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James Abernethy - Marine Enginee

Famous Aberdonians

Eminent Men - It would not be easy, and perhaps it is not necessary, to draw the line very nicely between those men of talents and celebrity who have lived in Aberdeen, and those who have, been principally connected with Old Aberdeen.

John Barbour Archdeacon of Aberdeen was born in 1330, and is said to have been the son of a citizen who lived in the Castlegate. He is known by his office of Archdeacon of Aberdeen, and as the author of the metrical history of Robert Bruce, which, as Mr Kennedy naively remarks, "has not yet lost its reputation," adding, "the style of his composition is regarded by the learned of both Kingdoms as an ornament to our language, and not inferior to that of his contemporary Chaucer."

David Anderson of Finzeauch, commonly known by the appellative of "Davie do a'-thing," was noted for his mechanical genius, and in the year 1618 promoted the improvement of the harbour, by removing a large rock which lay in the middle of the channel at its entrance.

George Jamesone, the son of Andrew Jamesone, Master Mason a Burgess of Aberdeen, who was born about 1586, is deservedly celebrated as a painter of portraits, and his pictures are remarkable for their softness and the clearness of the colouring.

Lists of them are given in Mr Thorn's history of Aberdeen, and in the Statistical Account in 1797. It may not be out of place to notice, that there are still preserved, at the back of the magistrates' gallery in the West Church, two pieces of tapestry worked by Mr Jamesone's daughter, Mary representing Jephthah's Vow, and Susannah and the Elders. 

He painted more than 100 portraits of the principal nobility and gentry, which are held in high estimation;


John Gregory was born in Aberdeen in 1724, and, having studied medicine, became Professor, first in King's College and afterwards in Edinburgh, where, on his death, he was succeeded by his son, the late eminent Dr James Gregory, who also was born in Aberdeen.


James Gregory, the inventor of the reflecting telescope, was born in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen in 1638, and educated at Marischal College. He was afterwards Professor of Mathematics, first at St Andrews and then at Edinburgh.

Edward Raban is worthy of note, as having been the first printer established at Aberdeen, where he settled in 1621.

Mr Alexander Jaffray, the son of a citizen of Aberdeen, occupied the civic chair in the years 1641 and 1649, Alexander Jaffray, who was Provost in 1636 and 1638, is generally supposed to be the father of the other, who in 1636 was not more than 20 years of age, and was highly beneficial to the community, by the judgment and moderation which he exhibited in the direction of the affairs of the Town in very difficult times, as well as by the zeal which he displayed for the promotion and maintenance of the true religion, though in his latter days he showed a considerable want of steadiness, and ultimately became an adherent of the Society of Friends.

John Paterson, 1604-1679

Paterson graduated from King's College,in 1624, and was appointed to the church of Fovera, in 1632. He refused to sign the National Covenant of 1639, and fled to England to the King. In July of the following year, however, he recanted in a sermon before the general assembly and was restored to his church at Foveran. Paterson was a member of the commission of the assembly in 1644, 1645, 1648 and 1649. In 1661 he was named a commissioner for the visitation of the University of Aberdeen. In 1649 he had left Foveran to become minister of Ellon. He was among the benefactors contributing to the erection of a new building at King's College, in 1658.  In 1659 Paterson was translated to the Ministry of Aberdeen (the 3rd charge). He was consecrated Bishop of Ross, by James Sharp, Archbishop of St. Andrews., on 7 May 1662 at Holyrood Palace, He died in January 1679.

His son, John Paterson, incumbent of the Tron Church, Edinburgh, was in 1674, consecrated Bishop of Galloway, in his father's lifetime. He was bitterly opposed to the Presbyterians. In 1679 he was transferred to the see of Edinburgh and in 1687 he was appointed Archbishop of Glasgow. At the revolution he was deprived of his see. In 1692 he was arrested and committed to the castle of Edinburgh for plotting against the Revolution settlement, being at the time under sentence of banishment. In 1701 he was still in confinement. He died Dec. 9, 1703, in his own house at Edinburgh, in his 76th year. He was the last archbishop of Glasgow, and his violent counsels seem to have contributed to the overthrow of the Stuart government. His family went to England, and his grandson, an eminent solicitor in London, took an active part in the architectural improvement of the metropolis, as was recognised by the votes of the corporation, and borne witness to in his portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds. He was a member of parliament, and a chairman of Ways and Means. With the Lord-chancellor Camden he was one of the executors of the will of his friend, David Garrick.


John Ramage, who was a currier and leather-merchant in Aberdeen, deserves notice here on account of his devotion to scientific pursuits, and his great practical acquaintance with the construction of reflecting telescopes; one of which, made by him, is placed in the Royal Observatory, and, though considerably inferior in size, is said to be nearly equal in power to Herschel's 40 feet reflector.

