Famous Former Pupils

  Sir Alexander Fleming

  Lord Boyd Orr

Famous Former Pupils

On this part of the website you can find information on some of the pupils who have gone on in life to do great things after leaving Kilmarnock Academy. The school is one of only a small handful to have two Nobel Prize-winning former pupils (Alexander Fleming & Lord Boyd Orr).

Dr Neil Dickson

This section of our school website was researched and written by Dr Neil Dickson, a long-serving member of our English Department. Neil also researched and wrote the other historical sections of our website: History of KA; Buildings of KA; and Rectors. At present he is researching and writing up a fair number of additions to our Famous Former Pupils section.

Neil was born in Largs, Ayrshire and completed his secondary education at Lenzie Academy, East Dunbartonshire. He studied English literature at Aberdeen University and has a PhD in history from Stirling University. He has taught at Kilmarnock Academy since 1977 and has contributed academic articles, mainly on religious history to a variety of books, journals and biographical dictionaries, including The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). He has published An Island Shore: the Life and work of Robert Rendall (1990) and Brethren in Scotland: a social study of an evangelical movement (2004).

Both of the above books by Neil Dickson are available at www.Amazon.co.uk .

In addition to the individual famous former pupil pages, listed on the right, we have included on this page a list of other famous and successful former pupils. The main list is below but at the top are four recent additions provided by Dr Dickson, June 2010.

Craig Conway
Professional footballer

Craig Conway has established himself as a pacy midfielder with Dundee United. Like most of his contemporaries from Kilmarnock at this time, he was born in Irvine. His parents are owners of a high quality hairdressing business in Kilmarnock, now known as the Conway Hair and Beauty Spa. Craig came to Kilmarnock Academy in 1997 and left after S4 in 2001 During this time he was part of Ayr United’s youth training scheme, which was to lead to his future career.
He trained as a hairdresser after leaving school and initially he worked part-time at this trade. It was with the Division Two side Ayr United that Craig began his professional football career. He made his first team appearance for Ayr in season 2002-3 when he came on as a substitute, and he made a further 10 appearances in this role the following season. He established himself in the Ayr first team in season 2005-6 when he made 35 appearances and scored 4 goals. Altogether he made 74 appearances as an Ayr player and scored 9 goals.
Craig made the move to the SPL, the top flight of Scottish football, when he signed for Dundee United in June 2006. He played his first game for them against Falkirk in the season that followed and made occasional appearances in the starting line up but played more frequently as a substitute. It was the arrival of Craig Levein as manager in November 2006 which transformed Craig’s career. Levein played Craig as a first-team regular, and in the season 2006-7 he provided more assists in goals than any other player. Craig played as a left-sided midfielder who broke through on the wing and in his first year with United he put on a stone in muscle which gave him the body strength to play at SPL level. In February 2007 he suffered a broken foot and at the start of the following season he needed a bone graft. After recovering from these injuries he became a first team regular at No. 6, and—doubtless to his deep satisfaction—scored his first goal for United against his home-town team, Kilmarnock, in season 2008-9. Since then he has become a regular goal-scorer for United in all competitions, often with spectacular long-range shots.

Levein has said of Craig, “He’s a player I rate highly... Wingers are never the most consistent players in a team but that’s the challenge for Craig – to produce top performances on a regular basis. He’s definitely got the talent to do it” (Daily Record, 1 October 2008). In October 2009 he received a cap in an away-game friendly against Japan under manager George Burley. He also scored two of Dundee Utd’s three goals in Scottish Cup win in 2011

David Murray Boyd

David Murray Boyd is a world-renowned authority on aeromagnetic surveys and Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at the University of Adelaide. He was born in Dalmuir, Clydebank, on 28 June 1926, the son of William Boyd, a lecturer in Education at Glasgow University who is also featured amongst the Academy former pupils, and his wife, Dorothy Wilson, a former schoolteacher.

In 1939 Boyd was sent to the Ayrshire towns of Dalmellington and then, as an evacuee, Beith, and finally in 1941, when Dalmuir and Clydebank suffered badly in the blitz, to Mauchline. It was there his attendance at Kilmarnock Academy began. One of his nicknames at school was ‘Smiler’, because he always had a happy smile on his face, which has remained a characteristic of him as a person. In an autobiographical essay written in 1995, he recalls of his time at the school:
In these years I showed some aptitude for science and mathematics but also developed a fondness for music and Greek which led me to discover Socrates, Plato and Thucydides... I look back with appreciation on the solid foundation in science provided by Dan MacFarlane, the appreciation of poetry from Happy Harry Hamilton, but by far the most important influence came from William Wallace who taught me Greek, and through the Greek the habit of going back to fundamentals which has been a feature of my professional work.
In 1942, obviously troubled by the war, he contributed a poem entitled ‘Death’ to The Goldberry which asked why man should have the power to take from ‘A fellow mortal... his dear possession, life?’ The poem mordantly reminded those who kill that ‘no tyrant master, harsh or kind’ is spared by ‘all consuming Death’. The following year, his final one at the Academy, he was joint editor of The Goldberry. He could have stayed at the school for a further session, but at the last moment he applied for Glasgow University. Because of his last-minute application, he found the Chemistry class fully subscribed, and so he took Geology to accompany Physics. This was a happy chance as he enjoyed the subject immensely and went on to take double Honours in Physics and Geology in 1946.

