers of James Sinclair will be part of the Hoy Heritage digital archive.

On show for the first time is an artwork by Orkney artist Laura Drever, inspired by the walk ‘In the footsteps of James Sinclair’ which launched the exhibition in Hoy in July.

The exhibition launch, with talks, takes place on Friday 11 November at 7:30pm at Stromness Museum – all welcome. The exhibition will run until March 2012. Museum hours are Monday to Saturday 11am to 3:30pm.

Stromness Museum

If you want a glimpse into Orkney’s Maritime Past and Natural History, then Stromness Museum is a must. Since 1837, the museum has amassed a unique and fascinating collection, which has something for everyone.

The James Sinclair project is part of the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme, supported by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2007-2013 Programme, and also by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme will spend around £2.2 million over three years on 48 projects promoting and supporting the heritage – wildlife, landscape, cultural heritage, history and archaeology – in and around Scapa Flow and the South Isles of Orkney. The scheme has received £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with further support from Orkney Islands Council, the European Union, Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, the RSPB, trusts and private donations.