WILLIAM JACKSON was perhaps one of the most devoted students of nature of whom Scotland can boast. Little known beyond a small circle, he yet wielded an influence and excited an enthusiasm which did much to extend a taste for natural science in Dundee. He was at one time a journeyman tailor; but by perseverance and industry, he attained a highly respectable station in society. He united in his person the rare qualities of worldly prudence and scientific passion. Ornithology and entomology were his favourite pursuits ; and in both these departments of science he attained great proficiency—so much so, that Government at one time offered him a scientific appointment abroad ; but the state of his health did not warrant him in accepting of it. During his lifetime, he collected an extensive and valuable museum,
the interior of which he delighted to show and describe to his friends, especially the young, in the hope that he would arouse their attention to the pleasure and advantages of science. Jackson not only prepared and mounted the various birds and insects of which his museum consisted, but also made most of the cases in which they were contained. His collection of birds was all but complete, and most of them had been collected by himself. He was no mere closet naturalist. All the time he could spare, he spent in the country ; and it was quite a common thing to meet him, at an early hour, rambling in some field or wood a few miles from town, with
his pockets full of small cases containing insects, and parhaps a bird's nest tied up in his handkerchief in his hand.
Besides these morning walks, one day in each week was usually devoted to a more extended excursion. On these occasions, he was generally accompanied by a few others of similar tastes, who formed a sort of Naturalists' Field Club. In order to keep up an interest, and to extend their knowledge, they arranged that one of their number in rotation should read a short paper on the department of science to which he was devoted, embodying his own observations and discoveries.
These papers would be discussed by the side of some spring or stream where the coterie of enthusiastic naturalists halted for an hour to take dinner ; or one of the number, having a poetical taste, would read an ode which he had composed for the occasion, on the pleasures of science. Several of these compositions afterwards appeared in a manuscript magazine, edited by William Gardiner, the poet-botanist of Dundee, for circulation among the members of the scientific fraternity. Jackson's son William—who it a very early age showed a similar taste to his father—sometimes accompanied him in these excursions, as did also William Gardiner, along with his father and uncle, who were both good botanists—the latter being also a bit of a poet in his way. On the formation of the Watt Institution Museum, Mr Jackson was appointed curator, which situation he held till the time of his death ; and was a most invaluable friend to its prosperity, taking, along with his friend, Mr Charles Boase, banker, great interest in collecting specimens for it. Most of the birds in the collection were prepared and mounted by him. A very graphic account of a visit paid to Jackson appeared some years ago in the Westminster Review The writer said :
In a town far north, many years ago, we were present at the anniversary of a Mechanics' Institution, and had to say a few words about flowers and trees. It was well on towards midnight ere the proceedings closed, when a dapper, wiry little man rushed out from among the crowd, and invited us, as one naturalist invites another, to visit his humble home and share his frugal supper. Gladly was the invitation accepted ; for the earnest and intellectual look of our evidently poor host excited no small interest and some curiosity. He led his guest through long, dreary, tortuous, and unsavoury alleys, and then up an interminable stair, faintly illumined by the moonlight that seemed to ooze through loopholes. In the storey nearest the sky was the home of this student of nature—a journeyman tailor, with a wife and innumerable children, the eldest of whom was a fine, intelligent lad, verging upon manhood, assisting in the work and sharing in the tastes of his father. Their favourite studies were manifested by the conversion of an old cupboard into the case of a well arranged herbarium, by a glazed cabinet filled with stuffed birds and rows of impaled insects, and by a shelf of well selected scientific books, the purchase of which must have absorbed the profits of many a close day's work. The matron of the family—a smiling, courteous dame—seemed to participate in the evident delight of her husband and first-born, and to take pride in a heart-felt approval of their studies. On the round deal table, a clean white cloth was spread, with simple food to grace it ; and two pleasant hours were spent in lively discourse, larded with hard scientific names, well understood, though strangely pronounced. The happiness of the whole family was, we believe, visibly increased when, a few weeks afterwards, it became our duty to announce to the head of it, that he had been elected honorary member of a distinguished scientific society. Mr Jackson had, for some time previous to his death, been in declining health, and had for a time removed to Burrelton, near Coupar-Angus, of which, we believe, he was a native, thinking that a change of air might be beneficial ; but, to the regret of all who knew him, he expired on Saturday, May 2, 1846, at the comparatively early age of 45.
Norrie, W. Dundee Celebrities of the Nineteenth Century. PP.96-98.