Portree Bay, Skye

Great Scots Highlands and Islands

Are you interested in a guided tour of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland? Please visit our longer tours of Scotland page.

Great Scots Highlands and Islands

1) Academics

a) Timothy Pont (1564-1614) b.?

Mapmaker Minister in Dunnet, Caithness from 1601-14. Carried out an extensive survey of Scotland, and his maps were later restored by Robert Gordon of Straloch, and published in Blaeu’s Atlas Novus, and recently made available on the internet by the National Library of Scotland.

b) James Sharp (1613-79) b. Banff

Churchman and Covenanter, imprisoned in London, and in 1657, he negotiated with the impressed Cromwell. After 1660,he pragmatically recognised that both Charles 11 and the Scots nobles were determined to re-impose episcopacy and he accepted the Archbishopric of St. Andrews. Ruthless persecution of the Covenanters and the Fife lairds led to his murder by Fife Covenanters.

c) Sir Roderick Impey Murchison (1792-1871) b. Tarradale, nr Muirhead of Ord

Geologist he carried our major surveys of Russia and Australia, where the Murchison river named after him. Also the Murchison Falls in Uganda named after him. He became the Director of the Geological Survey in 1855.

d) Hugh Miller (1802-56) b. Cromarty

Geologist and Writer Largely self-taught from his early career as a stonemason. His most important work “The Old Red Sandstone”(1841). Involved in the controversy that led to the Disruption of the Church of Scotland, and started “The Witness”, newspaper of then Evangelical side. He committed suicide in Portobello.

e) William Skene (1809-92) b. Knoydart

Historian son of James Skene of Rubislaw, a friend of Sir Walter Scott. He was a solicitor who spent his time researching Scottish Historical Documents, resulting in his publication “Celtic Scotland”(1876-80.)In 1881 he became Historiographer Royal.

f) Professor Susan Black OBE FRSE b. Inverness  (1961 – )
A forensic anthropologist and academic – awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Human anatomy in 1982,and an award in Philosophy in human anatomy for her thesis on “Identification from the human skeleton”, both from Aberdeen University.
She is now a forensic anthropologist of international renown, and has served in Kosovo, Sierra
Leone and Granada, two tours of Iraq and partook in the Thai/Australian Discover Victim Identification as part of the Indian Ocean Earthquake Tsunami International Response.
Now Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at Dundee University. This department is training the UK National Disaster Victim Identification for police and scientists in advanced mortuary practices.
Susan Black has already completed 12 authored and co-authored works.

2) Architects and Builders

a) James Smith (c.1645-1731) b. Tarbat, Ross-shire

After studying for the priesthood in Rome, he became an architect instead, marrying the daughter of the King’s Master Mason, Robert Mylne. He designed the great Palaces of Drumlanrig (1680-90), Hamilton (1693-1701), Melville, Fife (1697-1700), Yester (1700-15) and Dalkeith (1702-10) and the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh (1688-90).

3) Artists and Sculptors

a) Sir Robert Strange (1804-91) b. Kirkwall

Artist career inextricably linked with Prince Charles Edward Stuart, whose portrait he engraved and fought with him at Culloden. Later he spent most of his life in London and on the Continent achieved an International reputation for his line engravings.

b) Adam Christie (1868-1950) b. Cunningsburgh, Shetland

Eldest son in a fishing family a writer and musician, but at 32,following a severe depression, he was admitted to hospital in Montrose, where he died. Here, using only a chisel fashioned from a nail, he made numerous sculpted forms, mostly heads, which he carved from stones from nearby fields. He also painted, made wood-relief pictures and fine violins, whilst writing fiddle music and poetry.

c) William McTaggert (1903-1910) b. Aros, Kintyre, Argyll

Artist one of a generation of important 19th century artists, who studied in Edinburgh under Robert Scott Lauder. He is sometimes dubbed “The Scottish Impressionist.”

d) Jim Baikie (1940 – 2017) b. Orkney

Comic artist worked on publications such as “Look In”, where he illustrated adaptions of “The Monkees” and “Star Trek”. He is best known for collaborating with Alan Moore on Skizz for 2000AD, a spin on ET.

