Obituary: Hamish Scott

Calcutta Cup hero, climber and well travelled scientist with cherished links to St Andrews

Born: 17 February, 1924, in Edinburgh.

Died: 12 March, 2010, in St Andrews, Fife, aged 86.

SOME critics dismiss today's highly-paid, dedicated, extremely fit and talented professional rugby players as "pumped-up gym monkeys".

Whether or not you agree with this assessment, one thing is clear: today's internationalists are unlikely to lead lives that are as interesting and varied as those of their predecessors.

"Hamish" Scott, who died just 24 hours before the 60th anniversary of his greatest rugby day, playing a big part in beating England 13-11 in a nail-biter of what was to be his single international – the Calcutta Cup match of 1950 – was also in his 86 years a warrior, Himalayan explorer, civil servant, marine biologist, author, gardener and traveller.

Then a member of an outstanding St Andrews University XV, which also included future Scotland winger JS "Ian" Swan, number eight Scott was chosen for the match after featuring for Scottish Universities, playing in the Scottish Trial and being reserve-in-attendance against Wales and Ireland (no substitutes back then).

While the Scots were bullied in the scrums and out-gunned at the line-outs by an England team led by his opposite number, John Kendall-Carpenter, with Scott and his distinguished back row partners Douglas Elliot and Peter Kininmonth to the fore, the Scottish pack was far livelier in the loose – setting up a dramatic late try by centre Donald Sloan, converted by full back Tom Grey, which turned a looming 8-11 defeat into a 13-11 triumph.

Not that Scott intended to retire from international rugby after that game. Circumstances intervened: he graduated from St Andrews, where he remains the last member of St Andrews University RFC to be capped as an undergraduate – and promptly headed south, where he played briefly for Blackheath, prior to a lengthy career overseas.

By the time he returned to St Andrews, to read for his doctorate, a decade had passed and he was married with two daughters, so adding to his single cap was a non-starter.

Hamish Scott was very much a St Andrews man, but was actually born in Edinburgh, before his parents relocated to the Fife coast, where his father was a green keeper and ballot master at the Old Course.

He was educated at Madras College in the town and, on leaving school, he opted to study engineering at United College, Dundee, part of St Andrews University. After a mere two terms, however, his studies were put on hold by the Second World War.

His war service in the Royal Navy saw him posted, after initial training, to HMS Scorpion, a destroyer stationed at Scapa Flow with the Home Fleet. This meant Arctic convoy escort duty between Canada and Murmansk.

While with Scorpion, he participated in the Battle of North Cape, which saw the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst, and he was a recipient of the Russian Convoys medal from the grateful Russian government. He later served in Australia, on land, achieving the rank of Petty Officer and a Good Conduct "stripe" – in Navy terminology for "four years of undetected crime" – before being demobbed in 1946.

By then a 22-year-old war veteran, Scott returned to his studies at St Andrews, graduating in 1950 with a BSc in geology.

In 1949, he joined a scientific expedition to Nepal, led by the celebrated mountaineer WH "Bill" Tilman. Their four-month stay in that country, which had only just opened its borders to Europeans, involved exploring and surveying the areas of Langtang, Ganesh and Manang.

Scott was official photographer on the trip, which also saw the first ascent of the 19,345ft (5,896m) Paldor, where the expertise of one of the party's Sherpas was evident – Norgay Tensing, the same man who conquered Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953.

The trip also included the discovery of what is now the Tilman Pass, beyond Gangchempo. Scott and Oleg Polunin, the botanist on the expedition, had a newly-discovered plant named after them.

In 1994, aged 70, he returned to Nepal and climbed to a height of 18,000ft.

On graduation in 1950, Scott joined the Colonial Office, undertaking a fisheries course before spending nine years in Malaya, during which time he rose to become deputy director of Fisheries for Malaya, wrote an authoritative book on the fish life of the waters off Malaya and gained further rugby representative honours, playing for North Malaya against South Malaya.

After his spell there he returned to St Andrews to obtain his PhD on parasitology, and resumed his rugby career with Madras FP, the club of which he was an honorary life member, before he was off on his travels again, this time to Nigeria, working for the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB). While he was there, a civil war broke out. Hamish had already sent wife Doreen, who he had known since childhood, and their children home to St Andrews for their own safety.

However, after the NDDB's offices were ransacked and the director murdered, Hamish had to make a swift exit, getting on board the final ship out of Biafra, carrying his pet African Grey parrot Pippo, who remained a family member for many years.

He and his growing family finally settled in New Brunswick, Canada, after he joined the staff of the Federal Research Station, appropriately enough in the small town of St Andrews.

Run by the Canadian Department of Fisheries, the St Andrews Station is a key component in the large Canadian fisheries industry. Scott started off as a research scientist, rising to become deputy director, prior to his retirement.

He spent his golden years golfing – he was brought up in the home of the game, after all – and gardening – he was an expert on astilbes – as well as doing sterling voluntary service and travelling, including an annual trip to Fife.

It was on one of those trips "home" that he died in St Andrews. His funeral was held in Dundee.

Hamish Scott is survived by Doreen, whom he married in 1952, daughters Elaine and Alison, son Alasdair, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He was predeceased by brother Angus, who was head of art at Madras College. Brothers Colin, Bill and Robert and sister Elma survive him.