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Mackay, Alexander (1815-1895) (DNB01)

MACKAY, ALEXANDER (1815–1895), educational writer, born in Thurso on 15 Nov. 1815, was the youngest of the eight children of Murdoch Mackay, farmer, of Latheron, Caithness. On his father's second marriage young Mackay went to Aberdeen, where he studied at King's College, and graduated M.A. in 1840. In 1844 he became the first Free church minister of Rhynie in Aberdeenshire, the established minister of which had been one of the seven clergymen of Strathbogie deposed by the evangelical majority of the church of Scotland. Here his geological studies, chiefly in connection with rare fossils found in the old red sandstone in a quarry near Rhynie, brought him into communication with Hugh Miller, Sir A. Ramsay, of the Geological Survey, Sir Roderick I. Murchison, and Dr. A. Keith Johnston, who recommended him as a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1859.

In 1861 Mackay published a 'Manual of Modern Geography, Mathematical, Physical, and Political,' which attracted much attention, and has since proved a mine of wealth to other writers on geography. In 1866 the degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by King's College, Aberdeen.

In 1867, finding the charge of a congregation less congenial than literary work, he resigned his pastorate at Rhynie and went to Edinburgh, from which he removed to Ventnor in 1878. During this period he devoted himself entirely to works on geography and kindred subjects. He had just completed the rewriting and revision of proofs of his work on physiography and physical geography, when he died suddenly at Ventnor on 31 Jan. 1895. Mackay married in November 1846 Margaret Lillie, daughter of Alexander Lillie of Banff. By her he had five sons, all of whom he survived. One of them was the well-known missionary of Uganda, Alexander Murdoch Mackay [q. v.]

Mackay s works have had a very large circulation, and are characterised by the best qualities of the old school of geographical text-books, being full of facts systematically arranged, scrupulously verified, and illustrated by brief notes of general interest. In one instance he made an attempt to fasten the elementary facts on the minds of young scholars by producing a 'Rhyming Geography' (1873; new edit. 1876), some of the stanzas of which, once read, are difficult to forget. His most arduous piece of work was an ingenious mnemonic system for remembering numbers, which he developed in a book entitled 'Facts and Dates' (1869; 3rd edit. 1879).

Mackay was also the author of the following works: 1. 'Elements of Modern Geography,' 1864; 12th edit. 1872. 2. 'Outlines of Modern Geography,' 1865. 3. 'First Steps in Geography,' 1869. 4. 'Geography of the British Empire,' 1869. 5. 'The Intermediate Geography,' 1874; 10th edit. 1885. 6. 'Life and Times of the late Rev. George Davidson, Latheron,' 1875. 7. 'Handbook to the Seat of War in Turkey,' 1877. 8. ' Physiography and Physical Geography,' 1877. He also edited and revised Reid's 'Elements of Astronomy,' 1874.

[The Geographical Journal, v. 276-7; private information; Mrs. J. W. Harrison's Story of Mackay of Uganda; Brit. Museum Cat.]

G. S-h.