His degree meant he was ideally placed to take up a lectureship in the new subject of geophysics in Glasgow University’s Department of Geology. In 1955 he left the University to work as a Senior Geologist and Geophysicist with John Taylor and Sons, mining engineers in London. During his period with the firm he did surveys of the mines at Strontian and many other places on the west coast of the British Isles. In 1958 he moved to Hunting Surveys Ltd., based in Elstree, Hertfordshire, with responsibility for major ground and airborne surveys, magnetic and electromagnetic surveys, and he became expert in interpreting the results of these. During his time with Hunting he travelled widely in Africa, Southern Asia, Australia, parts of Europe and visited North America. He notes in his biographical essay of his time in Uganda surveying for the United Nations Development Project (UNDP):
One important feature of this survey was our insistence on the education of local staff to use the results of the survey; part of my Scottish inheritance of the appreciation of education developed in Kilmarnock Academy. 
Some of the places in which he conducted surveys during this period, such as Cyprus, Angola and the South China Seas, were notorious trouble spots due to civil wars, and therefore the surveys were sometimes carried out in close proximity to danger.  In 1964 and again in 1968 he was seconded to the UNDP for surveys respectively in Cyprus and Tamil Nadu, India. His experience with Hunting made him into one of the two or three leading international experts in the interpretation of airborne magnetic surveys.

In 1969 he was appointed the professor of Geophysics in the University of Adelaide, the first chair in applied geophysics in Australia, where he remained until his retirement in 1991.  During his time at the University he was Dean of the Faculty of Science in 1978; the Deputy Chairman and then Chairman of the Education Committee (the principal academic body in the University and the equivalent of the Senate in Scottish universities) 1979-1982; Chairman of the University Animal Ethics Committee 1985-1992; and Chairman of the Centre for University Education 1990-1992. As a post-graduate supervisor he tried not to create clones of himself but to encourage his students to think for themselves. While at the University his worldwide travels for surveys continued, two particular favourite countries being India and Finland: ‘India for its sculpture, art and architecture, Finland for its architecture, scenery and geology and both for the people.’ He has also served the wider community in the Australasian region as President of the Geological Society of Australia 1986-88; Chairman of the panel managing the scientific exchanges funded by the Department of Science under the India Australia Science and Technology Agreement; and Organiser for the Australia and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science Congresses in 1991 and 1997.

In 1956 he had married Jeannie Whalley, a modern languages teacher, and they have had three children. He has wide interests in the arts: classical music, serious literature and the great masters of pre-twentieth century western painting. His Scottish background remains crucial to him, as he notes: ‘I feel at home with all kinds of folk from mine workers to cabinet ministers. I grew up in a working class community in an academic family so that I feel at home in almost any company, well almost any high or low.’ Looking back on his distinguished career he considers that the 1960s were the period of his best contribution to science. He writes that at Adelaide University ‘I think what I did was important but I miss the work that I did with Huntings which I think was a very important contribution to the welfare of the developing world.’

John Dunlop Miller
Moderator of the General Assembly
of the Church of Scotland

The Very Reverend John D. Miller is noted for his radical Christian vision of a bias towards the poor. John Miller’s father was the minister of the Laigh Kirk, Kilmarnock, from 1945 until 1950. He was enrolled in the Primary Department of Kilmarnock Academy in 1946, but just before Christmas 1950 the family moved to London, where his father would later serve as the moderator of the Presbyterian Church, and during his secondary years he attended an independent school. He studied at the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh and also at the Union Theological Seminary, New York.
His sole charge has been Castlemilk East Parish Church where he was minister for some 36 years, from 1971 until his retirement in 2007. Castlemilk is a large peripheral post-war housing scheme on the south side of Glasgow, built to accommodate people rehoused from inner city slum areas. It has many of the problems associated with unemployment and poverty. In 1972 John Miller gave up the large manse in nearby Rutherglen for a Housing Association flat in the scheme to be near the people, and he would send his three children to local Castlemilk schools. In the scheme he was a kenspeckle figure as he travelled around it daily on his bike. He campaigned for measures to help those on state benefits manage debt, and he also worked closely with the Glasgow Association of Family Support Groups which helps the families and friends of drug misusers and also their partners through offering advice, information and support. For 16 years he was chairman of a project helping young people on the streets. He has also been deeply involved with the Kirk’s Department of National Mission. His wife, Mary, was one of the cofounders of the Jeely Piece Club which established summer play schemes for children in Glasgow. He marked the new millennium by cycling to John O’Groats in the company of a Roman Catholic priest.
In 2001 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, a year-long appointment. The Moderator chairs sessions of the General Assembly, the Church of Scotland’s annual gathering, and leads its worship, rules on points of order and signs documents on behalf of the Assembly. During his Moderatorial term he travelled throughout Scotland and visited a number of countries in an ambassadorial capacity. At the Vatican he met with Pope John Paul II. He also visited Kilmarnock Academy and met with a group of senior pupils in the school library where he demonstrated his immense capacity for listening without censure.
In 2006 the city of Glasgow awarded him the Loving Cup, the city’s most prestigious award which recognises people who bring distinction, honour and publicity to the city. The presentation was presided over by a friend from his Oxford years, Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum. In presenting the cup the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Liz Cameron, said, “John Miller is one of Glasgow’s greatest friends and servants who has been totally dedicated in his work to improve the wellbeing of the people of Castlemilk. He is a quiet and unassuming individual who is respected and appreciated by everyone, and he is a very worthy recipient of the highest civic honour the city can bestow on anyone.”
In 2007 he was further honoured when the non-denominational Miller Primary School in Castlemilk was named after him and his wife. In a typical gesture he presented both it and the local Roman Catholic primary school with a framed photograph of himself meeting the Pope. In the year after his retirement he went to work in Zimbabwe with sufferers of HIV/AIDS.
His time in Castlemilk has had a profound impact on his faith. In an interview with The Sunday Herald (22 Oct. 2000) he said, “I think it is in the realm of spirituality that living in Castlemilk all these years has had an effect on me. One of the things that has been a continuing and constant feature here is the way that people retain an ability to live in spite of catastrophe... I think people in the schemes, because of the difficult nature of life, recognise the validity of discussions of God. I find myself engaged in conversations about the nature and existence of God and the universe daily, and many times almost instantly after meeting somebody.”

