George Flies into see Wilson Exhibit

George outside Paisley Museum

George outside Paisley Museum

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.”

George next to the statue of Alexander Wilson at Abbey Close

George next to the statue of Alexander Wilson at Abbey Close

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.”

George Celebrates Alexander Wilson

George at Abbey Bridge.George lodged a parliamentary motion remembering one of Paisley’s lesser known sons.  Most Buddies will know about Alexander Wilson from the statue outside the town hall – one of the world’s most dedicated ornithologists.




Motion Number: S4M-06942
Lodged By: George Adam
Date Lodged: 11/06/2013

Title: Alexander Wilson, Poet and Father of American Ornithology

Motion Text:

That the Parliament recognises the 200th anniversary of the death of the poet and ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, who was born in Paisley in 1766 and attended Paisley Grammar School; notes then he went on to be an apprentice weaver and develop an interest in poetry; understands that one of his poems was originally thought to be the work of Robert Burns and that another, The Shark, or Lang Mills Detected, a protest about mill owners at the time of the French revolution, resulted in him serving a jail sentence; notes that, after emigrating to the USA in 1773, Wilson became interested in the birdlife of the country; understands that this led to him carrying out a 1,200 mile expedition on foot from Philadelphia to Niagara in which he recorded all of the bird species that he observed; notes that this led to the publication of his work, American Ornithology, which ran to nine volumes; believes that this was the first publication to describe and fully illustrate all of the bird species in the USA and that this led to Wilson being described as the Father of American Ornithology; notes that he died prior to the publication of the final volume, and considers that his work is still recognised as important around the world today.