4) Authors/Writers/Poets

a) Duncan Ban Macintyre (1724-1812) b. Glenorchy

One of the most renowned Gaelic poets and formed an integral part of one of the golden ages of Gaelic Poetry in Scotland during the 18th century. Most renowned of his poems “Praise of Ben Doran“.

b) Jame MacPherson (1736-96) b. Ruthven, Invernesshire.

Poet and collector and translator of Gaelic poetry, including epics of the hero Fingal.

c) William Ross (1762-c.91) b. Skye

Gaelic poet regarded as one of the greatest of Gaelic love poets, much of his verse inspired by his unrequited love of Marion Ross from Lewis.

d) Edwin Muir (1887-1959) b. Deerness, Orkney

A well know poet critic and translator much of his work was infused by his socialist principles and interest in Europe.

e) Neil Gunn (1891-1973) b. Dunbeard, Caithness

His novels were influenced by his passion for Highland history and society. A friend of Hugh McDiarmid, he became part of the 20th century Scottish Literary Renaissance.

f) Sir Fitzroy Maclean (1911-96) b. Argyll

Diplomat, soldier and writer, and especially renowned as the inspiration of James Bond.

g) Sorley Maclean (1911-96) b. Osgaig, Raasay

His work in the field of Gaelic poetry has led to his being viewed as the Father of the Scottish Gaelic Renaissance. Sonhairle MacGill-Eain is commemorated in Makar’s Court, outside the Writer’s Museum, Lawnmarket in Edinburgh.

h) George Mackay Brown (1921 – 1996) in Orkney.

Poet, author and dramatist, and considered one of the greatest Scottish poets of the 20th century. Much of his work was, as Seamus Heaney said, seen “Through the eyes of an Orkney needle.”

i) Duncan Williamson (1928 – 2007) b.in a tent Nr Furnace in Argyll

Traveller, storyteller and singer and one of Scotland’s best known storytellers, and some books edited by his wife Linda included “The Horsieman“, “The Broonie“, “Silkies and Fairies” and “Fireside Tales of the Traveller Children“.

j) Alison Smith (1962-) b. Inverness

Novelist and short story teller. Her novels won Scottish Arts Council awards and were short listed for the Brooker Prize and the Orange Prize.

k) Alan Warner (1964-) b. Oban

Novelist a writer of darkly humorous books, pictorially descriptive which makes him popular with film directors.

5) Educationalists and charitable benefactors

a) Hector Sutherland – b.Portree, Skye 1926 d. Portree, Skye 2013.

Hector spent time in many different countries, where he was engaged in aid and development work. Many of his early years were spent in Western Canada and N.W. USA, where he concentrated on the education and training of people in deprived communities. His projects were designed to help underprivileged children get a good start in life through education and training.
He then lived in Africa where he led important community projects in Swaziland, Kenya and Uganda, where he stimulated the Harambee Educational Fund.
In 2010, just 3 years before his death, the Hector Foundation was established in Kabale in Uganda, as a non- profit organisation, to which Hector Sutherland provided financial and moral assistance.
After a life-time of international travel and activity, Hector returned to live in Skye in his final years, and lived in his childhood home.
In 2014, the church in Portree dedicated a decorative pulpit cloth in his memory, symbolising his charitable work, and the fact that it all had a Christian focus. It remains a most attractive feature within Skye’s largest church.

Hector Sutherland

6) Engineers

a) James Leveson Ross (1848 – 1913) b. Cromarty.

Civil engineer, businessman and philanthropist. Best known as a Railway Engineer, and played a major role in the magnificent and hugely challenging construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, of which he became a major shareholder. He also oversaw the electrification of street railways in   Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, St. John, Birmingham (England), Mexico City and Sao Paolo. He was President of the Dominion Bridge Co.and the Mexican Power Co. He was Hon. Lieut- Colonel of the 17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars and Governor of McGill University and the Royal Victoria Hospital. An avid collector of fine arts, he owned several yachts, becoming the first Canadian to be made a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. He died in Montreal.