Sir William Muir
Imperial Administrator & Orientalist

Sir William Muir was a leading administrator of British India, historian of the Arabs, controversial writer on Islam and principal of Edinburgh University.

Sir William’s family date their origins back to the Mures of Rowallan, a once influential Ayrshire family. Having later hit hard times, William’s immediate ancestors had managed to re-establish themselves by the end of the eighteenth century as leaders in Kilmarnock’s now very flourishing commercial and civic life. Sir William’s paternal grandfather, John Muir, held a pivotal position as grocer, wine-merchant and postmaster at the Kilmarnock Cross, and was very active on the Kilmarnock town council. His maternal grandfather meanwhile established calico printing in Kilmarnock. Attracted to Glasgow by the new opportunities offered by the city’s industrialization, his father’s generation then ‘made good’ there too, also in calico printing.  However, the sudden death of his father shortly after his own birth brought William’s mother and eight small children back to Kilmarnock by 1821. With the help of relatives, who had made money trading in the Americas, the four boys then enrolled in the newly founded Kilmarnock and Irvine Academies. Sir William was a pupil in Kilmarnock from probably the late 1820s to 1833 when he matriculated first at Edinburgh University and then at Glasgow College.

Although he did not record his school experiences at the time, William made several very appreciative references to the ‘old’ Kilmarnock Academy much later in life when, in the 1880s, he was given the ‘Freedom of the Burgh’ and also when addressing students as principal of the Edinburgh University. Refelcting on his own personl experience he felt: ‘In the early years, say, from 7 to 14, the family influence was maintained pari passu with the work at school and playground …Genial influences were thus brought into play, tending on either side to soften the sharp lines of distinction, and draw class and class the closer together. Now all that is changed.’ (Principal’s Opening Address [to the students of Edinburgh University] for the Session of 1887-88). Some lively impressions of life at the Kilmarnock Academy in William’s time, including details of the curriculum, are to be found in records now deposited at the new Burns Monument Centre in Kilmarnock. In Dec 1886, when visiting Kilmarnock to be presented with the ‘Freedom of the Burgh’, he distributed the prizes at the Kilmarnock Academy, admitting in his speech accepting the ‘freedom’, that although ‘you have got instead of it a grand new school’…‘Last time I was here … it went to my heart to see that the old Academy had entirely gone’ (Supplement to the Kilmarnock Standard, 11 Dec. 1886).

It was with the help of Sir James Shaw, a great uncle also from the Kilmarnock locality, that all four Muir boys were enabled to enter the service of the East India Company which was then administering much of India. Despite the Company’s ‘English’ name, a high proportion of its civil and military officials were in fact Scots, and many were from Ayrshire. Having come top of his batch in the examinations in the Indian languages, history and law which all Company officials had to take before sailing for India, William was posted in 1837 to the North-Western Provinces of the Bengal Presidency where he remained for almost forty years, rising through the ranks to become Lieutenant-Governor of the entire province and later an important adviser to the Viceroy in the capital of British India, Calcutta.

William Muir’s most important achievements were in the administration of the land revenue and in education. He challenged the complete Anglicization of education then occurring, to try to preserve India’s vernacular and classical languages (Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian) even at university level, for which Indians named the college he founded, the ‘Muir Central College’. He also supported the education of Indian girls, this still controversial objective perhaps reflecting his own co-educational education in the Kilmarnock Academy. Of interest today is William’s opposition to the opium trade in which British India was still involved, and also to the British invasion of Afghanistan in the 1870s, known as ‘the Second Afghan War’. His eldest brother, Dr John Muir, who had attended the Irvine Academy, and was also posted to north-west India, played an equally significant part in pandit education and the study of ancient India and Hinduism.

