Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
Scots Who Made A Difference

by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.
© 2007 Britannia.com

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BREMNER, ROBERT (1713-89)
The world's music publishing industry owes a great deal to Robert Bremner, for before his own venture into the music publishing industry, the business had been undertaken only under town council patronage or as a private enterprise of individual composers. Bremner changed all that; he began modern music publishing when he determined that money could be made from its commercial exploitation. Bremner's publication of reprints of McGibbon's Scots Tunes for the Violin (1759), books of Scottish songs and fiddle tunes, tutors for various instruments and other works created an enormous demand for more of the same.


BREWSTER, SIR DAVID (1781-1868)
Educated for the ministry, David Brewster found science to be more fascinating than religion and more self-rewarding. As a physicist, his claim to fame came from his work in optics and polarized light. His Brewster's Law states a simple mathematical relationship between the polarizing angle and the refractive index of the reflective substance. It has proved most useful in determining the refractive index of materials that are opaque or available only in small samples.

In 1815, Brewster was elected to the Royal Society. In 1816, he invented the Kaleidoscope thus creating an optical machine that would provide amusement and fascination for countless generations of young people throughout the world. Brewster also improved the stereoscope to produce the three-dimensional effect and persuaded the British government to adopt the lightweight flat Fresnel lens, used in its many coastal lighthouses. His two most important publications are Treatise on Optics (1831) and Memoirs of the Life Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton (1855).


BRISBANE, SIR THOMAS MAKDOUGALL (1773-1860)
In 1834, the Australian convict settlement of Edenglassie was changed to Brisbane to honor Thomas Brisbane, Scottish soldier and astronomical observer who had become Governor of New South Wales in 1821 and who introduced vineyards, sugar-cane plantations and tobacco growing to his province. It is for his scientific work that Brisbane is most remembered, including his building of observatories in both Australia and Scotland, to where he returned in 1826 and where he received the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society two years later. He was elected President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1833.


BROADWOOD, JOHN (1732-1812)
In 1782, John Broadwood, a cabinetmaker from Berwickshire, took over the London business of a Swiss harpsichord maker (a case of marrying the boss's daughter and later succeeding to the business). Directed by members of the Broadwood family ever since, the company is the world's oldest existing firm of piano manufacturers. After a few years making square pianos, John Broadwood produced a grand piano in 1781 that used as added damper and soft pedals that are used on modern grands. Another innovation was his use of the divided bridge, allowing bass and treble strings to affect the soundboard independently. It is to the Broadwood family that we owe many of today's existing British folk songs which. they first collected and published.

The Broadwood Company dominated the British, and for a time the world, piano trade for practically the whole of the 19th century. While a Chopin used a Broadwood Grand, The Dream of Gerontius was composed by Elgar on a Broadwood upright.


BROWN, GORDON (1947-2001)
Known as "Broon frae Troon," Brown was one of the all-time greats of Scottish rugby. He played for Scotland on 30 occasions and toured three times with the British Lions, helpig them to defeat New Zealand in 1971.


BROWN, SIR ARTHUR WHITTEN (1886-1948)
Most dictionaries and encyclopedias contain the name of Charles A. Lindbergh who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927. Very few contain the name of Glasgow-born Arthur Whitten Brown, who had crossed the Atlantic by airplane some eight years before Lindbergh. Many harried visitors to London's Heathrow Airport fail to notice the statue of Brown, along with his fellow aviator, John W. Alcock outside one of the main terminals. This statue commemorates their historic crossing in a Vickers-Vimy twin-engined biplane from St. John's, Newfoundland to Clifden, County Galway, Ireland, landing on June 14, 1919 after a flight of 16 hours and 12 minutes.

Alcock and Brown thus won the prize of 10,000 pounds given by the London Daily Mail and became part of history. Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight made him only the 65th person to make the non-stop crossing. After the flight of Alcock and Brown came the crew of the R-34, a British dirigible in July 1919; and the crew of the German dirigible LX-126 in October 1924.


