William MacGillivray (1796 -1852), was a former Professor at Marischal College, as well as one of the 19th century’s most outstanding ornithologists and natural historians.

Although a native of Aberdeen, MacGillivray spent his early childhood on Harris. He returned to the City to continue his education and graduated MA from King’s College in 1815. His early years were spent outdoors observing nature at first hand, a vital experience and one that confirmed in him his poor opinion of the ‘cabinet naturalist’ who never left his study. Already an accomplished artist, MacGillivray’s field observations also influenced his painting style, which evolved into meticulous, vibrant portraits of subjects in their natural habitats.

MacGillivray moved to Edinburgh to hold curatorial posts first with Robert Jameson at the University of Edinburgh and then at the Royal College of Surgeons. He returned north to take up the vacant post of Chair of Civil and Natural History in 1841 and went on to found the Museum of Natural History (now the Zoology Museum).

MacGillivray’s output was prodigious and he wrote numerous scientific papers and books on a range of subjects. But he is perhaps best known for his collaborative works with the colourful American ornithologist, John James Audubon, most notably the ‘Ornithological Biography’.

Although his drawings are deposited with the Natural History Museum in London, his fascinating journals and diaries are held by the University Archives. To find out more about these collections, search our online archive collections catalogue.