If Sir William should be remembered for some very positive interventions in India, he also remains a controversial figure because of his views on Islam. Belonging to a Kilmarnock family that was newly influenced by the Evangelical Revival, William identified himself in India with evangelical missionary groups who hoped to persuade the indigenous population, mainly Hindu and Muslim, of Christianity’s truth, and the shortcomings of their own beliefs and practices. Although the Company was professedly ‘neutral’ on religious matters, Sir William used his skills in Arabic and Urdu to assist the missionaries with a series of works on the history of Islam, in which he also criticized Muslim society, especially marriage practices, slavery and alleged ‘intolerance’. Despite this, many Indian Muslims appreciated his efforts for their educational progress and regarded him as their particular ‘friend’ among the British rulers, especially for his rejection of the view that Muslims had ‘conspired’ to organize an Uprising in 1857 (known by the British at the time as the ‘Indian Mutiny’ but by many Indians now as ‘the First War of Independence’). William’s biography of the Prophet Muhammad remains controversial to this day, however, having continued to provoke much Muslim criticism, and arguably also as having been responsible, as a best-seller into the twentieth-century, for some of the negative views of Islam that prevail today in the West.

Sir William ended his long career as principal of Edinburgh University from 1885 to 1903, where he also tried to encourage students both to study the ‘Orient’, and like himself and his brothers, to ‘go East’ in search of an adventurous and rewarding career. Overall, his own career and writings provide a means to explore both the positive and negative aspects of the colonial era. There is much interest at present in what is now called by Scottish historians, a ‘distinctive’ Scottish contribution to Empire, in which the Muir family of Kilmarnock played a significant, if controversial part.

Profile by Avril Powell, author of Scottish Orientalists and India: The Muir Brothers, Religion, Education and Empire (Boydell & Brewer, forthcoming).


Below is the main list.

James Barr


Minister of religion and politician

James Barr was a Presbyterian minister with a social concern who became a Labour member of Parliament. He was born on his father's farm, Beanscroft, in the parish of Fenwick which was four miles from Kilmarnock on the Grassyards Road . He was educated initially in the school at Waterside and then at Kilmarnock Academy from 1877 until 1879, becoming school dux in his last year. In his memoirs, Lang Syne (1948), he described his time there:

In February, 1877, I entered Kilmarnock Academy , then in North Hamilton Street , where Dr. Hugh Dickie was Rector and the leading teacher was Dr. John G. Kerr, later of Allan Glen's School, Glasgow. I was fortunate beyond measure. Dr. Kerr was a Snell Exhibitioner of Balliol College, Oxford . He was equally distinguished in Classics and in Mathematics. I soon came under his spell and within a fortnight of entering his class in Mathematics I took up Euclid at the sixteenth proposition in the first book and read on with great delight proposition after proposition. At the end of six months I was awarded the first prize in the Junior section, and two years thereafter I won the gold medal for Mathematics and was declared dux of the school.

In a sermon printed at the end of his memoirs he recounts a memory associated with his school days:

My father came in when the School of Kilmarnock was skailing and he took me out to Brown the Jewellers in Duke Street , and he gave me my first watch; he is gone almost fifty years to his rest and I could never part with that.

Barr left Kilmarnock Academy for Glasgow University in 1879 where he lifted numerous prizes and graduated in 1884 with a joint first in philosophy and logic.

He spent a year in America recuperating from a breakdown and on his return entered Trinity College, Glasgow, to study for the ministry of the Free Church of Scotland (then a larger, more moderate body than our contemporary Free Church). In 1889 he became the minister of Johnstone and Wamphray FC, Dumfriesshire, before moving in 1896 to Glasgow to be minister of Dennistoun FC (1896-1907) and St Mary's United Free (UF) Church in Govan (1907-1920). Before his entry into politics, he became the secretary of the United Free Church Home Mission Board. The UF Church had been formed in 1900 through the union of the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church, but when it was proposed that the UF Church should reunite with the Church of Scotland in 1929, Barr resisted the proposal because he was against having an established, state-supported church, and after the union he became the moderator of the remnant body which continued as the UF Church.

While in Glasgow he became in engaged with working-class social problems, attracting working-class men to special services he ran for them in Govan. He was an advocate of temperance and was involved from the earliest days of his ministry with school boards which had been set up by the 1872 Education ( Scotland ) Act. He supported the Liberal Party and became active in campaigning for it as he saw it as the best means for forwarding his social concerns, which included pacifism, animal welfare and the abolition of capital punishment, and also for promoting home rule for Scotland . His interests in education and Scottish affairs, for example, led to his support for a chair in Scottish literature which was established at Glasgow University in 1913. In 1919 Barr led the Scottish campaign in support of prohibition, and although he was unsuccessful in achieving this through local referenda, it led to him joining the Independent Labour Party in 1920. In 1924 he became Labour MP for Motherwell which he held until his defeat in the 1931 General Election, and then he subsequently became Labour MP for Coatbridge and Airdrie from 1935 until his retirement ten years later. In 1927 he unsuccessfully introduced a Home Rule Bill for Scotland . As well as fostering interest in Scottish nationalism he also acted as chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, although he disapproved of the formation of the National Government by Ramsay MacDonald.

