Exploring Nature in the Nineteenth Century

Ruth Schieferstein an MLitt Museum Studies student delves into the collections, discovering more about one of Aberdeen’s eminent past professors. She tells us more about her current research for the students’ up and coming Victorian exhibition. 

Did you know that there was a professor at Marischal College who walked over 800 miles through the UK just to learn about its birds, flowers and countryside? When I stumbled over this piece of information, I was intrigued as I myself enjoy long distance hikes through Scotland. Even though I must admit – I never attempted a long hike like this!

Our exhibition has allowed me to research more about this professor. His name is William MacGillivray (1796-1852) and he was born in Aberdeen, raised in Harris and in 1819 he undertook his long journey through the UK to visit the British Museum in London. After working in Edinburgh, he returned to Aberdeen and became the Professor of Civil and Natural History at Marischal College. For a while he even lived next to the Old Town House (now King’s Museum) as we recently discovered (see below!)

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Students next to William MacGillivray’s plaque on High Street, Old Aberdeen

He never lost his interest in nature and in 1850 he explored Deeside and collected plant specimens, and watched and recorded birds. He wrote his experiences down and, after his death, his manuscript was bought by none other than Queen Victoria who then published it. It is now known as The Natural History of Dee Side and Braemar. I felt awed when I was able to go into the University’s Herbarium store and see the plant specimens that William MacGillivray had collected himself over 150 years ago at Lochnagar – a place that I myself have visited and enjoyed!

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Ruth exploring the Herbarium collections

It is fascinating to stumble upon such interesting people and the enthralling facts of our Victorian past. We are all enjoying researching for our exhibition and can’t wait to let you know what else we find!

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About uoamuseums

The University of Aberdeen's Museums include King’s Museum and the University's Zoology Museum. The museums can claim to be Scotland's oldest, with records of museums and collections as far back as the late 17th century. Thanks to their status as a Recognised Collection of national significance, the Zoology Museum’s displays are currently being improved, while King's Museum hosts changing exhibitions drawn from across the collections, particularly those formerly in Marischal Museum. Visitors are warmly welcomed to the museums, and there are no charges for admission. Marischal College now houses the Museums Collections Centre, caring for and conserving many of the collections.
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