Murder Mystery at the RSA

February 23, 2022
   Image caption: (1993.016) John Pettie RA HRSA (1839-93), George Paul Chalmers RSA, oil on canvas (1862), RSA Collections gifted by William B Hardie, 1911
Image caption: (1993.016) John Pettie RA HRSA (1839-93), George Paul Chalmers RSA, oil on canvas (1862), RSA Collections gifted by William B Hardie, 1911

In the early hours of that morning George Paul Chalmers, the first of a number of our elected members to hail from Montrose, was found unconscious and suffering from a serious head injury at the foot of steps down to a basement 15 South Charlotte Street.

 

So convinced was the Academy that foul play was at hand that a reward for information leading to the apprehension of those responsible was put up. Chalmers had a fiery temper and on the night of his death had been out drinking with several fellow Academicians, but he left the festivities following an altercation.

 

He was also a popular tutor in the Academy’s Life School, and his death, after four days in hospital, was sorely felt. His funeral, to the Dean Cemetery, was held on 23 February, attended by a huge crowd of mourners. He was aged just 45.

 

No foul play was ever proved, and although a recent publication suggests that his death was pre-meditated murder by a prominent Edinburgh photographer, the official verdict was that his death was the result of an accidental fall, possibly whilst under the influence of drink, by which he suffered fatal head injuries. 

 

His death inspired his mother to endow an annual award in his memory, one of two associated with Chalmers. The Chalmers Bursary and the Maclaine-Watters Medal are all still awarded by the Academy amongst the raft of prizes offered in the New Contemporaries exhibition.

About the author

Robin Rodger

Robin H. Rodger graduated as O. E. Saunders Prizeman in Art History from the University of St Andrews in 1983, before taking his Diploma in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Manchester in 1984. The next 26 years were spent at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, and since 2013 he has been Documentation Officer with the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture. A keen researcher, he has lectured and published widely on Perthshire artists and Perth silver, and is currently engaged in research projects relating to aspects of print and printmaking in Scotland.