Collection of Professor Donald Mackinnon (1839-1914)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-98
  • Dates of Creation
      15th century-19th century
  • Physical Description
      38 boxes, 2 large bundles, 610 volumes, 19 notebooks, 6 small miscellaneous volumes (18 linear metres).
  • Location
      Mackinnon Coll.

Scope and Content

The collection of Professor Donald Mackinnon includes a 15th century manuscript on medieval physiography; a 16th century summary or abstract of the Treatise of Maighstir Ricairdi compiled from Hippocrates and others; and, tales and verse written in the 18th century. There are bundles of papers of different sizes with unrelated contents, notebooks containing lecture notes on Gaelic grammar and Gaelic literature, notebooks containing transcripts of Gaelic poetry, Gaelic versions of classical epics, notes on the history of Scotland, newspaper cuttings, draft copies of work, and books and papers. A large part of the collection is in the form of printed volumes, annuals, journals, and pamphlets.

Administrative / Biographical History

Donald Mackinnon was born in Kilchattan on Colonsay, in the Hebrides, on 18 April 1839. He was educated locally and then later, from the age of eighteen, at the Church of Scotland Training College, Edinburgh, which was a popular route to studying at Edinburgh University. Between 1860 and 1863 he was engaged as a school-teacher in Lochinver, Sutherlandshire, where he made a close study of the dialects and literature of the North Highlands. Mackinnon studied at Edinburgh University where he obtained the degree of M.A. in 1870. Earlier, in 1869, he had become Clerk to the Church of Scotland's Educational Scheme, and in 1872 he was Clerk to the Endowed Schools and Hospitals Commission. After the passing of the Education Act, and on the formation of the School Board of Edinburgh, Mackinnon was appointed as its first Clerk and Treasurer. This was a difficult time to hold such a position because Scottish Education was in the transition stage from control by the Churches to control by elected bodies. In 1882, he became the first Professor of Celtic at Edinburgh University, and he held the chair until 1914. His experience and acquaintance with the North Highlands served him in his capacity as member of the Crofters Royal Commission chaired by Lord Napier in 1883. Mackinnon's contribution to the Commission's Report was impressive enough to speed up subsequent legislation for the improvement of conditions for Scotland's crofters. Among his publications were the Reading book for the use of students of the Gaelic class at Edinburgh University (1889), and On the dialects of Scottish Gaelic. Professor Donald Mackinnon died in Balnahard on Colonsay on 25 December 1914.

Access Information

Contact the repository for details

Acquisition Information

The papers of Professor Donald Mackinnon were presented to by Miss K. Mackinnon in 1948. Some of the collection was presented to the Library in 1924 by Dr. Roger MacNeill, Medical Officer for Health for Argyll.


The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) The Gambolier, 25 November 1914, pp.64-66 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University).

Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H28; Another important finding aid is the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives. Additions to the typed slips in sheaf binders were made until 1987.

Related Material

The Index to Manuscripts shows, at various shelfmarks, references to letters of, and letters to, Professor Mackinnon.

Additional Information

The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) The Gambolier, 25 November 1914, pp.64-66 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University).

Corporate Names