As well as his autobiography, Lang Syne (1949), Barr published a number of books, most notably Christianity and War (1903) and The Scottish Covenanters (1946). He believed that the church's identification with establishment elites was a serious barrier to reaching the working-classes and through his devotion to his principles, he sought to integrate his faith with social action.

John Bell


Church musician

John Bell is the leading contemporary hymn writer in Scotland . He attended Kilmarnock Academy from 1962 until 1968 and after secondary school matriculated at Glasgow University . He was ordained as a minister of the Church of Scotland in 1978. After a spell in the Scots Kirk in Amsterdam and five years as a youth advisor to Glasgow Presbytery, in 1983 he went to work full-time with the Iona Community. The Community, based on the Hebridean island where St Columba had founded his monastery, is an ecumenical fellowship of men and women who seek radical ways of living out the gospel in today's world, a programme which is close to the heart of John Bell's expression of the Christian faith. In 1988 he became the Community's worship resource worker and since then has worked with its Wild Goose Resource Group, based in Glasgow, which leads liturgical events worldwide and produces contemporary hymns and worship songs.

John Bell is a major international figure in the renewal of Christian worship. The leading hymnologist Ian Bradley has stated: ‘It is hardly too much to say that John Bell has almost single-handedly transformed the culture of worship and especially of church music in Scotland '. He has edited several collections of contemporary hymns, especially Common Ground (Edinburgh: St Andrews Press, 1998) and he is the convenor of the Church of Scotland Church Hymnary Revision Committee. He has also written many hymns himself which are to be found in numerous modern hymn books. He is particularly noted for his arrangements of traditional Scottish folk tunes for his compositions, but he also uses music from throughout the world in his collections. He has stated, “I do think it's helpful to sing the songs of other cultures. By singing their songs, we can stand, to some extent, in deeper intercession with these people. And throughout that experience our understanding of mission and evangelism and the reign of God and the Trinity is enlarged.”

His hymns have been described by Bradley as being ‘grittily incarnational'. Perhaps his most famous compositions, co-written with Graham Maule (another Wild Goose worship group member), are ‘A Touching Place' and ‘Will you come and follow me'. The former hymn celebrates that it is Christ who calls to worship and makes room for all who come. The latter asks:

Will you come and follow me,

if I but call your name?

Will you go where you don't know

and never be the same?

Will you let my love be shown,

will you let my name be known

will you let my life be grown

in you and you in me?


John Bell is a frequent broadcaster on the media and he lectures at theological colleges in Britain and the United States . He also leads worship workshops in both these countries as well as Canada , Australia and Japan . In 1999 he was awarded a fellowship of the Royal School of Church Music and in 2002 Glasgow University made him a Doctor of the University.

Matthew Black


Biblical scholar and university administrator

 Professor Matthew Black was the dominant influence in theological education in St Andrews University in the third quarter of the twentieth century. He was born in Kilmarnock of working-class parentage, his father being an engineer's pattern maker and his mother a hosiery worker. After leaving Kilmarnock Academy he went to Glasgow University where he graduated in classics in 1930 and in philosophy in 1931 and then proceeded to take a BD in 1934, specialising in Old Testament studies. He then studied at Bonn in Germany where he took a DPhil.

On his return to Scotland he became assistant to the professor of Hebrew at Glasgow and in 1937 moved to Manchester University and then to Aberdeen in 1939 as a lecturer in biblical criticism. During the Second World War he became a parish minister in Dunbarney, Perthshire, where he also became a chaplain to both the British armed forces and to a German prisoner of war camp. It was at this time that he was awarded a DLitt by Glasgow for his Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (1946). After the war he became a New Testament lecturer at Leeds and then in 1952 was appointed to the chair in biblical criticism at Edinburgh University but moved two years later to the same chair at St Andrews University . He also became Principal of St Mary's College where he became the dominate influence until his retrial in 1978.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 had a major impact on biblical studies and Black published his The Scrolls and Christian Origins in 1961. Later publications included editing Peake's Commentary on the Bible (1962) and an edition of The Book of Enoch (1985). He was appointed a fellow of the British Academy in 1955 and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1977. He died in St Andrews . There is a biographical article on him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography .

John Morton Boyd



Dr John Morton Boyd was one of the leading conservationists in Scotland at a time when the general public was becoming aware of the need to preserve the natural heritage of Scotland . He was born in Darvel, coming from a line of stonemasons. His father, Robert Boyd of the Sheiling, Darvel, was a master builder in the town and his mother was a textile designer and the daughter of a Newmilns blacksmith. He attended school in Darvel and was admitted to Kilmarnock Academy on 1 August 1937. In his autobiography, The Song of the Sandpiper (1999), he described his school days there:

I was an extrovert and an athlete who found it difficult to strike the right balance between work and play. I emerged from school with only the minimum qualifications for university entrance, but as head boy [in 1943-4] and sports champion.

At school my best friend was John Gilchrist, the son of a laceweaver, a friendship that lasted a lifeteime. He had an excellent mind, and I envied him his erudition and thoroughness in all things. We shared the same intellectual and outward-approach to life, and he was, in some important respected, my pacemaker. As an aspiring surveyor and valuer, he helped me to seek a professional standing for myself, and to do so in engineering. Two of my teachers thought this was a mistake: time and again they tried to persuade me to find a career in the natural sciences, but I ignored their advice. The world of engineering was much more macho than biology, which, at school, I regarded as a subject for girls.

