Architect, architectural draftsman and furniture-maker, he was born near Biggar, Lanarkshire, the son of an impoverished shepherd. After working locally as an apprentice carpenter and millwright, he travelled to London and France, but failing to find secure employment he returned c. 1827 to Scotland, where his passion for the architectural antiquities of the Middle Ages became the dominant focus of his work. He produced drawings and models for the architect William Burn, and submitted detailed proposals for the restoration of Glasgow Cathedral, although the failure of the commissioners to give him due credit for these left him embittered. Doubts about his status as an architect were to persist throughout the rest of his career, and cast a shadow over the construction of his masterpiece, the Scott Monument, Edinburgh, which was still incomplete when he accidentally fell into the Union Canal on a dark, foggy evening in March 1844 and was drowned. He was buried with much pomp at St Cuthbert’s graveyard, at the west end of Princes Street, Edinburgh, where his tombstone is carved with a medallion portrait by his friend Alexander Handyside Ritchie.
Bibliography: C. McKean, ‘Kemp, George Meikle [pseud. John Morvo]’, ODNB, 2004; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 2, pp. 154, 226, 228, 230–31, 235–39, 242, 244–46, 248, 251, 253–55, 258, 265–67, 269, 274.
Ray McKenzie 2018
David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, George Meikle Kemp on the building site of the Scott Monument, 1843/1847, National Galleries of Scotland (photo: Creative Commons CC BY-NC)