7) Explorers and Pioneers

a) Charles Barkley (1759-1832) b. Cromarty

He went to sea aged 11, in his Father’s ship, the “Pacific”, who was a Master in the East
India Company. He eventually became a Captain in his own right, after buying a trading ship
of their own, together with other directors of the East India Company. It was Charles who
was the first man to take an interest in what became British Colombia, and indeed one of three particularly safe anchorages off Vancouver Island, to this day known as Barkley

He became a great sea trader, and with his dear wife, Francis with her fair colouring and
red-gold hair, together with their son, became objects of intense interest to all wherever
they went, especially in Hawaii, BC, Alaska and Indo-China.

b) Alexander Mackenzie (1764-1820) b. Stornoway

First man to cross North America to the Pacific coast in 1893.

c) Simon Fraser (1776-1862) b.?

A Highlander who emigrated to North America with his parents. He discovered W.Canada for the British New Caledonia and then British Columbia. He discovered the Fraser River and the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver is named after him.

d) John Rae (1813-1893) b. Stromness, Orkney

The greatest Arctic Explorer of the 19th century and founder of the North West Passage. Expert in survival methods, being able to survive for long periods in the Arctic without external supplies. In 1847 he surveyed 700 miles of the coastline around Committee Bay, and the following year sent out in search of Sir John Franklin, bringing back information about the true fate of the Franklin Expedition.

e) William Balfour Baikie ( b. 1824) Orkney

At 30 began an Exploration of Africa as a surgeon to a Government backed project. He later opened up the navigation of the Niger, made roads and established a community near the river, which became the City of Lokoja.

f) Alexander McDougall b Port Ellen, Islay 1845 d Duluth 1923

He was called “The Captain” – he built 8 shipyards, 4 dry docks and 200 ships. He designed ocean- going canal boats, an ore washing device, a hydraulic transporting system, designed and operated Mississippi River barges, created a torpedo- proof military vessel and held 49 patents for his inventions.
As an inventor, pioneer, a major employer and in many ways a visionary in shipping, he was a polymath of substance and lasting success.
He emigrated with his parents aged 9 to Ontario, and with little education, ran away from home to sail on the mighty Great Lakes. By the age of 26 he was a Captain.
His first command was the SS Japan of the Anchor Line.
He built a home in Duluth, and became involved in the burgeoning trade of iron ore and grain.
In 1875 he visited Russia on invitation, to examine the feasibility of building a canal linking the Volga and Don rivers.
In 1886 he dabbled in the fishing industry, but soon concentrated on a remarkable ship building career and stevedore business employing nearly 1,000 men.
In 1888 he created the American Steel Barge Co, and he built his first “whaleback” which revolutionised shipping in the Lakes, designed to cater for the locks and stormy waters of the region, a project backed by John D.Rockefeller.
Then came his dry dock, and his most prestigious ship for the Chicago World’s Fair, the SS Christopher Columbus, built in under 3 months in 1892, on her trial carrying 7,500 passengers. She was still working in 1930, and was known as “The Queen of the Lakes.”
In 1893 he built the “Spirit of Everett” in Washington State, where he constructed a shipyard and dry dock. She was the first American steamship through the Suez Canal, and the first to sail around the world.
In 1889 he built shipping for the Mississippi River trade, and in 1912, after building another shipyard and dry dock in Collingwood, where he and his family had first landed 58 years earlier.He also helped his son Miller found a cold storage company in Chicago.
There is only one whaleback left which sits in in Maritime Museum on Barkers’s Island, Superior. Every year in Duluth, the life of this remarkable shipping pioneer is remembered.
His achievements stand as a memorial to this unique son of Islay. (Courtesy of the periodical, the “History of Scotland”)

g) James “Scotty” Phillip (1858-1911) b. Dallas, Moray

At 15 he emigrated to the US seeking adventure and settled in South Dakota, seeking gold. He eventually set up a herd of cattle and married a part-native American. He became a great champion of their cause and was largely responsible for the preservation of the buffalo in the US. Later he became a Senator.

