John MacGregor, nicknamed "Rob Roy" after his famous ancestor, lived from 1825 to 1892. He is remembered for popularising canoeing as a sport across Europe. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John MacGregor was the son of General Sir Duncan MacGregor. He seems to have first come into contact with canoes when his father was stationed at Halifax in Nova Scotia when John was a child. John MacGregor was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and he went on to become a barrister in London. In 1858, at the age of 23, he spent some time travelling in the USA and Canada, and became an enthusiastic canoeist during his trip.
Back in London he designed a double-ended canoe based on Indian canoes he had seen in North America. This was then built on the Thames at Lambeth. The end result was made from oak planking with cedar decking, was 15ft long, and weighed 80lbs or 36kg. He named the new type of canoe the "Rob Roy" after his famous ancestor and his own nickname. During the 1860s he had at least six more canoes built to the same design, and used them on long trips in the UK, Europe, the Baltic and the Middle East. In 1866 he formed the Royal Canoe Club.
1866 was also the year in which MacGregor published A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe, which became a huge success right across Europe and in North America. This was followed by other books such as The Rob Roy on the Baltic in 1867 and The Rob Roy on the Jordan, Nile, Red sea, & Gennesareth, &c in 1869. Each of his books was illustrated by MacGregor himself. The immediate popularity of the books provided John MacGregor with a considerable income, and others were soon following in his wake. Robert Louis Stevenson's 1876 voyage by canoe through the canals and rivers of France and Belgium, an account of which appeared in the first of his books to be published, the 1878 An Inland Voyage, used "Rob Roy" canoes. MacGregor died in 1892 in Bournemouth.