John Scouler Ireland Scotland

Biography of John Scouler

Signature of John Scouler
Signature of John Scouler

John Scouler (c 1804-1871), son of a calico printer at Locher Mill, Kilbarchan, was educated privately by a clergyman and first matriculated aged about 14 years at the University of Glasgow. There he came under the influence of the famous Professor of Botany, Hooker, who acclaimed Scouler as one of his most brilliant pupils. Scouler at 19 went to Paris to study and later graduated with an MD at Glasgow in 1827 after returning from a remarkable two year voyage. He was awarded an LLD from the University in 1850 in recognition of is important discoveries.

John Scouler made the journey to Northwest America from 1824-1826, discovering plants and animals while travelling through the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to the Columbia River. His companion was the Glasgow botanist David Douglas where they discovered many plants new to science. Scouler then went to India, adding to his collections which helped found the Andersonian Museum in Glasgow. When not travelling he was Professor at Anderson’s College and in Dublin. His work contributed to anthropology, natural history and geology - truly a “man of parts”. Scouler had a very wide range of interests and expertise beyond basic natural history. He was evidently fascinated by anthropology generally and the diversity displayed by human beings; at the Cork 1843 meeting of the BAAS he was one of the committee appointed “for investigating the varieties of the Human Race”. Altogether 26 plants, 2 animals and 2 fossil species were named in his honour by fellow scientists. His books were bequeathed to Stirling's Library in the city, now transferred to the Mitchell Library. The museum collections he founded were relocated mainly to the Hunterian and Kelvingrove over a period of years from 1880 onwards.

A contemporary quote on his demise reads:

“Men of Dr Scouler’s stamp are rare in Glasgow. We shall miss from our streets his benevolent countenance and venerable form, so well known as he walked slowly along, with books under his arm, in his daily progress from his residence to the Andersonian Museum, generally looking in at his bookseller’s to obtain a new supply of books. All that the most querulous critic can allege against him is that he dissipated too much of his time in desultory reading, instead of concentrating his energies upon his own subject, and giving the world some work that might have perpetuated his name; but, although zealous in defending the fame of others, he thought little of his own. He led a purely intellectual life, his morality was spotless, and all his aspirations generous and praiseworthy. His slender income was more than sufficient for his simple wants, and whatever was over he devoted to the purchase of books, in which, by long practice, he had acquired consummate skill, and felt proud of it.” (Glasgow Herald, 15 November 1871)

You can see a copy of Scouler’s publication Views, Ancient and Modern, on the Origin of Species from 1863 at the University of Glasgow’s Special Collections department.


John Scouler
GU Degrees: MD, 1827; LLD, 1850;
University Link: Graduate
Additional Information: Biography written by Geoff Hancock, Curator of Entomology, Hunterian Museum John Scouler (c.1804-1871), Scottish Naturalist: A Life, with Two Voyages (E. Charles Nelson), 31 May 2014
Record last updated: 6th Jun 2014

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