Connected with Aberdeen, we must mention Dr Robert Hamilton, formerly Professor of Natural Philosophy, and afterwards of Mathematics, in Marischal College, the author of an Essay on the National Debt, which has often been referred to as one of the ablest and most perspicuous elucidations of the principles of the Sinking Fund; and Dr Patrick Copland, who was Professor in Marischal College, at first of Mathematics and afterwards of Natural Philosophy, who enriched the collection of apparatus there with a great variety of models, made under his own eye, and many of them with his own hand, so that at his death the apparatus-room of Marischal College contained a collection probably superior both in extent and accuracy to any other collection in Scotland.

It is not necessary to do more than mention the names of such men as Dr Thomas Blackwell, Dr George Campbell, Dr Thomas Reid, Dr James Beattie, Dr Gilbert Gerrard, and Dr William Laurence Brown, all of whom were either natives of Aberdeen, or for a considerable portion of their lives resident in it. Neither would it be seemly in closing this list to say more than that Dr John Abercrombie is a native of Aberdeen, and that Sir James Macgregor received the first elements of his professional education as the pupil of a medical man in Aberdeen.

Thomas Blake Glover 1838-1911 Industrialist and entrepreneur in Japan - Glover House, Balgownie Road - Born in Fraserburgh and educated at the Chanonry School, Old Aberdeen, he travelled to Japan in 1859 and later imported the first steam locomotive. He helped to establish the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard and received the Order of the Rising Sun from the Emperor in 1908.

Captain William Penny
Arctic Explorer and Navigator
During the first quarter of the 19th century, British Arctic whaling enjoyed a prolonged period of expansion and prosperity. The industry began to grow rapidly after about 1812, and between 1814 and 1817 engaged the largest fleet in its history, an average of nearly 150 ships each year. After 1816, the whalemen embarked on an adventurous programme of geographical expansion, which brought extensive new whaling-grounds within their reach. This enterprise proved highly successful at first, but later brought the industry to the threshold of financial ruin.  Following a meticulous search of Beechy Island, Penny was able to confirm that this was the site of Franklin's first winter quarters when his men discovered 3 graves dating from 1846. The expedition spent the winter in Assistance Bay, Cornwallis Island, in close proximity to Austin and Sir John Ross. Between May and July 1851, Penny discovered Queens Channel and sighted the strait that now bears his name.

Francis Peacock 1723-1807 father of Scottish country dancing. Concert Court. Aberdeen Musical Society founded in 1748 by Francis Peacock, Dancing Master and Andrew Tait, Organist held the city's first organised concerts in a nearby hall. In 1749 the Society leased a house, the New Music Room in adjacent Huxter Row. The Society came to an end in 1806

Lord John Boyd Orr
Nobel Peace Prize (1880-1971) On 1 April 1914, Boyd Orr took charge of a new research institute in Aberdeen, a project of a joint committee for research into animal nutrition of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture and Aberdeen University.  When Boyd Orr returned to Aberdeen in early 1919, his plan for a larger Institute had still not been accepted. Indeed, even his plans for the annual maintenance grant had to be approved by the Professor of Agriculture in Cambridge.  Despite gaining the latter's support, his expansion plans were at first rebuffed, although he succeeded in having the annual grant increased to £4,000. In 1920 he was introduced to John Quillier Rowatt, a businessman who seemed to have qualms of conscience over the large profits he had made during the war. Shortly afterwards, the government agreed to finance half the cost of Boyd Orr's plan, provided he could raise the other half elsewhere. Rowatt agreed to provide £10,000 for the first year, £10,000 for the second year, and gave an additional £2,000 for the purchase of a farm, provided that, "if any work done at the Institute on animal nutrition was found to have a bearing on human nutrition, the Institute would be allowed to follow up this work", a condition the Treasury was willing to accept. By September 1922 the buildings were nearly completed, and the renamed Rowatt Research Institute was opened shortly thereafter by Queen Mary.

Sir James McGrigor (1771-1858)
Sir James McGrigor had an outstanding career as a military surgeon and was instrumental in founding the Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society.

