John Macadam lived from May 1827 to 2 September 1865. He was a chemist who went on to become an Australian politician. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Macadam was born near Glasgow. He studied chemistry at Anderson's University, a forerunner to the University of Strathclyde, before going on to study medicine at the University of Glasgow. In 1855, at the age of 28, he took up a post as a lecturer in chemistry and natural science at the Scotch College in Melbourne, Australia. In 1858 Macadam accepted an appointment as the Victorian Government Analytical Chemist. On 3 March 1862 he became the first person to teach at the new University of Melbourne School of Medicine when he delivered a lecture on chemistry. He went on to become Professor of Theoretical and Practical Chemistry at Melbourne University in 1865.
From 1857, Macadam was Honorary Secretary of The Philosophical Institute of Victoria which later became the Royal Society of Victoria, and he became its Vice-President in 1863. He also served as Honorary Secretary of the committee that organised the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition which intended to cross Australia from south to north. He also became involved in Australian politics, serving in the legislative assembly of Victoria from 1859 to 1864, and holding the ministerial post of Postmaster-General in 1861.
John Macadam died in 1865, at the age of 38. At the time he was on board the SS Alhambra, travelling to New Zealand, where he was due to appear as an expert witness in a murder trial. His name lives on in the name of the Macadamia nut. The genus Macadamia was named after him in 1857 by the botanist Ferdinand von Mueller, who served alongside Macadam at the Philosophical Institute of Victoria. As an aside, during his early years in Australia, Macadam was recorded as being one of the two umpires at one of the earliest games of Australian rules football.