Surveyor, inventor and politician. Drummond was born in Edinburgh and educated in the city and at Woolwich (London). He joined the Royal Engineers in 1815 and, rising to the rank of Lieutenant, became a surveyor with the Ordnance Survey in Ireland. He invented the "Drummond Light", somewhat similar to the heliograph, which used 'limelight' enabling it to be seen at a great distance. In 1825, he set one of his lights on top of a hill near Belfast and it could be seen in Donegal, some 66 miles (105 km) distant, improving the accuracy of his surveys. He later adapted his Drummond Light for use in lighthouses.
Drummond is jointly credited (with the English chemist, Goldsworthy Gurney) with the development of 'limelight' itself, which is based on the burning of a block of lime in a hot hydrogen-oxygen flame, resulting in an exceptionally bright luminescent light. This became popular as a spot-light in theatres (despite the real danger of explosion), hence the expression 'in the limelight'.
Drummond rose to take charge of the Boundary Commission, set up to ensure fairly apportioned parliamentary constituencies as a result of the Reform Act of 1832. He later served as Under Secretary of State for Ireland, during which time he made clear to the absentee landlords that "property has its duties as well as its rights" (1838). He also pioneered railway development in Ireland.