This year marks the bicentenary of the death of one of Paisley’s most brilliant son’s, Alexander Wilson. Born in Paisley, living his early years in Seedhill, Wilson attended Paisley Grammar, before going onto work as a weaver, write poetry and publish nine volumes of work which lead to him being called the Father of American Ornithology. Running until Sunday 1st September, Paisley museum is hosting an exhibit about the life and works of Alexander Wilson.
Commenting after recently visiting the exhibit, Paisley’s MSP George Adam said,
“I was keen to make it along to this exhibit having taken in others at Paisley Museum which I have been really impressed with. Last month I submitted a parliamentary motion marking the bicentenary of Alexander Wilson’s death and it was great to go along and find out a lot more about one of Paisley’s greats. One of the first things I read at the museum was about Wilson’s christening. He was christened by another famous Paisley figure, Reverend Dr John Witherspoon, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the only minister to sign the American Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776.”
Wilson started his life in Paisley, before moving to Lochwinnoch after the death of his mother. He trained as a weaver and wrote poetry, often a social commentary on events going on at the time. He was arrested after one of his most famous poems landed him in bother with the law, ‘The Shark, or Lang Mills Detected’ a protest about mill owners at the time of the French Revolution, earned him a 14 day jail sentence. The poem was also thought to have been written initially by Robert Burns as it was anonymously sent to William Sharp, Paisley Manufacturer and owner of Lang Mills.
George notes, “It just shows how good a poet Wilson must have been to have one of his poems mistaken to be that of Rabbie Burns.”
In May 1794, Wilson immigrated to America. It was there he was to have his biggest impact on the world, traveling the United States chronicling the birds of the country. In total he produced 9 volumes of his ‘American Ornithology’ some of which can be seen in the Paisley Museum. Speaking to Nicola McIntyre, Assistance Curator of Natural History at the museum, she told me that the museum’s collection of original Wilson works is only second in the world to Harvard. This shows the calibre of the exhibit on show right in the centre of our town.
“It only goes to show what a massive influence Paisley and it’s people have had throughout the world. No wonder I always say Paisley is the centre of the universe because Alexander Wilson’s work in ornithology is another example of what our historic town has given the world.
‘I would encourage anyone with some free time over the summer holidays to take a trip along to the museum to see the exhibit. It is filled with facts, original texts and drawings of the birds Wilson chronicled on his travels. And always a plus for me, on the lead into the exhibit, you can walk passed Buddie the lion, who has been at the museum since the 1920’s. This is an exhibit for all ages and a great way to learn about one the world’s most famous ornithologists, made even better due to him being born and breed in Paisley.”