George Steuart Mackenzie

Birth: 1780


Sir GEORGE STEUART MACKENZIE (1780–1848) was a mineralogist, only son of Major-general Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Coul, by his wife Katharine, daughter of Robert Ramsay of Camno, was born on 22 June 1780. He succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father in 1796. He first became known to the scientific world in 1800, when he obtained a 'decisive proof of the identity of diamond with carbon' by a series of experiments on the formation of steel by the combination of diamonds with iron (Nicholson, Journal of Natural Philosophy, iv. 103–10). In these experiments he is said to have made free use of his mother's jewels (Mrs. Gordon, Some Life of Sir David Brewster, p. 215). A few years later he became fellow of the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, and ultimately president of the physical class of the latter.

The pupil and friend of Professor Robert Jameson [q. v.], Mackenzie throughout his life devoted much time to the study of mineralogy and geology. His interest in those subjects led him in 1810 to undertake a journey to Iceland, when he was accompanied by Dr. (afterwards Sir Henry) Holland and Dr. Richard Bright. Sir Charles Lyell speaks with admiration of 'the magnificent collection of mineralogical treasures' which he made during his travels (Life of Sir Charles Lyell, i. 156).

In 1811 was published the 'Travels in Iceland,' the joint production of the three travellers. To this work he contributed the narrative of the voyage and the travels, and the chapters on the mineralogy, rural economy, and commerce of the island. Although the scientific portions of the book have long been superseded, it contains much information of permanent interest on the social and economic condition of Iceland. It was favourably reviewed by Robert Southey (Quarterly Review, vii. 48–92).

To illustrate the conclusions he had formed with regard to the geology of Iceland, Mackenzie visited the Faroe Islands in 1812, and on his return read an account of his observations before the Edinburgh Royal Society (Edinb. Roy. Soc. Trans, vii. 218–28). Shortly afterwards he drew up a careful report on the agriculture of Ross and Cromarty for the board of agriculture ('General View of the Agriculture of Ross and Cromarty,' 1813, 8vo). From 1826 to 1848 he contributed numerous papers to the discussion of the origin of the 'parallel roads' of Lochaber, but the views which he expressed did not gain acceptance (Phil. Mag. vii. 433–6; Edinb. Roy. Soc. Proc. i. 348, 349; Edinb. New Phil. Journ. xliv. 1–12). He died in October 1848.

Mackenzie married, first, 8 June 1802, Mary, fifth daughter of Donald Macleod of Geanies, sheriff of Ross-shire, by whom he had seven sons and three daughters. On her death (13 Jan. 1835) he married, secondly, Katharine, second daughter of Sir Henry Jardine of Harwood, and widow of Captain John Street, R.A., by whom he had one son.


In addition to the works mentioned above the following books and papers may be noticed: 1. 'Treatise on the Diseases and Management of Sheep. With ... an Appendix containing documents exhibiting the value of the merino breed,' Inverness, 1807, 8vo. 2. 'An Essay on some Subjects connected with Taste,' Edinburgh, 1817; 2nd edit. 1842. 3. 'Illustrations of Phrenology. With Engravings,' Edinburgh, 1820, 8vo. 4. 'Documents laid before . . . Lord Glenelg . . . relative to the Convicts sent to New South Wales,' Edinburgh, 1836, 8vo. 5. 'General Observations on the Principles of Education, &c.' Edinburgh, 1836, 12mo. 6. 'On the most Recent Disturbance of the Crust of the Earth in respect to its Suggesting an Hypothesis to Account for the Origin of Glaciers' (Edinb. New Phil. Journ. xxxiii. 1–9).

[Authorities quoted; Burke's Baronetage and Peerage, 'Mackenzie of Coul;' John Kay's Original Portraits, 1838, ii. 454; Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers.]

Dictionary of National Biography by William Albert Samuel Hewins, 1885-1900, Volume 35. pg. 149-150.

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