To Edinburgh yesterday for the admission of new Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
The grey city was looking at its best in the spring sun: people were sitting on the grass in Princes Street Gardens, or crowding round the Scott monument.
Unlike its similarly-named counterpart in London, the RSE is not just a scientific society; among the new Fellows was a writer I had heard of (Ian Rankin) and a businesswoman I hadn’t, as well as two mathematicians from my corridor in St Andrews (Rosemary Bailey and Ineke De Moortel); two other new Fellows from St Andrews, theologian (and colleague of mine in the far past at Merton College) Tom Wright, and poet Don Paterson, were unable to be present. One of the three corresponding fellows admitted was a Chinese landscape ecologist. But certainly most of the new fellows worked in medicine, biology or chemistry.
At the reception afterwards, I happened to mention that I had spent four and a half years as an undergraduate and teaching fellow in Brisbane, whereupon I was taken to see the portrait of Sir Thomas Brisbane (from Brisbane House in Largs), president of the RSE for 28 years, and previously governor of New South Wales. According to the RSE’s description, he “explored the north of Australia” and discovered the Brisbane River, after whom the city was named. But I suspect that he actually discovered it in the way that governors usually discover things, by sending somebody out to look (in this case John Oxley).