BROWN, ROBERT (1778-1820)
Botanist Robert Brown of Montrose, Angus, deserves mention because of his description of the natural continuous motion of minute particles in solution. This phenomenon is known as "Brownian movement." Trained as a medical doctor, Brown sailed to Australia on the Investigator expedition of 1801 as a botanical explorer. After studying plant fertilization, he later described and named the nucleus of a plant cell and thus earned a name in the panoply of those who have contributed greatly to our understanding of the natural world.


BRUCE, JAMES (1730-94)
Explorer James Bruce was born in Larbert, Sterlingshire. On one of his many expeditions in Africa, he reported to a skeptical British public that he had discovered the headstream of the Blue Nile, then considered to be the main source of the Nile. Later expeditions bore out the truth of his report, published as Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1790). Bruce collected and reported on many antiquities of North Africa. His vivid account of his hazardous expedition remains an epic of African adventure literature and, no doubt, provided a great deal of inspiration for the later adventures of fellow Scot and world-renowned explorer David Livingstone.


BRUCE, ROBERT (1274-1329)
Robert Bruce is surely the greatest of all the great Scottish heroes, yet the Hollywood movie Braveheart gave all the heroics to his compatriot William Wallace, making Bruce out to be nothing more than a self-serving opportunist. However, it was the patience and cunning of Bruce that Scotland needed, not the impetuousness of Wallace, especially facing such formidable enemies as the English, first under Edward I and then under his son and heir Edward II. Bruce bided his time; he first had to establish his authority as King of Scotland. By the time of Bannockburn, he was ready.

Earl of Carrick, Robert Bruce was born at Turnberry Castle, Ayrshire, in 1274, of Norman and Celtic ancestry. Two years before his birth, Edward Plantagenet had become King Edward I of England. The ruthlessness of Edward, who was to earn the title "the Hammer of the Scots." Brought forth the greatness of Bruce whose astonishing victory at Bannockburn in 1314 over the much larger and better-equipped forces of Edward ensured Scottish freedom from the hated English.

The battle, one of the most decisive in British history, took place on Mid-Summer's Day, the 24th of June 1314. The armies of Robert Bruce, heavily outnumbered by their English rivals, employed tactics that prevented the English army from effectively employing its strength, won its glorious victory. Scotland was wrenched from English control. Following his army's disaster at Bannockburn, a second expedition carried out by Edward II north of the border was driven back. The English king was forced to seek peace.

Robert Bruce followed up his outstanding military success by equally successful diplomatic overtures. After an appeal from the Scottish nobility, Bruce's excommunication was lifted by the new Pope at Rome. May 1328 brought about a peace treaty signed at Northampton by the weary, helpless English king that recognized Scotland as an independent kingdom and Robert Bruce as king. The Declaration of Independence signed at Arbroath was the culmination of Bruce's career. All his dreams fulfilled, he died one year later. One who for years had been an Anglo-Norman vassal of the King of England had made himself into a truly national Scottish hero.

Under the leadership of Bruce, Scotland had become the first nation state in Europe, the first to have territorial unity under a single king. The Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, was a letter to the Pope, who had excommunicated everyone in Scotland unless they swore allegiance to Edward II (such were the ways of medieval popes). In the letter, signed by representatives from all classes of Scottish society, it was stated that since ancient times the Scots had been free to choose their own kings, a freedom that was a gift from God.

Under the Declaration, if Robert Bruce were to prove weak enough to acknowledge Edward as overlord, then he would be dismissed in favor of someone else. Though English kings still continued to call themselves rulers of Scotland, just as they called themselves rulers of France for centuries after being booted out of the continent, Scotland remained fully independent until 1603 (when James Stuart succeeded Elizabeth I).

