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Prof. James Bell Pettigrew


1834 - 1908

Naturalist, who pioneered an understanding of flight. Born in Calderbank (North Lanarkshire), Bell Pettigrew was educated in Airdrie and at then read arts at the University of Glasgow. He went on to train under the supervision of Prof. John Goodsir (1814-67) at the University of Edinburgh and became an exceptional anatomist. He served as a surgeon under James Syme (1799 - 1870) at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh from 1861, but soon took up museum posts as an assistant curator with the Royal College of Surgeons in London then the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He was appointed to a Chair of Medicine and Anatomy at the University of St. Andrews in 1875.

Bell Pettigrew became a notable authority on locomotion and flight, which informed his invention of an early flying machine. The Wright Brothers are known to have studied his book Animal Locomotion: or Walking, Swimming and Flying (1873). His other works include a paper On the physiology of wings, being an analysis of the movements by which flight is produced in the insect, bird and bat (1870) and the remarkable Design in Nature (1908).

Shortly before the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, Bell Pettigrew built his own aeroplane, featuring a petrol engine and flapping wings, and flew this for 18m (60 feet) down a street in St. Andrews before it crashed.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1868, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1872) and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (1873). In addition, he was granted an honorary degree by the University of Glasgow in 1883.

Bell Pettigrew died in St. Andrews and lies buried in St Andrews Eastern Cemetery. The Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History was named in his honour.


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