Born in Cromdale, near Inverness, McGrigor attended the Grammar School and Marischal College in Aberdeen, graduating MA in 1788 (he was awarded an MD in 1804). He studied medicine at Aberdeen and Edinburgh and was apprenticed to George French (1765-1833), physician to the Infirmary in Aberdeen. On the 14th of December 1789 he and eleven other students founded the Aberdeen Medical Society (later the Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society) in order to supplement the level of medical teaching offered at that time by both King's and Marischal College.  (McGrigor Memorial Inset was re-sited at the Duthie Park).  McGrigor went on to become a surgeon in the 88th or Connaught Rangers, serving with the Regiment in Flanders, the West Indies and Egypt. He was appointed to the post of Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals in 1805 and took part in the Walcheren expedition before his appointment as Inspector-General of Hospitals in August 1809. In 1811 he was appointed Chief of the Medical Staff of the Peninsular Army commanded by Wellington, serving in Spain, Portugal and France until the end of the war in 1814. McGrigor proved to be an excellent administrator and introduced the system of staged evacuation of sick and wounded men. He also persuaded Wellington, following the siege of Badajoz, to mention medical officers in dispatches for the first time.  He came out of retirement in June 1815 to accept the post of Director-General of the Army Medical Department, a position he held until 1851. McGrigor introduced several important changes during his time as Director-General including the introduction of medical reports from all military stations, the provision of assistance to widows and dependents in the form of the Army Friendly Society (1816) and the Army Benevolent Society (1820), research into all aspects of army health and the development of chairs of military medicine in Dublin and Edinburgh. He also improved the system of selection of men seeking commissions in the medical services and secured the honour of royal commissions for medical officers.

William Kennedy (1758 - 1836)
46 Marischal St, - Lawyer and Historian. Born in Aberdeen he practised as a lawyer in the city. He is best known as a local historian who compiled a 3-volume alphabetical index to the Council Registers of Aberdeen City Council from 1398-1836. He is principally remembered as author of the 2 volume Annals of Aberdeen

Connected with the town are also, Dr. Robert Hamilton, professor of natural philosophy, and afterwards of mathematics, in Marischal College, and author of a valued essay on the national debt;

Dr. Patrick Copland, likewise professor of mathematics and natural philosophy in the college, of which he enriched the museum with apparatus and models of his own construction;

Alexander MacDonald, of Johnstone (1794-1860) was born in Rannoch, Perthshire, and worked as a stonemason in the south of Scotland before settling in Aberdeen to work in granite as a stonecutter, c.1820. Opening his 1st workshop at 83 Queen Street, his invention of a machine to dress and polish granite simultaneously, revolutionized the production of granite monuments in the 1830s, and he soon became the 1st to export a polished granite obelisk to a London cemetery, Kensal Green, in 1832.

He was particularly interested in the granite sculptures of ancient Egypt, and visted the British Museum to study examples from their temples and monuments at Luxor and Carnac, with a view to adapting their designs and craftsmanship for his own monuments and architectural work.

Alexander MacDonald, a crofter's son and stone cutter at 83 Queen Street, Aberdeen, and later at a 4 acre site at 121 Constitution Street, where he traded as a marble merchant and in polished granite, stone and slate from the Aberdeen Granite Works.

Also known as MacDonald & Leslie (1839-63) and MacDonald Field & Co., when MacDonald formed partnerships with the stonecutter William Leslie and architect Sydney Field (1864-83); the firm became A. MacDonald & Co. (1884-1906), with Robert Ferguson as a partner, and then Alexander MacDonald & Co. Ltd(1906-41).

His most important achievement, however, was his sculpting of the granite statue of George, 5th Duke of Gordon, Aberdeen, which he carved from a model by the London sculptor Thomas Campbell, in 1842-8. This was erected in the Castlegate and relocated to Golden Square in 1952.  The statue marked the beginning of a new era in the history of sculpture by proving that the lost arts of cutting, sculpting and polishing the hardest granite, as perfected by the ancient Egyptians, had been re-discovered, and that this renaissance had taken place in MacDonald & Leslie's yard in Aberdeen.  Carved from a 20 ton block of white granite quarried at Dancing Cairns, the statue was hailed at the time as 'the first granite statue made since the Ptolomies'.

Another of MacDonald's public monuments in Aberdeen is the 70ft (21m) obelisk in pink Peterhead granite to Sir James McGrigor, 1st erected in the quadrangle of Marischal College, and later moved to Duthie Park (c.1851, relocated, c.1890).

MacDonald died of Bronchitis (now referred to as COPD) at his townhouse in Aberdeen, on 23 March, 1860 - the granite dust finally got to him.




Alexander Macdonald (1837–1885)Alexander MacDonald Jr of Kepplestone (1837-84),  despite being confined to a wheelchair after a stroke in 1864, oversaw the firm's rise to becoming Scotland's most successful and important firm of granite sculptors. It also trained many of the craftsmen who eventually started their own businesses, or worked in the many other granite firms that appeared as a result of the MacDonalds' innovations and influence in the industry earning it the royal patent 'Her Majesty's Workers in Granite' in 1867. By the end of the century, the firm employed over 100 workers, with branch offices in Glasgow and London. It remained in business until 1941.  He was also a patron of the Arts and collected Self Portraits of Artists





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Last modified: 01/09/2013