SpanglefishThe Travelling Scholars | sitemap | log in



"Kingussie is an old name; it is found written Kinguscy as early as the beginning of the twelfth century. This place-name is a memorial of the time when the district stood at the head of the great pine forest of Strathspey, of which a remnant is still found at Rothiemurchus, Glenmore, and Abernethy. The Celtic scholar MacBain gives the original form as Cinn Ghiùthsaich – Head of the Pine Forest. Across the Spey from Kingussie is Ruthven Castle; near it is the site of Gordon Hall, the residence of the Gordon lords of Badenoch when Ruthven Castle, their former seat, became a barracks." – Seton Gordon, 1951

The barracks were built after the Jacobite rising of 1715, and in the second rising they were captured by a Jacobite force equipped with artillery, early in 1746. After the defeat at Culloden in the spring of that year, part of the Jacobite army retreated here with the intention of fighting on, but were given the order by by Prince Charles to scatter and look after themselves. 

One of those caught up in the struggle was the mathematician Colin Maclaurin. He was a professor at Edinburgh University, and took on the task of superintending the city's defences against the advance of the Prince's army in 1745. After the Highland army swept in to Edinburgh, Maclaurin fled south to York, but a fall from his horse, combined with cold and fatigue, wore down his health and he died on his return north.


Maclaurin was himself a Highlander, born in 1698 in Kilmodan, Argyll, where his father was the minister of the local church at Glendaruel. He went to Glasgow University at the age of eleven, and three years later had his degree. He wrote his thesis on Sir Isaac Newton's theory of gravitation, which was to most mathematicians of the time new and hard to understand. Maclaurin, whose parents had died when he was young, spent the next three years with his uncle at Kilfinnan, enjoying the opportunity to study and walk in the hills. At the age of nineteen he became professor of mathematics at Marischal College, Aberdeen, after competitive examination. In vacation time there he made two journeys to London and met Newton himself. Newton was so impressed with the young man that he offered to pay part of the salary when Maclaurin moved to Edinburgh University.

Maclaurin's ability to understand Newton's ideas and apply them further was connected to his immense ability in geometry. Newton's expositions of his ideas were often expressed in geometrical arguments, and Maclaurin was one of the few with the ability to follow. He took some of Newton's ideas further, and a study of the tides won an award in 1740 from the French Academy of Sciences. Maclaurin's understanding of the tides was passed on to one of his students, Murdoch Mackenzie, and when shipping losses led to a call for the development of much more accurate charts of the British coast, Maclaurin recommended Mackenzie for the job and thereby started the career of the great mapmaker.

Ships and Harbours Image Library