10 men who highlighted Scotland’s pioneer spirit

Scotland has always been a trailblazing nation, with our people at the forefront of science, technology and art.

Here, we highlight 10 Scots who established disciplines from geology and economics to the historical novel, and most points in between.

1 Adam Smith (1723-1790)

Kirkcaldy-born Smith entered Glasgow University at 14, studying moral philosophy under Francis Hutcheson. As well as lecturing and tutoring, Smith wrote two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter is considered to be his masterpiece in which he expounded the belief that rational self-interest and competition would lead to prosperity. The book is seen as a precursor to the modern academic discipline of economics.

2. John Muir (1838-1914)

Muir’s family emigrated to the US from Dunbar in 1849. In the 1860s Muir undertook a 1,000-mile walk from Indiana to Florida, sailed to Cuba and finally arrived in Yosemite, in California, where he built a cabin and lived in it for two years. Passionate about conservation, Muir published 12 books and over 300 articles, and co-founded the Sierra Club, which helped establish a number of national parks. He is considered to be the father of the environmental movement.

3. James Hutton (1726-1797)

A physician, chemical manufacturer, naturalist and experimental agriculturalist, Edinburgh-born Hutton is credited with establishing geology as a proper science and founded one of its fundamental principals – uniformitarianism – which explains the features of the Earth’s crust as being formed by natural processes over geologic time. He was also the first scientist to describe the Earth as being alive and that it should be considered a superorganism.

4. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

The Edinburgh-born solicitor first began writing aged 25, beginning with translating German works before moving to poetry. He became fascinated by the culture of the Scottish Borders, and in 1802 published a three-volume set of collected Borders ballads. This interest in writing and history came together in 1814 with the publication of the hugely popular Waverley, set in the Highlands during the 1745 Jacobite uprising, and which established the genre of the historical novel.

5. John Hunter (1728-1793)

Hunter House in East Kilbride, the birthplace of John Hunter

Born in East Kilbride, at 20 Hunter worked with his brother, the acclaimed anatomist William Hunter, showing great aptitude. In 1763, after three years as an army surgeon, Hunter ran a private practice and built up a museum of 14,000 preparations of 500 different plant and animal species, which informed his ideas about the body. Hunter believed that surgeons should understand how the body adapted to and
compensated for damage. He is known as the father
of scientific surgery.

6. Thomas Graham (1805-1869)

The son of a successful Glasgow textile manufacturer, Graham defied his father’s wish for him to enter the church, instead studying chemistry at Glasgow University. Graham worked on the diffusion of gases, resulting in ‘Graham’s Law’, but it was for his work on separating colloids and crystalloids using a ‘dialyzer’ – a pre-cursor to the modern dialysis machine – for which he renowned and why he is called the father of colloid chemistry.

7. Adam Ferguson (1723-1816)

Born at Logierait in Perthshire, Ferguson was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and historian. He studied theology and because of his knowledge of Gaelic he was granted his licence to preach prior to completing his studies and becoming a chaplain in the Black Watch. Ferguson wrote several history books,
including his influential Essay on the History of Civil Society, which championed traditional societies for building courage and loyalty, and criticised commercial society for making men weak and selfish. He is generally considered to be the father of modern sociology.

8. John Paul Jones (1747-1792)

Jones began sailing at 13 as an apprentice and spent the next few years on various merchant ships. His fortunes waxed and waned – he became a master of his own ship and made a lot of money in the process, but
he also tarnished his reputation by killing two sailors, flogging one mercilessly and shooting another. He made a name for himself as the first naval hero of the American Revolution, where he distinguished himself commanding American ships in British waters. It is because of this that he is known as the father of the US navy.

9. Niel Gow (1727-1807)

The Perthshire-born fiddler, travelling dance instructor and bard was something of a musical prodigy, giving up his trade as a weaver to become a full-time musician. After winning a competition when he was eighteen, Gow’s unique style brought him to the attention of the Duke of Atholl, who became his patron. Gow composed over 80 dance tunes and is widely recognised as the father of Scottish fiddle music.

10. Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824)

Born on the isle of Ulva off the coast of Mull, Macquarie volunteered for the army at 14 and saw action in the American War of Independence, India and Egypt. In 1809 Macquarie was appointed governor of New South Wales, where he played a leading role in the social, economic and architectural development of the colony, and was instrumental in its transition from a penal colony to a free settlement. Macquarie’s gravestone in Scotland describes him as ‘The Father of Australia’.