On June 24, 1998 on the 684th anniversary of Bruce's great victory at Bannockburn a simple ceremony took place to mark the return of Robert Bruce's heart to its original burial place at Melrose Abbey. The Scottish king had instructed his son David to take the heart on a Crusade to the Holy Land before burial, but the knights in charge of the lead casket reached only as far as Spain.. Upon its return, the heart was buried at Melrose, but Bruce's body was interred at Dunfermline Abbey, where it was exhumed by workmen repairing the floor in 1819.

During excavations at Melrose Abbey in 1996, the sealed lead casket containing Bruce's heart was discovered. It was reburied two years later. The Scottish Secretary of State Donald Dewar unveiled the simple stone to mark its final resting place. Along with the Saltire, the symbol of Scotland, are the words: "A noble hart may hav nane ease gif freedom failye."


BRUNTON, SIR THOMAS LAUDER (1844-1916)
For all those who suffer from angina pectoris, to invoke the name of Thomas Brunton is a blessing indeed. Brunton, a physician from Roxburgh, is best known for his work on the circulation of blood in the body; he discovered that amyl nitrite could relieve the agonizing pain of angina pectoris. Much of his writings, including the use of digitalis, amyl nitrite and enzymes, are included in Collected Papers on Circulation and Respiration (1906).


BUCHAN, JOHN, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (1875-1940)
John Buchan combined the disparate careers of statesman and popular storywriter. Born in Perth, Buchan first began to write fiction and history at Oxford after his graduation from Glasgow University. He became a lawyer in 1901, then worked on the staff of the high commissioner for South Africa. Here he developed his life-long love of the cause of the British Empire (another anomaly of so many Scots throughout modern history). Africa is the setting for one of his most successful novels Prester John (1910). The most well known of all his 50 books, however, on a vast range of subjects, is the novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, which gained a vast readership even before being made into a popular movie. His biographies include Montrose (1928) and Sir Walter Scott (1932).

Following World War I in which he served as director of information for the British government, Buchan became assistant director for the news agency Reuters and entered Parliament as a member for the Scottish Universities. In 1935, he was elevated to the Peerage and became Governor General of Canada, a position in which he seems to have been greatly loved and respected by the Canadian people.


BUCHANAN, DUGALD (1716-68)
An important figure in the production of poetry in Scottish Gaelic is Dugald Buchanan from Strathyre, Perthshire. Buchanan's output is sparse, only eight compositions survive, but their fastidious craftsmanship, their religious zeal and their use of varied imagery make him the outstanding Gaelic poet of the evangelical movement of the 18th century His work follows others in the Gaelic tradition by using the seasons as a metaphor for man's own journey from spring's green to the decay and death of winter.


BUCHANAN, GEORGE (1506-82)
George Buchanan was yet another of those zealous Protestant reformers in the 16th century who did so much to shape the subsequent history of Scotland. Born in Killearn, Stirlingshire, he studied in Paris, St. Andrew's and Paris again, where he taught for a number of years. Returning to Scotland he was appointed tutor to James, one of the sons of James V, (the future James l of England) at which time he took up his pen to write a satire against the Franciscans that landed him in prison. After an escape and journey to Portugal, he was arrested by the Inquisition of Heresy, but released after 18 months and finally returned to Scotland.

When he celebrated Queen Mary's marriage to the Dauphin, Buchanan was given a pension and appointed Principal of St. Leonard's College at St. Andrews, but after Darnley's murder, he became alienated from the Queen. As Moderator of the General Assembly, he helped prepare the charges against the Queen in 1568-69. It was Buchanan who taught the young King James that his mother was a whore.

Buchanan received international fame as a Latinist, but is best remembered for his De Jure Regni Apud Scotos, written to justify the deposition of Mary, which became a kind of handbook for revolutionaries in an age where the deposition of a legitimate ruler or regicide were still not exactly popular or regular events. It was a learned argument for the accountability of rulers to those they ruled.