8) Founders

a) Arthur Anderson b. Lerwick, Shetland (1795-1868)

After a brief and thankless career in the Royal Navy, he moved to London, and destitute, eventually became a Clerk with the London Insurance firm of Brodie McGie Wilcox, and became a partner in 1822, with the firm being renamed to Wilcox and Anderson.
They developed first shipping business between Britain and the Iberian Peninsular, which turned into a regular steamship service by 1830, and named the Peninsular Steam Navigation Co, which became the P and O by 1837.

b) Major General Lachlan Macquarie (1761-1824) b. Ulva off Mull

Governor General of New South Wales, Australia from 1809-1820, and was responsible for the development of the city of Sydney. Regarded as one of the “Fathers of modern Australia.”

c) Sir James Matheson (1796-1878) b. Lairg, Sutherland

He met William Jardine whilst working for the East India Company, and in 1832 created Jardine Matheson, Hong Kong’s oldest firm, originally based on the opium trade. With his fortune he bought the Island of Lewis, and built Lews Castle.

d) David Colville (1813-1898) b. Campbeltown, Mull of Kintyre, Argyll.

In 1861, he left the family tea and coffee business in Glasgow, and started a business in the Iron trade. 1871 saw the start of David Colville and Sons, and with sons John and Archibald, formed the Dalzell Steel and Iron Works, switching to steel production in 1880. He started a great Scottish Industrial tradition in Iron and Steel and became a huge employer in Motherwell, providing steel for many industries such as shipbuilding, and it was Dalzell steel that built the Forth Rail Bridge starting in 1883.

e) Sir William Mackinnon b. Campbeltown, Argyll (1823-1893)

1st Baronet. He went to India in 1847 and joined an old school friend, Robert Mackenzie, in the coastal shipping trade, carrying merchandise from port to port around the Bay of Bengal. Together they formed the firm of Mackinnon Mackenzie and Co. In 1876 he formed the Calcutta and Burma Steam Navigation Co, which would become the British India Steam Navigation Co. in 1862.
In 1888 he founded the Imperial British East Africa Co., and became Chairman. The company, supported by the UK Government as a means of establishing British influence in the region, was committed to eliminating the slave trade, prohibiting trade monopoly and equal treatment for all nations.
In 1889 he was made Ist Baronet of Strathaird and Loup.

f) George Smith (1824-1901) b. Elgin

Founder of Smith, Elder and Co. Publishing House, Cornhill Magazine, The Pall Mall Gazette and the Dictionary of National Biography.

g) William Grant (1839-1972) b. Dufftown

Distiller and founder of the Glenfiddich Distillery in 1887. The company William Grant still exists today.

h) James Farquharson Macleod ? b. Calgary, Mull

He became chief of the Canadian Mounted Police in 1876. He named the City of Calgary in W. Canada after his place of birth.

i) Gordon Baxter (1918-2013) b. Fochabers, Moray

Entrepreneur and founder of the Baxters Food Empire, and proud son of Moray.

9) Heroes and Heroines

a) Ewen Macpherson of Cluny (d.1756) b.?

Chief of the Macphersons and reluctant supporter of Charles Edward Stuart, he brought his clansmen to join the Jacobite army after the Battle of Prestonpans, but missed the Battle of Culloden. His home having been burned, he took refuge in “Cluny’s Cage” a cave on the side of Ben Alder, where he was joined by the Prince until the latter’s escape to Skye. Never betrayed by his people, despite the offer of reward, he finally escaped to France in 1755, but soon died there.

b) Flora MacDonald (1722-90) b. South Uist

Saviour and guide to Charles Edward Stuart in his flight to Skye from the Scottish mainland. She was arrested and sent to London to be imprisoned, but later was released and became a VIP at social parties obviously some lady!

c) The Rev.Dr.Donald Currie Caskie DD OBE OCF (1902-83) b. Bowmore, Islay

Son of a crofter, and Minister in the Church of Scotland, best known for his exploits in France during World War II, during which he helped an estimate 2,000 Allied sailors, soldiers and airmen to escape from occupied France, in the main through Spain, all described in his wartime memoir, “The Tartan Pimpernel” (1957).

