S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Elliot, Prof George Francis Scott (botany)

Born: 6 January 1862, Calcutta, India.
Died: 20 June 1934, Dumfries, Scotland.

G.F.S. Elliot (or G.F. Scott-Elliot), botanist and author, entered the University of Cambridge in 1879 and in 1882 graduated as Bachelor of Arts (BA), mathematical tripos. He then entered the University of Edinburgh, where he obtained the degree Bachelor of Science (BSc). After graduating he worked as an assistant in the Edinburgh botanical gardens and tutored in practical botany. After a journey of botanical exploration to the Canary Islands he undertook extensive travels to Africa and elsewhere. Arriving in South Africa early in 1888 he first went to the Eastern Cape, visiting, among others, Grahmastown, King William's Town and Somerset East. Returning to Cape Town he spent some months in the Cape Government Herbarium, where he assisted in the arrangement of its Eastern Cape collections. He also made a study of South African marine algae and presented specimens of Cape algae preserved in spirit to the British Museum (Natural History). Towards the end of September 1888 he set out by ox-waggon for Kimberley, the Transvaal, and via Majuba and Ladysmith to Durban. He then proceeded to Madagascar and Mauritius. Then followed an expedition to north Africa, where he acted as botanist to the English and French Delimitation Commission of the Sierra Leone boundary during 1891 and 1892. In British East Africa during 1893 and 1894 he spent four months collecting on the lower slopes of Mount Ruwenzori and then travelled via Lakes Tanganyika and Malawi to the mouth of the Zambezi River.

Returning to Britain in poor health, Elliot lectured in botany with great success from 1896 to 1904 at the Royal Technical College in Glasgow, and was also professor of botany at the Glasgow Veterinary College for some time. Meanwhile he had published several papers on his botanical observations in southern and central Africa, including "Ornithophilous flowers in South Africa" (1890) and "Notes on the fertilisation of South African and Madagascar flowering plants" (a bibliography, 1891), both in the Annals of Botany; "Notes on the regional distribution of the Cape Flora" (1891) in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh; "Climate and floral regions in Africa" (1893) in Natural Science; and "The influence of climate and vegetation on African civilisations" in Report of the ... British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1896. His experiences in East Africa formed the basis of a book, A naturalist in Mid-Africa; being an account of a journey to the Mountains of the Moon and Tanganyika (1896). Later he visited Chile and Argentina and published several other books on botany and on the results of his travels, each of the following running to several editions: The romance of plant life (1906); Chili, its history and development, natural features, products, commerce and present conditions (1907); The romance of savage life, describing the life of primitive man, his customs, occupations, language, beliefs, arts, crafts, adventures, games, sports, etc. (1908), with various references to South African tribes; and Prehistoric man and his story (1915).

Upon his retirement in 1913 Elliot started farming. During World War I (1914-1918) he served in Egypt, and then settled at Tunbridge Wells, England, where he studied the local flora. He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 1890, and was also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He became a member of the Brittish Association for the Advancement of Science in 1895. He is commemorated in the species names Gladiolus elliotii, Moraea elliotii, and Triraphis elliotii.

List of sources:
Barton, E.S. A provisional list of the marine algae of the Cape of Good Hope. Journal of Botany, 1893, Vol. 31, pp. 53-56, 81-84, 110-114, 138-144, 171-177, 202-210 (see p. 205).

British Association for the Advancement of Science. Report of the seventy-fifth meeting... South Africa, 1905, list of members.

Bullock, A.A. Bibliography of South African botany (up to 1951). Pretoria: Department of Agricultural Technical Services, 1978.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 3, 1977.

Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society: G.F. Scott-Elliot. http://www.dgnhas.org.uk/people/scottelliot.php as on 11 October 2016.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Marloth, R. The progress of natural science in relation to South Africa during the last ten years. Transactions of the South African Philosophical Society, 1890-1895, Vol. 8, pp. civ-cxxi.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Venter, R.J. Bibliography of regional meteorological literature. Vol. 1. Southern Africa, 1486-1948. Pretoria: Weather Bureau, 1949.

Compiled by: C. Plug