Laurence Edmondston

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Dr. Laurence Edmondston (9 February 1795 – 7 March 1879) was a British-born naturalist and doctor who lived in Shetland, Scotland, United Kingdom.

Although his family originally lived on the island of Hascosay in Shetland, Laurence lived with his brother Thomas on Unst. In his teens, he acquired specimens of glaucous gull Larus hyperboreus and snowy owl Bubo scandiacus, both later recognised as the first British records. In 1822 and 1823, while completing his medical studies in Edinburgh, Edmondston published several papers in the Memoirs of the Wernerian Society, adding two more species to the British List, Iceland gull Larus glaucoides and ivory gull Pagophila eburnea.

Edmondston’s publications revealed a careful observer, capable of recognising that several ‘species’ recognised at the time were others in juvenile or winter plumages: for example, ‘speckled diver’ was winter-plumaged red-throated diver Gavia stellata and ‘black-billed auk’ was juvenile razorbill Alca torda. He was also a pioneer conservationist as, in 1831, he instructed the shepherds on Hermaness on Unst to ensure the safety of the tiny population of breeding great skuas.

Edmondston studied medicine at Edinburgh and became the island doctor on Unst, living at Halligarth, where he established a plantation in the late 1830s (trees are scarce in the islands).

His children included Thomas Edmondston the botanist and Jessie Saxby, an author and wife of the ornithologist Henry Saxby.


  • Pennington, M. G., Osborn, K., Harvey, P. V., Riddington, R., Okill, J. D., Ellis, P. M. & Heubeck, M. 2004. The Birds of Shetland. Christopher Helm, London.