George Baird (minister)

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Bust of George Husband Baird, c.1830, Old College, University of Edinburgh

George Husband Baird FRSE FSA (Scot) MWS (13 July 1761 – 14 January 1840)[1] was a Scottish minister, educational reformer, linguist and the Principal of the University of Edinburgh from 1793 to 1840. In 1800 he served as Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly.

Early life[edit]

Baird was born in 1761 in the parish of Bo'ness in West Lothian. His father, James Baird, a landowner in Stirlingshire, at that time rented this farm from the Duke of Hamilton. Baird attended the parish school in Bo'ness, before being sent to the grammar school at Linlithgow. At age 12, Baird entered Edinburgh University as a student in humanities (Latin and Greek). There he made some independent linguistic researches, with James Finlayson and Josiah Walker.[2]


13 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh, home of George Husband Baird
grave of George Husband Baird, New Calton Cemetery

Baird was ordained minister of Dunkeld in 1787, and was appointed minister of Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh in 1792. In the same year he became Joint Professor of Oriental Languages in Edinburgh University, before being appointed Principal of Edinburgh University one year later at the early age of thirty-three.[3] He served in this role for an abnormally long period, 1793 until 1840.[4]

His election to a prominent position was said to be a result of the influence of his father-in-law, Thomas Elder of Forneth, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh,[3] whose eldest daughter had married Baird some years previously. It is reputed to have been jocularly said that Baird's chief claim to the Principalship was as "Husband" of the Lord Provost's daughter.[3] Nevertheless, Baird held the Principalship for the long period of forty-seven years. The number of students at the University increased from 1,000 to 2,000 while he held this position and the Old College buildings were completed. In 1810, before these new buildings were built, it was reported that twenty-four professors shared eleven rooms and two professors had to teach by candlelight even in the middle of the day.[5]

In 1800, Baird was chosen as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.[6] Baird was the founder and first convenor of the Highlands and Islands committee of the General Assembly. While on this committee he got the General assembly to agree to his project to educate the poor people in the highlands and islands of Scotland - in particular the Celts.[5]

Later years[edit]

Towards the close of his life, Baird put much effort into a scheme for the education of the poor in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. He submitted his proposals to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May 1824.[3] Next year the Assembly gave its sanction to the scheme, and it was launched most auspiciously. So intense was his interest in this work that in his sixty-seventh year, although in enfeebled health, he made frequent trips to many Highland destinations.

Through his influence Dr. Andrew Bell, of Madras, bequeathed £5000 for education in the Highlands of Scotland.

Baird was also known as a correspondent of the Scottish poet Robert Burns.[6]

After his wife Isabella's death, Baird lived with his daughter Marion and son-in-law Isaac Bayley at 13 Regent Terrace (note - the Post Office Directory states 12 Regent Terrace[7]), Edinburgh from 1827,.[5] He died here died in 1840 and is buried within a short distance of his house, at New Calton Cemetery.

A memorial also exists near his family property at Manuel, in Muiravonside Churchyard.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford National Dictionary of Biography
  2. ^ Curthoys, M. C. "Baird, George Husband". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1099.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ a b c d (2006). "Baird Biographies - Scotland". Retrieved 2006-11-04. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c Mitchell, Anne (1993), "The People of Calton Hill", Mercat Press, James Thin, Edinburgh, ISBN 1-873644-18-3.
  6. ^ a b The Burns Encyclopedia (2006). "George Husband Baird". Retrieved 2006-11-04. 
  7. ^

External links[edit]

Preceded by
William Robertson
Edinburgh University Principals
Succeeded by
John Lee
Church of Scotland titles
Preceded by
William Moodie
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Succeeded by
William Ritchie