John A.Harvie-Brown was born in Edinburgh on 27 August, 1844, the only son of John Harvie (later Harvie-Brown) and the Dunipace heiress, Elizabeth Spottiswoode. He was educated at Merchiston School and the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge. At Cambridge he formed the friendship with Alfred Newton which was to last a life-time, as is reflected in the volume of correspondence from him in this collection. Harvie-Brown’s interest in natural history began when he was a boy, and he was a keen sportsman, fisherman and collector all his life, although he also recognised the necessity for measures to conserve wild life.
Together with T.E. Buckley, Harvie-Brown edited, and largely wrote, a series of volumes on the vertebrate fauna of Scotland. He collected the information for these partly from his own observations, but mainly through his vast correspondence with other naturalists of the day, and an army of enthusiastic amateurs, including gamekeepers, taxidermists, and sportsmen, whom he encouraged with letters and presents of books. One of the principle correspondents in the collection is David Douglas, the Edinburgh publisher who handled the series. Most of the volumes are illustrated by photographs by the talented Fraserburgh photographer, William Norrie, many of whose prints are now in the subject files.
Harvie-Brown’s speciality was ornithology, and he was particularly interested in migration and dispersal of species. He was instrumental in the scheme for obtaining the co-operation of lighthouse keepers in recording valuable information on bird migration for the British Association studies. Harvie-Brown’s correspondents include other members of that committee, such as R.M. Barrington and John Cordeaux. Harvie-Brown and Newton also arranged for the translation of H. Gatke’s influential work on migration.
As well as writing numerous scientific articles of his own, Harvie-Brown was founder and joint editor of the Annals of Scottish Natural History. Another major correspondent is his fellow-editor William Eagle Clarke.
Harvie-Brown made numerous expeditions throughout Scotland, and on his yacht, the ‘Shiantelle’. He also made two expeditions to Northern Europe to study the natural history, one with E.R. Alston and another with Henry Seebohm.
Many of the bird skins and specimens collected by Harvie-Brown and his friend H,W, Feilden (another major correspondent) were destroyed in a fire at Dunipace in 1897. His library, however, remained intact and some of his books on natural history and Scottish history are now in the National Museums Scotland Library, which also holds a copy of his library catalogue prepared in 1908.
Harvie-Brown was active in local affairs, for example, serving as chairman of Dunipace School Board. He was a member of many scientific societies, such as the British Ornithologists’ Union and the Zoological Society of Scotland.
A lively and informative biography of Harvie-Brown can be found in the Transactions of the Stirling History and Archaeological Society, 58, 1935-36, 50-63.