Canadian university accepts Bute award

Chris Markwell and Principal Woolfe.
Chris Markwell and Principal Woolfe.

An award was presented to a Canadian University recently in recognition of the achievements of one of its former principals who was born on Bute.

The honour was awarded posthumously last September to Dr William Leitch, a Bute-born scientist, educator and theologian who later became the fifth principal of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

The presentation was made by Chris Markwell who established the Baird of Bute Society in recognition of Andrew Baird, a Bute blacksmith who made Scottish aviation history by undertaking the first ever ‘all Scottish’ heavier-than-air powered flight at Ettrick Bay on the island.

Mr Markwell travelled to Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario where he was welcomed by the university’s staff, accompanied by Robert Godwin, the researcher who uncovered Leitch’s writings and scientific contribution. The ceremony was held in beneath a portrait of Dr Leitch.

A letter from the patron of the Baird of Bute Society, Lord Robert Smith of Kelvin, was read out at the ceremony: “It was our great pleasure in 2016 to award the Scottish Innovation Award posthumously to Dr William Leitch, a son of Bute, who distinguished himself in religion, education and the sciences and is now credited with the first theoretical proposal of space travel using rockets, published in his 1861 essay A Journey Through Space.

“I had the great honour of presenting Dr Leitch’s award at our annual awards evening in Rothesay in September last year and was pleased to extend your own warm personal greetings to members and guests and offer your announcement that Queen’s University, where Dr Leitch was the fifth principal, will be receiving the award into its archives ‘where it will enable the community to learn more about his contributions to the foundation of the University, to science and to education in general’.”

Principal Woolfe, the university’s 20th principal, said: “It is a privilege for Queen’s to receive Principal Leitch’s Baird Innovation award into its archives, where it will enable the community to learn more about his contributions to the foundations of our university, to science, and to education in general.

“Although he has no surviving family members that can be traced, Principal Leitch is still held in high esteem by his Queen’s family, who remain proud of their former leader.”

To learn more about Baird of Bute visit