J. Morton Boyd, The Song of the Sandpiper (1999), pp.14-15.

© The Estate of J. Morton Boyd.

He left school in 1943 and was for four years a navigator in the RAF. After demobilisation he entered Glasgow University to take an engineering degree, but, partly under the influence of reading the natural historian Frank Fraser Darling, he switched in his second year to biological science, graduating in 1953. He then undertook a PhD, which he was awarded in 1957, on the earthworms of Tiree, research that began a lifelong love affair with the Hebrides .

He worked on St Kilda during Glasgow University expeditions in the 1950s, and was recruited to the Nature Conservancy. From 1957 until 1968 he was their regional officer in charge of wildlife conservation in the west of Scotland . In 1965 he travelled widely in East Africa and the Middle East , broadening his understanding of conservancy in different contexts. In 1966 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. From 1968 until 1970 he was the Nature Conservancy Assistant Director (Conservation) and from 1971 until his retrial in 1985 he became Director ( Scotland ) of the Nature Conservancy, a body which in 1974 became the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC). Among his many achievements were work on the grey seals of North Rona , the gannets of St Kilda and sheep on Soay and Boreray. He promoted the reintroduction in 1973 of sea eagles to Rum, an NCC island reserve with which he had a special affinity. He also fought for the establishment of a NCC reserve on Loch Laggan. He served during times of great political and organisational change, but he was always able to adapt to the altered circumstances and succeeded in remaining steadfast in his adherence to his conservationist principles.

He was awarded the CBE on retiring and he became the ecological consultant to a number of public bodies and served in various capacities in a number of other Scottish organisations. He wrote several books, four of them on the Hebrides , and co-authored the second edition of The Natural History of the Highlands and Islands (1964) with Fraser Darling. He was a keen artist, particularly in watercolours, and was a rock climber and winter mountaineer. A committed Christian, he was a Church of Scotland elder for 40 years and was involved in the affairs of the General Assembly and the World Council of Churches. 

William Boyd



Dr William Boyd was the head of the Education Department at Glasgow University for most of the first half of the twentieth century and was a noted educational historian. He was educated at Kilmarnock Academy and gave a comprehensive account of the school and its rector in his time, Dr Hugh Dickie , in his Education in Ayrshire through Seven Centuries (1961). He wrote of Dickie:

As rector of the Academy he became responsible for a school of mixed character; required to devote itself to elementary work if it was to enjoy government grants but expected by School Board [sic] to reach a high academic level. Like the rectors of the other Academies he was a full-time teacher; as at the outset he was the only graduate he had the whole burden of the upper school on his shoulders. He had to teach all the higher subjects. This he did so effectively that in a year or two Kilmarnock Academy was sending a succession of well-trained pupils to Glasgow University and year by year two or three of them were making their appearance on the Bursary list. So far as scholarship was concerned he had made his ‘elementary' school a real Academy.

Boyd was among those whom the school was to send to Glasgow University where he took an MA and a BSc. He taught both in schools and university before being made head of the Department of Education at Glasgow University in 1907, a post he held until his retiral in 1946. He was awarded a PhD in 1911.

His teaching at Glasgow University was described in his obituary in The Times as being ‘vigorous, unconventional and iconoclastic but always inspiring'. He was one of the principal individuals involved in the University establishing the BEd degree in 1918. He founded a child guidance clinic, one of the first in the country, in the Department in 1926 which he ran with the assistance of teacher volunteers until Glasgow Corporation began its own clinic. He also helped introduce the Workers Educational Association to Scotland , an organisation which is a national provider of community-based learning and which provides adults with access to organised learning. In 1920 he became the president of the Educational Institute of Scotland, the principal representative body for Scottish teachers.

His magnum opus was The History of Western Education (1 st edn 1921), a magisterial one-volume survey in the nineteenth-century tradition of the broad generalization which became the standard textbook of its time. It was translated into several languages and still, in the early twenty-first century, turns up on bibliographies for educational courses, having gone through eleven editions and having been reprinted as recently as 1980. Boyd was an advocate of the ‘New Education', associated in America with the philosopher John Dewey, ‘with its faith in the free development of personality' (Boyd, History of Western Education ). It attempted to enliven education by centring school work on the interests of the child and broadened the function of the school to include intervention in health care and community life. Boyd particularly commended the Scottish Education Act of 1908 for making schools welfare centres, requiring the medical examination of the pupils and authorising the employment of doctors and nurses.

After his retiral Boyd produced several books. As well as his history of Ayrshire education, which is still to be surpassed, he wrote Emile for Today (1956) and Plato's Republic for Today (1962). He also assisted John Strawhorn in writing the volume on Ayrshire in the Third Statistical Account of Scotland (1951). Before his death he was working on a commentary and new translation of the New Testament. He died in Totnes, Devon. His Times obituary stated that ‘Boyd's complete integrity and kindness were coupled in a unique way with an indomitable courage.'

