The MacGillivray drawings collection

William MacGillivray (1796-1852)

William MacGillivray was born in Old Aberdeen, Scotland on 25 January 1796. Brought up by his uncle Roderick MacGillivray on the island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, it was here that he developed a life-long love of the natural world.

At the age of 15, MacGillivray attended the grammar school in Aberdeen and went onto study medicine at King's College, Aberdeen from 1814. After five years of studying medicine however, his fascination with the natural world and zoology saw him give his studies up to focus exclusively on becoming a naturalist.

Armed with reference books, drawing supplies and his gun, MacGillivray set off on a tour of Scotland for the next two years. Although no drawings from this time survive, the journal he kept is preserved in the Aberdeen University Library and provides a fascinating insight into his experiences and observations.

At the age of 23, he set out for London to visit the collection of birds at the British Museum - an eight-week, 837-mile journey. He recorded his nature observations in his journal, including lists of the plants he found. Writing in his journal he commented, 'I felt my love of natural history very much increased by the inspection of the Museum'.

The William MacGillivray drawings collection

A total of 213 watercolours of mammals, birds and fish by MacGillivray are preserved in the library at the Natural History Museum. The collection was presented by MacGillivray’s second son, Paul Howard MacGillivray, in 1892.

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