RSGS founders image

In the Society’s Archive there are some wondrous things. Those coming to our next Geography Day on Saturday 17 September will see a few on display, specially selected by our enthusiastic Collections Team members.  Do consider coming – we love showing off the collections!

From them, this month we share with you an intriguing drawing, dated 3 December 1884, and specially commissioned to convey something of the grand evening occasion when Edinburgh’s Music Hall in George St was the packed venue for the celebrated explorer Henry Morton Stanley’s Inaugural Address to our newly-formed Society.

The artist, William A Donnelly, born in Bowling, West Dumbartonshire, was for some year’s Scottish correspondent for the Illustrated London News.  On his drawing he identifies some of those he depicts (though not the splendidly be-hatted ladies) and makes an error in his penning of the surname ‘Milne Hume’ which puzzled us – until we realised he meant the distinguished Scottish advocate, geologist and meteorologist, David Milne Home FRSE, then a Vice President of RSGS and President of Edinburgh Geological Society.  In cross-checking this identification, we made the serendipitous and pleasing discovery that a current RSGS Edinburgh Member – meteorologist Marjorie Roy – co-authored a most interesting article on Milne Home for Issue 34 (2000) of The Edinburgh Geologist (in-house magazine of Edinburgh Geological Society). The image of Milne Home which Marjory Roy included, allowed us to be certain Donnelly’s depiction of ‘Milne Hume’ was of the same person, despite the spelling error.  At the end of H M Stanley’s Lecture, David Milne Home conferred on Stanley, and on H M Leopold II, King of the Belgians, the first two Honorary Memberships of our Society.

Other notables depicted include Alexander Bruce – 6th Lord Balfour of Burleigh, then Education Commissioner for Scotland and, later, Secretary of State for Scotland and Chancellor of the University of St Andrews.  Lord Balfour, as another Vice President of RSGS, acted as Chairman on this splendid evening as the Society’s President, the 5th Earl of Rosebery, was unable to be present.  H M Stanley is depicted twice: once in full-seated glory, mid-picture, appropriately facing a pedestal globe of the world, and later sketched during his talk – bottom left-hand side.  Dr George Smith (sporting a long white beard, above right from Stanley) was Dr George Smith CIE (Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire), an RSGS Council Member and Secretary of the Free Church of Scotland Missionary Board.  His wife was a daughter of the celebrated Scottish architect, Robert Adam, and they were the parents of the distinguished theologian, scholar and writer on geographical themes, the Very Reverend Sir George Adam Smith, Principal of the University of Aberdeen 1909-1935, who was in turn the father of the Rt Hon Lord Balerno, President of RSGS from 1968-1974.

At the time this drawing was made, the Society’s Secretary was Arthur Silva White, a noted author, principally on African themes, who can be seen above left from Lord Balfour. We’d love to identify the deeply-bearded gentleman depicted to the immediate right of Stanley **[maybe another image detail here, Gemma?] as a search through the Society’s collection of near-contemporary photographs of Council Members and Vice Presidents (very much from the great and good of Scotland at that period) yielded no obvious identification.