His father was James Neilson, an Ironmaster and second cousin of Walter Montgomerie Neilson and his mother was Jane Thomson, daughter of George Thomson, the famous Glasgow shipbuilder. He attended Merchiston Castle School.
He was the brother of Willie, Gordon and Robert Neilson who were also capped for Scotland. In 1891, he made his debut, along with his brother William in the game against Wales - it is the only time that brothers have debuted together for Scotland, with the exception of the joint debut of Gavin and Scott Hastings. One of the four Neilson brothers played in each of the twenty five matches between Willie and George's debut in 1891, until 1899, when Robert had to withdraw from the Calcutta Cup line-up after breaking his nose.
Along with his brothers, William and Robert, he was a president of the Scottish Rugby Union.
- Bath, Richard (ed.) The Scotland Rugby Miscellany (Vision Sports Publishing Ltd, 2007 ISBN 1-905326-24-6)
- Thorburn, Sandy The History of Scottish Rugby
- Bath, p137
- Bath, p97
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