William MacGillivray

A Walk to London

Today is the birthday of the Scottish artist, naturalist, and ornithologist William MacGillivray (“Mick-ILL-vree”).

He once walked 838 miles from Old Aberdeen to London to visit the natural history museum there. Along the way, MacGillivray documented all the flora and fauna he encountered. You can read about it in a book by Dr. Robert Ralph called A Walk to London.  It’s a fascinating read. (Btw, In his journal, MacGillivray also kept a tally of all the whiskeys he drank on the way to London!) Right there, at the bottom of each journal entry, MacGillivray would record three things: his miles walked that day, the total miles walked, and the number of whiskeys drank. Here’s one humorous account from September 11, 1819:

“As I have no botanical accounts for my readers tonight, I shall try to patch up a story somehow or other…
My readers will recollect that I came here on a dark night, wet and weary. At the door, I met a woman of whom I inquired if I might stay the night. Like other honest women of her kind, she thought fit to scrutinize my exterior... So a candle was held to my face, and a door then opened for me.
The results of my examination were not favorable to me as I was informed that I would be obliged to sleep with a man to whom she pointed in bed, and, as I grumbled, told me to reconsider the matter.”

MacGillivray was a Professor of Natural History at the University of Aberdeen from 1841 until his death. He founded the Zoology Museum, which still houses some of his specimens.
The MacGillivray warbler is named in honor of MacGillivray.

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William MacGillivray
William MacGillivray

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