Robert Dunlop was born in Ayr on 27 February 1848. At the age of 10 he started to work at Townend Farm, and at 14 he was apprenticed to an iron moulder. He later worked at ‘The Standard Foundry’ in Airdry.
In 1870 he married Ann Hunter and together they had five sons and two daughters. He was an avid collector of fossils, and also collected birds and insects. He became a keen photographer, and enrolled in chemistry classes at Gartsherrie Science School in Coatbridge in order to overcome some of the difficulties he had producing photographs. He went on to become a demonstrator at the school and taught classes for 10 years.
In 1883 he joined the Geological Society of Glasgow, although by this time he had been collecting fossils for about 14 years.
Dunlop worked at Stanrigg Oil works where he experimented with a method to extract Benzol. It was a success and the works expanded. He went on to use his negotiating skills to acquire a disused plant in Shettleston.
He continued to hunt fossils and in doing so discovered several species. He was also the first President of the Clydesdale Photographic Society, a founder member of the Clydesdale Naturalists Society and an honorary curator at the Airdrie Museum.
On 9 February 1899 Dunlop sailed to New Zealand to set up an oil-shale plant in Orepuki. Whilst there he collected specimens which he brought back to Scotland to exhibit, as well as give lectures about his travels and discoveries.
On 13 February 1908 his wife died suddenly. Three years later he re-married to Anabella Reid.
In 1911 Dunlop was appointed curator of Pittencrieff House Museum where he gave his collection. He continued to give talks and expanded the collection further with Silurian fossils from Gotland and Old Red Sandstone fish from Caithness.
In 1921 Dunlop contracted Pneumonia and died on 21 April of the same year.