Copyright 2013 The Friends of The Forfar Botanists

Home The Friends The Botanists The Projects Gallery

James Traill (1801-1853)

James Traill was born in Dunnichen in 1801 on the estate of Honest George Dempster MP.   It is presumed that his father would have worked on the estate.  However, Traill moved to Ireland and was brought up on the Castle Dillon estate in County Argmah.  He then went to Baronscourt at Newtonstewart, Omagh, then to Shelton Abby in Co. Wicklow and finally to the estate of the Archbishop of Armagh.

He moved to England in 1824 and started work with the Horticultural Society, as an under gardener in the Ornamental Experimental Department.


In 1828 or 29 Traill secured a post in Egypt.  Along with another gardener, William McCulloch, he entered the service of Ibrahim Pasha who was the son of the ruler of Egypt and Sudan.  Traill and McCulloch took plants with them which had been supplied by the Horticultural Society, for the palaces and gardens of Ibrahim Pasha on the island of Rhoda (also known as Roda or Rawdah) in the Nile.  By 1832 Traill had become head gardener and was given a ‘delightful’ house on Rhoda.

The garden which Traill and McCulloch created on Rhoda had ruined temples, grottoes, lawns, a winding waterway and Chinese bridge.  Traill had a wall built round the island in an attempt to guard against flooding. The garden was finally destroyed by a flood in 1848 and was not restored.

During these years, Traill sourced plants from the Horticultural Society in England and McCulloch collected plants in India to be introduced into Egypt. This was a political arrangement for economically important plants to be given to Egypt in return for a fast route for goods between British India and Europe via Egypt.

Traill also assisted Edward William Lane in his measurements of the Pyramids.

James Traill was not a botanist, scientist or plant collector but by being a skilled horticulturalist in the service of Ibrahim Pasha, he is credited with the greening of Cairo.