10) Inventors

a) Alexander Bain b. Caithness (1811-1877)

Son of a crafter in a big family. An instrument inventor, technician and clockmaker.
His first patent was in 1841 for an electric clock which used a pendulum kept moving by electromagnetic impulses, and he improved on this later with the use of an “Earth battery”, which consisted of plots of zinc and copper in the ground.
In December 1841, together with Lieut. Thomas Wright RN, he patented a method of using electricity to control railway engines by turning off steam – the first change from steam to electric trains!
In 1843 he patented the first facsimile machine.
“For many years I have devoted myself to rendering electricity practically useful, and have been extensively engaged, not only in this country, but in America and on the Continent, in the construction and the working of the Electrical Telegraph; while at the same time the employment of electricity in the measurement of time also drew my attention.”
His surviving examples remain:

  • In the National Maritime Museum in London
  • London Science Museum
  • Royal Scottish Museum
  • Deutsches Uhrenmuseum

A pub in Wick holds his name as does the main BT Building in Glasgow, known as Alexander Bain House.
Meanwhile he is to be honoured at a ceremony in Las Vegas for his pioneering work in the field of image transmission which was used in the development of television, in the form of an Emmy, which will be a source of great pride for the people of East Dumbartonshire and indeed for the whole of Scotland. He is buried in Kirkintilloch.

Truly one of the great Scottish Inventors.

11) Journalists and Publishers

a) Neil Munro (1864-1930) b. Inveraray, Argyll

Journalist and novelist best know for his “Para Handy”.

12) Military Men

a) Sir Thomas Randolph Ist Earl of Moray d. 1332

Soldier and Politician nephew of King Robert 1 and one of the King’s most important Lieutenants. He recaptured Edinburgh Castle in 1314 and was a Commander at Bannockburn.

b) John Randolph 3rd Earl of Moray d. in 1346

Soldier and Politician defeated Balliol at Annan in 1332. In 1334 he became a Joint Guardian with Robert the Steward, successfully expelling the English from the S.W. of Scotland.

c) Sir Hector Archibald Macdonald (1853-1902) b. Black Isle.

“Fighting Mac” a crofter’s son, he joined the British Army as a private and became a Major-General, fighting in the Afghan War, both Boer Wars and saving British troops from certain death at Omdurman. He was knighted in 1901, and became Commander-in-Chief in Ceylon in 1902. His career ended in tragedy when he committed suicide in Paris, rather than return to Ceylon to face charges of homosexuality.

13) Musicians

a) William Marshall (1749-1833) b. Fochabers, Moray

Fiddle player/composer of 257 tunes, the slow Strathspey being his favourite form.

b) William Ross (1879-1966) b. Camsorrie, Glen Strathfarrar, Nr Beauly, Invernesshire

Piper taught by his father and relatives, he won many awards. He was Pipe Major in the Scots Guards and Lovat Scouts and was Piobaireachd Society Instructor to the Army School 1920-57. He was a composer and arranger of pipe music, and published “Pipe Major WILLIAM Ross’s Collection of Highland Music” Books 1 to 5 between 1933 and 1950.

c) Jimmy MacBeath (1894-1972) b. Portsoy, Banffshire

After many years of tramping the road, living in poverty and singing for pennies, MacBeath became celebrated in the 1950’s as a major source of traditional Scottish and Bothy ballads, and a remarkable gravel-voiced performer on recordings and in concert.

d) Karen Matheson OBE (1963-) b. Taynuilt, Argyllshire

Folk singer, with the most stunning voice, who songs many of her material in the Gaelic. Lead female singer of the group “Capercaille.”

e) Julie Fowlis (1979-) b.? brought up in North Uist

Folk-singer with a gorgeous voice, and again sings so much of her music in the Gaelic.