Zachary Boyd


Minister of religion and university administrator

 Zachary Boyd was a popular poet, a Church of Scotland minister, a Covenanter and a noted benefactor of Glasgow University . He was educated at the Kilmarnock burgh school , Kilmarnock Academy 's predecessor. He entered Glasgow University in 1601 and graduated from St Andrews in 1607, and then from 1611 studied and later taught at the Protestant Academy at Saumur in France , where he was offered the principalship which he declined. In 1625 he became the minister of the Barony Parish in Glasgow . He was closely involved in the affairs of Glasgow University , serving three times each as Dean of Faculty and as Rector and was Vice-Chancellor from 1644-53.

Boyd published three volumes of religious poetry which retold biblical stories. They were very popular but were much mocked as being risible by more sensitively poetic critics. Here he is describing Jonah being swallowed by the whale:

But what is this that near him wee doe see,

Like to a tower wambling on the sea;

A monster great, the Leviathan strong,

With beame-like jawes, which follows him along;

A little space the whale did round him play,

To wait his time, but in a short delay

He wheel'd about, and in a trice wee sawe

The living man he buri'd in his mawe.

Boyd also published several prose works and books of sermons during his lifetime. Glasgow University holds a number of unpublished works by him in its manuscript collections. He was a Presbyterian of the orthodox Calvinist school and as such he supported the National Covenant of 1638 (the document which gave rise to the term ‘Covenanters'), and disapproved of Cromwell's government as threatening Presbyterianism. He was also a generous benefactor to Glasgow University , although the source of his wealth is unknown. On his death, a bust of him was erected over the entrance to the old college which stood in Glasgow 's High Street.

John Caldwell



 Professor John Caldwell held the chair of botany at Exeter University from 1935 until 1969 and was a leading expert in viral diseases in plants. From Kilmarnock Academy he went to Glasgow University and then John's College, Cambridge .

In 1935 he became the head of the Botany Department of the University of the South West which became from 1955, Exeter University . While there, he played a significant part in establishing the university's celebrated display of trees and plants within its grounds and in 1969, assisted by two others, he published a guide to them, Grounds and Gardens of the University of Exeter (now available online at http://www.ex.ac.uk/admin/be/grounds1969/ ). From 1957 until 1959 he served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the university. He was also involved in a number of voluntary and public bodies in the Exeter region over a long period, and in 1971 he was awarded the OBE.

An obituary appeared in The Times .

Sir David Paton Cuthbertson


medical researcher

Sir David Paton Cuthbertson was a distinguished academic who did pioneering research in body metabolism after trauma. He was a native of Kilmarnock, where his mother had been matron of Kilmarnock Infirmary; his father was the secretary of Auchincruive Agricultural College . He entered the primary department of Kilmarnock Academy on 23 April 1906 and at the time the family lived at 4 Charles Street , Kilmarnock . After his army service from 1918-19 he entered Glasgow University and graduated BSc in 1921 with chemistry as his principal subject. In 1926 he graduated with a MB ChB and in 1926 was appointed as a lecturer in pathological biochemistry at the University and clinical biochemist at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. It was during this time that he began working on the metabolism of patients. In 1934 he was appointed as a lecturer in physiological chemistry at Glasgow and he continued his research into metabolism which with the publication in The Lancet of a Royal College of Surgeons lecture in 1942 earned him worldwide recognition. He classified the metabolism of patients into ‘ebb' and ‘flow' phases, the former during the period of clinical shock and the latter when the metabolism begins to return to normal.

In 1943 he was appointed Director of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen (where another former Kilmarnock Academy pupil, John Boyd Orr , had also been Director) and oversaw its expansion and establishment as an important international centre for research in nutrition. He retired in 1965 when he was also knighted. During his retirement he returned to his research into metabolism after trauma. He was awarded by honorary degrees by three universities and was made an honorary fellow or member of several distinguished academic bodies.

He was an accomplished golfer: it was after playing a game at Troon, where he was living, that he died. He is celebrated through an annual lecture named after him and a plaque in Glasgow Royal Infirmary. There is an article on him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography .

John Shaw Dunn



b. 1883; Blacksyke School ; KA 17 August 1891; father Hugh Dunn, Earlston Villa, Caprington

George Forrest


Plant collector

 George Forrest was one of the greatest of all plant collectors which the British Isles has produced. The youngest of thirteen children, he was born in Falkirk where his father, also George Forrest, was a draper's assistant. He attended Falkirk Southern School, but in 1885 his father, who had commenced his own business, had to give up his shop owing to ill-health and the family moved to Kilmarnock . Initially they were to live with Forrest's older brother James, who was a minister, originally with the Evangelical Union, the denomination to which the family belonged, but latterly with the Unitarian Church . His manse was at 48 Portland Road at the south-west junction of Portland Road and South Hamilton Street and Kilmarnock Academy , where Forrest was enrolled, then in Woodstock Street , would be clearly visible from its front windows some 100 yards away.