BURNES, SIR ALEXANDER (1805-41)
Though British influence has waned considerably in the areas explored by Alexander Burnes, the Scottish explorer did much to bring these hitherto unknown regions to the attention of the western world,; Pakistan, Afghanistan, parts of the Soviet Union, and Iran.

From Montrose, Forfarshire, Burns served as a diplomat in India, during which time he explored the Indus River as far as Lahore; then journeyed across Afghanistan, over the massive mountain range known as the Hindu Kush, through Russian Turkistan as far as Bukhara, and into many cities in what was then Persia. In 1834 he published his Map of Central Asia and Travels into Bukhara. Alas, as a result of his support of a claimant to the Afghanistan throne, Burnes was assassinated.


BURNET, GILBERT (1643-1715)
Edinburgh-born Gilbert Burnet, who became Bishop of Salisbury, in England, gave us History of His Own Time (1724-34). This two-volume book provides valuable insights into the history of the Church in Scotland and the troubling events that led to the Revolution of 1688-89 (when James II had to flee to France to be replaced on the British throne by William of Orange). As an influential bishop, Burnet played an important part in the revolution that got rid of the Catholic monarch. Even before the change of kingship, Burnet had persuaded the future Queen Mary to offer total political power to her husband, should they ascend the throne as joint rulers and he also drew up the English text of the royal 1688 declaration.


BURNET, SIR JOHN JAMES (1857-1938)
Many of Glasgow's beautiful Edwardian buildings were the creation of architect John James Burnet of Glasgow, son of a well-known architect. Burnet's innovative style was responsible for the Fine Art Institute Building, Charing Cross Mansions and the Savings Bank, all in Glasgow; and the Elder Library at Govan. Much of his later work was done in London (Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum.)


BURNS, ROBERT (1759-96)
At a time when the glories of English literature were being made known to a wide audience in Europe, due to its new direction in which the lives of common folk were being explored and praised, the name of Robert Burns stands out. Burns was above all the poet of rural, daily life. Not only that, but his championing of the Scottish vernacular made that language an acceptable vehicle in which to produce world class literature. He used the rhythm and sounds of his native Scots to give full meaning to his work as well as liveliness and spirit. In addition, the patriotism expressed in many of his works did much to keep alive the spirit of an independent-minded Scotland, and the present-day ceremonies of toasting the haggis carried out world-wide by Scots loyal to their native country owes everything to one of his poems.

Born at Alloway, Ayrshire, Burns was heavily influenced by Blind Harry's Wallace and the works of Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson. His first collection of verses was published in 1786: Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in which his ode "To a Mouse" first appeared. Its success made him change his mind about leaving his poor farm near Mauchline and t taking his family to emigrate to Jamaica. It was a book that brought him instant fame from a literature-starved public; the era of the common man was at hand (just think what was happening in the American colonies and in France at the same time).

In his private life, Burns gave us a foretaste of what many believe to be the Celtic temperament. His purported dissoluteness and public drunkenness set a pattern only too well emulated in this century by Irish poet Brendan Behan and Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Apart from that, however, Burns left a lasting imprint on the direction that poetry was to take, especially in its rebellion against the accepted social order of the day. His poetry shows his belief in the natural goodness of man; it praises freedom for all men.

From a poor farm, Burns was generally thought to have accomplished his art '"without that sufficiency of learning which was hitherto thought necessary" (though, to be honest, he was much wider read than he and others were willing to give him credit for). Burns' poems showed the influence of hard work on the farm, a love of books and his admiration of his Scottish predecessors.


BUSBY, SIR MATTHEW (1909-94)
The name Matt Busby is known to almost every soccer fan in the world, at least to those who know the history of the game of football. It was Lanark-born Busby who created the exciting, winning team of Manchester United, guiding it to a series of triumphs in the 1950's and 60's making it world famous. Busby was especially known for his recruitment of promising young players. Perhaps what would have been his greatest team of all was completely destroyed when eight first-string players were killed in the Munich Air disaster of February 6, 1958. Busby was knighted for his services to British football in 1968.