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George Anderson Scott (1933–1998)

by Josephine Milne

This article was published online in 2022

George Scott, by Brian James Dunlop, oil on canvas, 1992

George Scott, by Brian James Dunlop, oil on canvas, 1992

Queen's College, University of Melbourne

George Anderson MacDonald Scott (1933–1998), bryologist, ecologist, and conservationist, was born on 10 March 1933 in Glasgow, Scotland, son of George Macdonald Scott, physician and surgeon, and his wife Euphemia Mackintosh Gray, née Waddell. Educated at Glasgow High School (dux 1951), he excelled academically and in rugby, cricket, and athletics. In October 1951 he started a degree in medicine at the University of Glasgow, but after contracting tuberculosis he deferred his course for almost two years. On returning to university, he changed his area of study and graduated with first-class honours and a gold medal in botany (BSc, 1957). He went on to complete postgraduate studies at the University College of North Wales, Bangor (PhD, 1961), his research focusing on the ecology of shingle beach plants. Influenced by his supervisor, Paul Westmacott Richards, he developed an interest in bryology: the study of mosses, liverworts, and hornworts.

On 27 August 1960 at the parish church, Rauceby, Lincolnshire, Scott married English-born Royce Ann Sutton, a science graduate and teacher whom he had met at Bangor. The next year the couple moved to New Zealand, where he took up a position as assistant lecturer in botany at the University of Otago, Dunedin. He was promoted to lecturer in 1962 and senior lecturer in 1969. New Zealand’s wet forests, with their diversity and abundance of bryophytes, provided the ideal opportunity for Scott to pursue his interest in bryology, ecology, and conservation.

In 1970 Scott moved to Melbourne, accepting a three-year senior research fellowship at Monash University. He was subsequently appointed senior lecturer (1973–83) and then reader (1984–86) in botany. In addition to teaching and supervising students in ecology and bryology, he produced two significant books: The Mosses of Southern Australia (1976), co-authored with Ilma Grace Stone and with illustrations by Celia Rosser; and Southern Australian Liverworts (1985). He was a mentor to Rosser, who is notable for illustrating all the known banksia species. At Monash (BA, 1985) he also pursued his interest in ancient Greek and Latin. During sabbaticals in 1976 and 1983 he was a research fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England, where his research resulted in a two-part publication, ‘Studies in Ancient Bryology’ (1987–88).

Scott was keen to share his expertise with the broader community. From 1979 to 1985 at Monash he convened an annual identification course on bryophytes, for novices, field naturalists, and specialists. In 1988 the course transitioned into the Australian Bryophyte Workshop, held every two or three years and focusing on fieldwork. He shared his passion and knowledge in the field, wearing either a kilt (in the winter) or shorts (in the summer) no matter the weather conditions.

An esteemed member of the international botanical community, Scott was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 1986. He had been appointed (1978) to the bryophyte committee of the International Association for Plant Taxonomy and served as a council member (1981–93) of the International Association of Bryologists. A strong supporter of plant conservation, he served (1988–97) on the Victorian government’s Scientific Advisory Committee, providing advice on threatened species and ecological communities.

In 1986 Scott departed from Monash University and became master of Queen’s College at the University of Melbourne (DSc, 1990), a position for which he was ‘ideally suited’ due to his ‘wide range of interests and achievements’ (Isaac 1998, 14). He retired from Queen’s in 1992 due to poor health but continued to pursue his bryological interests as a research fellow in the school of botany. Regarded as ‘the driving force behind the revival of the scientific study of bryophytes in Australia’ (Meagher 2011, 492), he and his students described numerous new species, and two species of liverwort were named for him: Frullania scottiana (1987) and Bazzania gamscottii (2011). His substantial collections of bryophyte samples were lodged in herbaria at the universities of Otago and Melbourne, and in the National Herbarium of Victoria.

The British bryologist E. V. Watson described Scott as ‘something of a polymath, gifted far above the norm in so many different directions’ (1999, 165). His interests extended beyond science and included woodwork, choral singing, English and classical literature, and poetry. He also dedicated time to the work of the F. J. Cato charitable fund in its support for the poor and homeless. Survived by his wife and their four sons, he died of a heart attack on 23 March 1998 while on vacation at Christchurch, New Zealand. With the support of his family, the school of botany at the University of Melbourne established the G. A. M. Scott Research Fund. A portrait (1992) of Scott by Brian James Dunlop at Queen’s College depicts ‘a bearded man, hair windblown, standing in a field, sporran and Macdonald kilt peeping through his gown, looking benignly into the distance’ (Isaac 1998, 14).

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Newsletter, no. 98 (June 1998): 10–12
  • Brown, Gillian. ‘Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts: Significant Bryophyte Collections at the University of Melbourne Herbarium. University of Melbourne Collections 8 (June 2011): 3–7
  • Dalton, Paddy. ‘A Tribute—George Anderson Macdonald Scott 10 March 1933 — 23 March 1998.’ Australasian Bryological Newsletter, no. 38 (June 1998): 1–6
  • Isaac, Joe. ‘A Master of the Antipodean Mosses.’ Australian, 25 May 1998, 14
  • Meagher, David. ‘Obituary: George Scott, Ecologist.’ Age (Melbourne), 11 May 1998, 12
  • Meagher, David. ‘Studies on Bazzania (Lepidoziaceae, Marchantiophyta) 3. Four new species from Australia.’ Nova Hedwigia 92 (2011): 487–95
  • Watson, E. V. ‘George Anderson Macdonald Scott B.Sc., Ph.D., B.A., D.Sc., F.L.S (1933–1998).’ Journal of Bryology 21, no. 2 (1999): 165–66

Citation details

Josephine Milne, 'Scott, George Anderson (1933–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scott-george-anderson-32385/text40145, published online 2022, accessed online 13 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

George Scott, by Brian James Dunlop, oil on canvas, 1992

George Scott, by Brian James Dunlop, oil on canvas, 1992

Queen's College, University of Melbourne

Life Summary [details]

Birth

10 March, 1933
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Death

23 March, 1998 (aged 65)
Christchurch, New Zealand

Cause of Death

heart disease

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