14) Physicians

a) Sir William MacEwan (1848-1924) b. Rothesay, Bute

Surgeon pioneer, especially in brain and bone, and he extended Lister’s antiseptic technique.

15) Politicians and Diplomats

a) Sir Henry Barkly (1815-1898) b. Cromarty

A famed and successful British diplomat serving in British Guiana, Jamaica, Victoria (Australia), Mauritius and the Cape Colony, South Africa.
He had a great reputation for reason and diplomacy, and perhaps his greatest days were during his last office, where he played such a major role in reasoning with the Boers and local blacks, especially in the heady days of the diamond finds in the Orange Free State. When he retired, the situation deteriorated dramatically, and maybe if he had been younger, might the Boer War have been averted?

b) Lord Donald A. Smith Strathcona (1820-1913) b. Forres, Moray

Canadian financier and politician became Governor of the Hudson Bay Co., and was the driving force behind the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was High Commissioner to Canada in London from 1896.

c) Sir James Haldane Stewart Lockhart (1858 – 1937) b. Ardsheal, Argyll

After school and university in Edinburgh, James took a Colonial Service Cadetship In Hong Kong In 1878.
He rose through the ranks becoming Commissioner of Weihaiwai from 1902-1927, the British enclave returning to China in 1930. Together with another Scot, one Reginald Johnston, they formed a very positive relationship with the Honk Kong  Chinese, due to his knowledge of Cantonese, and Johnston’s Mandarin. Lockhart was made a Member of the Hong Kong Legislative and Executive Councils.
He founded the Hong Kong Football Club in 1886, to host many a Hong Kong Rugby Sevens which still runs today.
His appointment of CMG was signed by Queen Victoria in 1898, whilst his appointment of KCMG was signed by Edward VII In 1908.
Lockhart Road In Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island, is named after him.

d) Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) b. Lossiemouth, Moray

British Statesman with little education, he worked as a clerk, but became an organiser of the Labour Party and an MP in 1906. He became PM of the first Labour Government in Britain in 1924. He was again PM in 1924-35 and in 1931 he formed a (largely Conservative) National Government to combat the Depression.

e) Sir William Whitelaw (1918-99) b. Nairn, Moray

Politician MP for Penrith and the Borders division of Cumbria from 1955-83, when he was made Viscount Whitelaw. He was the first N. Ireland Secretary (1972), and became a key member of Lady Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet.

f) John Smith (1938-94) b. Dalmally, Argyll

Politician in 1992 became Leader of the Labour Party, and perhaps one of the great PM’s who never was?

g) Lord Robertson of Port Ellen (1946-) b. Port Ellen, Islay

Elected labour MP for Hamilton in 1978, he became his party’s spokesman on European Affairs in in 1984, and held the post for 9 years, before moving to the Shadow Cabinet, where he had responsibility for Scottish matters. Became Secretary of State for Defence on Labour’s return to power in 1997, then 2 years later was made Secretary General of NATO, a post he held till 2003. In 1999 he was also made a Life Peer.

h) Brian Wilson (1948-) b. Dunoon, Argyll

Politician and Journalist MP for Cunninghame North since 1987 and Minister of State for various departments since 1997, latterly the PM’s Special Representative for Trade and Reconstruction. He founded and edited the West Highland Free Press.

16) Scientists

a) Colin Maclaurin (1698-1746) b. Kilmodan, Argyll

Physician, mathematician and astronomer appointed to a chair at Marischal College Aberdeen at the age of 19, and later at Edinburgh(on the recommendation of Isaac Newton)A key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, his “Treatise on Fluxions” (1742) gave a systematic account of Newton’s approach to calculus.

b) Alexander Thom (1894-1985) b. Argyll.

Engineer and archaeological theorist of astronomical calendars and megalithic measuring units.

Scroll to Top