George Clayton Anderson (1808-77) was only twenty-three when he set out from Newcastle in 1831 with his brother, Dick, and the professional artist William Train to explore the Western isles and remote St Kilda. The following year he journeyed to the Shetlands and in 1833 returned again to Skye and the Western Isles while on his way to the Faroes. Atkinson was a keen naturalist, founder member of the Natural History Society of Northumberland and Durham and Newcastle, and a friend of the engraver Thomas Beckwith. His travels brought him into contact with such giants of the day as William MacGillivray, Dr William Hooker and John Scoular. His keen interest in birds led him to become the first curator of the ornithological section of the Hancock Museum, an interest reflected in his descriptions of the bird-life of these islands. The large leather-bound journals chronicling their adventures, and largely unknown outside his family, were richly embellished with original watercolours and drawings of his tours, made by some of the finest local artists of the day.
While vividly resurrecting a living, breathing portrait of those whose lives added such a a colour to the landscape, his diary also reveals a community in the painful throes of transition and at a watershed between the ancient and the modern.