 The Academy rector at the time was Hugh Dickie who fostered an interest in science and was himself an enthusiastic teacher of its various branches. During Forrest's time at the school in 1887, a purpose-built science laboratory was erected, the first of its kind in Ayrshire. Another early influence on Forrest was probably the Glenfield Ramblers, a society of amateur natural historians whose collections were to form the basis of the Dick Institute's. The Mathematics master at Kilmarnock Academy 1886-1896 was David Murray , one of its most influential members and its president for a number of years, and Forrest's brother James was also a member. In George Forrest: Plant Hunter (2004), Brenda McLean identifies a number of features Forrest owed to Kilmarnock Academy : a knowledge of botanical Latin; acquaintance with French which he later used in communicating with French missionaries in China ; and a broad understanding of the natural sciences.

 He left the Academy in 1891 to work for Rankin and Borland, pharmaceutical chemists, near the Cross in Kilmarnock , and his time there gave him a basic knowledge of medicines. In 1898 the inheritance of a small legacy enabled him to travel to Australia to visit relatives and while there he tried sheep farming and gold digging. It also gave him his first experience of a truly wild environment, crossing the desert and riding in the outback. On his return to Scotland , his family were living in Loanhead near Edinburgh . A fortuitous contact with Professor Isaac Balfour, Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, led in 1903 to his employment in the garden herbarium where he learned methods of plant preservation and classification with the understanding that it might lead to a career in plant collecting.

His first visit overseas expedition came in 1904 when A.K. Bulley, a Liverpool cotton merchant, sponsored a trip to Yunnan province, in remote south-west China near to the Tibetan and Burmese borders. He was there for three years amid turbulent social conditions. The massacre in 1904 of a Tibetan army by a British force under the command of Francis Younghusband had provoked a backlash, and in 1905 it was reported Forrest had been murdered. In fact he had escaped and had to hide in the mountains eluding the warrior lamas who pursued him for twenty-one days, eight of them without food. The French missionaries who had been with him were butchered and their hearts and brains were eaten—a fate Forrest would surely have shared. Undaunted, as all his specimens had been lost, he quickly returned to his task of collecting once he reached safety.

 On his return to Scotland in 1907 he married Clementina Traill, of an old Orkney family, in Rosslyn Chapel, and took a house in Lasswade nearby. Although his marriage continued to be an affectionate one, subsequently Forrest was to spend most of his married life in Yunnan province, making six further trips there, while his wife stayed in Scotland with their children. As well as the hazards of travel, the political situation in China continued to be unsettled as the Manchu dynasty came to an end. Despite these difficulties, he collected over 25,000 plant specimens and discovered over 1,000 new species of plants, introducing over 300 species of rhododendrons to Britain and transforming the British garden. Over one hundred plant genera have species named after Forrest. In addition many hybrids are descended from plants introduced by him: for example Rhododendron griersonianum has been the direct parent of 159 garden hybrids. His collecting was not limited to plants, and he also collected birds, insects and mammals (he has species in each class named after him). Ethnographical and natural history items collected by him can be found in Kew Gardens, London; the Natural History Museum, London; the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh; Botanic Gardens, Ness, Cheshire; the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh; and the American Natural History Museum, New York.

 He was described by one of his sponsors as being ‘a very small compact man with a fine chest on him, built for fatigue' (quoted in McLean, Forrest , 106). He worked best as a pioneer. He could be irascible and he jealously guarded against rival collectors his monopoly on Yunnan province, but he also learned several local Chinese dialects and he employed native collectors, finding an affinity with the indigenous people. In 1920 he was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour and in 1927 the Veitch Memorial Medal by the Royal Horticultural Society and in 1924 he was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society. He died of a heart attack on his final trip to China , having intended to retire when he returned, and is buried in Tengchong. The Scottish Rock Garden Club awards an annual medal in his honour.

Some of his introductions can be found listed at www.rhodogroup-rhs.org/ForrestPlants.htm

Alexander Galt



Donald Stewart Hendrie



Jimmy Knapp


Trade unionist


David Landsborough


Medical missionary

Sir James Rögnvald Learmonth



Sir Alexander McColl



William McKerrow



Sir William Muir


Imperial administrator & Islamicist


Andrew Picken Orr


Marine biologist


John Merry Ross


Literary critic & historian


Alexander Thom


Engineer & archaeologist


Sir Robin Wales


Local politician

Sir Robin Wales is a leading figure in local government in London and a Labour Party politician. He has been Chair of the Association of London Government since 2000.  He was elected Mayor of Newham in 2002, after seven years as borough leader, and is one of 11 democratically-elected mayors in the country. 

Robin comes from Kilmarnock and has a BSc in chemistry from Glasgow University . He has two children, and before becoming Mayor was employed by BT where he was responsible for developing credit and fraud management systems. He has extensive experience of working in IT, employee communications, customer services and logistics.

Having moved to London in 1978, Robin was a councillor from 1982-86 and then from 1992 in the London Borough of Newham. He was elected Mayor of Newham in 2002, after seven years as borough leader, the first Labour directly-elected Mayor in the country. He was awarded a Knighthood in the Birthday Honours' List 2000 in recognition of his service to local government

Sir Robin Wales has been Chair of the Association of London Government since 2000. He is a member of the London 2012 board, steering London 's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

He was awarded a Knighthood in the 2000 Birthday Honours List in recognition of his service to local government.



Sir William Wyllie


Army officer