John MacGregor (sportsman)
John MacGregor (24 January 1825 Gravesend – 16 July 1892 Boscombe, Bournemouth), nicknamed Rob Roy after a renowned relative, was a Scottish explorer, travel writer and philanthropist. He is generally credited with the development of the first sailing canoes and with popularising canoeing as a sport in Europe and the United States. He founded the British Royal Canoe Club (RCC) in 1866 becoming its first Captain and also founded American Canoe Association in 1880.
MacGregor worked as a barrister in London, and was an accomplished artist who drew all the illustrations in his travel books.
MacGregor was born in Gravesend to Major Duncan MacGregor, a Scottish soldier, and Elizabeth, the daughter of a Baronet. When he was two weeks old, he was amongst the survivors of the sinking of Kent (1820 EIC ship). His schooling followed his father's postings, and he attended The King's School in Canterbury and Trinity College in Dublin. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, having shown a talent for mathematics. He was known by his peers for his strong Christian faith and although he had aspired to be a missionary and also considered civil engineering, his scientific interests led him to London to study for the Bar, specialising in patent law. During his time in the capital, he became heavily involved with philanthropy and was instrumental in launching the Ragged School movement's Shoeblack brigade. He also became involved with open air missions and was also able to follow his passion for travel. In 1849 he spent nine months exploring southern Europe, Palestine and Egypt. He was introduced to canoeing during a trip to the United States and Canada in 1858.
MacGregor was a champion marksman but turned to boating when a railroad accident left him unable to hold a rifle steady.
The boat he designed was 'double-ended', (modeled after Indian canoes), but built in Lambeth of lapstrake oak planking, decked in cedar covered with rubberised canvas with an open cockpit in the center. It measured 15 feet long, 28 inches wide, nine inches deep and weighed 80 pounds (36 kg) and was designed to be used with a double-bladed paddle. He named the boat Rob Roy after the celebrated Scottish outlaw of the same name, to whom he was related.
During the 1860s, he had at least seven similar boats built and he sailed and paddled them in Europe, the Baltic and the Middle East. One of those canoes is now based at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.
The version he used for his expedition to Egypt, Syria and Palestine in 1868/69 was slightly smaller but was designed so that he could sleep in it. He was accompanied by a dragoman, Hany, and two retainers who maintained the various base camps on the journey. He visited the Nile Delta, the rivers of Damascus, as well as parts of the River Jordan and Kishon River. Whilst exploring the water courses above Lake Hula he was taken prisoner by villagers from Al-Salihiyya who lifted both him and the Rob Roy canoe out of the river whilst he kept them at bay with his paddle. He was responsible for the first scientific survey of the area.
The Open-Air Mission
In the year 1853, a Christian barrister called John MacGregor was going about his business in London. For some time he had been burdened with the spiritual needs of the people around him. How could they be reached with the gospel when so few of them ever attended a place of worship? One day he saw an open-air witness taking place with 2 or 3 gospel preachers sharing the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ with a small crowd who surrounded them.
Something stirred in the heart of John MacGregor. Here was the way to reach the careless multitudes through whom he passed every day. He waited until the meeting ended and spoke to the men involved. They agreed to meet for prayer about the whole matter and a few days later a prayer meeting took place somewhere in the Holborn area of London. In that prayer meeting the work of The Open-Air Mission was born. That night John Macgregor wrote in his diary, “I see in this a small beginning of what may, yes will, be a great noble and blessed undertaking.” He could never have foreseen that the work would continue to this day.
Of all the societies that Jon MacGregor founded, Open-air preaching was also very close to his heart. Notable preachers such as Rev C H Spurgeon and F B Meyer were also involved in this work of reaching the people with the gospel, where they are.
In 1866, he published A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe, which popularised the design and, more importantly, the concept: "in walking you are bounded by every sea and river, and in a common sailing-boat you are bounded by every shallow and shore; whereas, ...a canoe [can] be paddled or sailed, or hauled, or carried over land or water".
The book was internationally successful; with subsequent books and public appearances, it earned MacGregor more than ten thousand pounds. Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson's 1876 voyage by canoe through the canals and rivers of France and Belgium, published in 1878 as An Inland Voyage, used "Rob Roy" canoes.
- Three Days in the East (1850)
- Our Brothers and Cousins: A Summer Tour in Canada and the States (1859)
- A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe (1866)
- The Voyage Alone In The Yawl 'Rob Roy' (1867)
- The Rob Roy on the Baltic (1867)
- The Rob Roy on the Jordan, Nile, Red sea, & Gennesareth, &c (1869)
- Christopher Costigan explored the River Jordan and the Dead Sea in 1835
- Thomas Howard Molyneux explored the River Jordan and the Dead Sea in 1847
- William Francis Lynch explored the River Jordan and the Dead Sea in 1848
- Hodder, E (1894) John MacGregor ("Roy Roy"). Hodder Brothers, London
- Boggis, R.J.E (1939) Down the Jordan in a Canoe. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London. p.56
- Boggis. p.56
- MacGregor, John (1869) The Rob Roy on The Jordan. A Canoe Cruise in Palestine, Egypt, and the Wates of Damascus John Murray 8th Edition 1904.The Rob Roy on the Jordan pp.223–246. nb going rate for holding an English man for ransom was at least 100L.
- A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5 (1912), pp. 133–37
- Works by John MacGregor at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about John MacGregor at Internet Archive
- Our Brothers and Cousins: A Summer Tour in Canada and the States. London, Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, 1859. First edition, illustrated. From Internet Archive.
- A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe on Rivers and Lakes of Europe. London: S. Low and Marston, 1866. First edition, illustrated. From Internet Archive.
- A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe, text.
- The Rob Roy in the Baltic, from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1867.
- The Rob Roy on the Jordan, Nile, Red sea, & Gennesareth, &c. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street 1874. Fourth edition, illustrated. From Google Books.
- The Voyage Alone In The Yawl 'Rob Roy'. London: S. Low and Marston, 1880. Fourth edition, illustrated. From Internet Archive.
- Lee, Sidney, ed. (1893). . Dictionary of National Biography. 35. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Hodder, Edwin (1894). John MacGregor, a biography. London Hodder Bros. From Internet Archive.
- John MacGregor: A Victorian-era Paddler Sea Kayaker Magazine 1999 by Brian Kologe
- National Maritime Museum Cornwall
- The Open-Air Mission
- John MacGregor ("Rob Roy"): Explorer, Philanthropist and Sportsman (1825-1892). From www.simonwenham.com.