A Strong Foundation

Established in 1884, we are one of the oldest geographical societies in the world, with a distinguished history of supporting and promoting geographical education, research and exploration. We have strong links with some of the most significant figures of the last 150 years. Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton was our Secretary in 1904-05. Leading mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, pioneering astronaut Neil Armstrong, endurance explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, travel writer Dame Freya Stark, broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough, journalist and activist Naomi Klein, spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and many others have worked with us.

A Spark of Inspiration

The idea for a national society of geography in Scotland was first proposed by the 24-year old John George Bartholomew, of the Bartholomew map-making company in Edinburgh. He believed that Scotland was suffering from many missed opportunities for the development of geographical education, science, trade and political knowledge of the world. He introduced the idea to the daughter of missionary explorer David Livingstone, Agnes Livingstone-Bruce, herself a keen geographer with a particular interest in Africa.

With an outline for the proposed society and with the support of Professor James Geikie, a Professor of Geology at the University of Edinburgh who had an interest in the advancement of geographical research and teaching, the Scottish Geographical Society (SGS) was established in December 1884. The SGS’s first headquarters, at 80A Princes Street, Edinburgh, were officially opened by Henry Morton Stanley on 4th December 1884. Within the first month, local branches were established in Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow to accommodate the strong local interest and participation in the work of the organisation.

Early Objectives

The aims of the Society were diverse, with greater emphasis on research and education than on exploration. The first edition of the Scottish Geographical Magazine stated that “it is therefore one of the first objectives of the Scottish Geographical Society to advance the study of geography in Scotland: to impress the public with the necessity and inestimable value of a thorough knowledge of geography in a commercial, scientific or political education”.

it is therefore one of the first objectives of the Scottish Geographical Society to advance the study of geography in Scotland

The early work of the Society was supported by a diverse membership, with prominent men and (unusually for the time) women from various scientific and academic backgrounds providing a broad and intellectual emphasis to its aims, as well as members of the general public who joined to discover more about the world and the scientific and explorative activities of the day. Queen Victoria granted Royal Status to the Society in 1887.

Base Camp and Beyond

Over the years, the RSGS has relocated several times, and has moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow to Perth. The Society's rooms and offices have their own story to tell.