The Story of Three Scottish Pioneers

Shaping the Accountancy Profession: The Story of Three Scottish Pioneers

Richard Fleischman

T. A. Lee, Ed., Shaping the Accountancy Profession: The Story of Three Scottish Pioneers (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996, 264 pp., $48).

Reviewed by Richard Fleischman John Carroll University

We of the U.S. accounting history community may take a measure of inspiration and encouragement from this latest volume in Dick Brief’s Garland series. This collection of biographical studies of three luminaries from the Scottish accounting pantheon was funded by the Committee on Accounting History of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (CAs) of Scotland. The Institute has made considerable contributions in sponsoring research projects and events that focus on the history of the profession in Scotland. We here can only hope that the AICPA will be similarly approachable in the future to support historical studies of this genre. At the same time, it is for us American historians to manifest the same enthusiasm for our past as seemingly typifies our Scottish colleagues.

The three biographies comprising Shaping the Accounting Profession are S. P. Walker’s study of George Auldjo Jamieson, founding partner of a leading Edinburgh accounting firm and an influential member of that city’s Society of CAs; J. K. Shackleton and M. Milner’s examination of the career of Alexander Sloan, long-term Secretary of the Glasgow Institute (1873-1909); and T. A. Lee’s portrayal of Richard Brown, Secretary of the Edinburgh Society from 1892 to 1916, but better known to us as the author of the pioneering A History of Accounting and Accountants (1905). As Tom Lee, the volume’s editor, notes in his preface, the Scottish profession generally has been much studied (e.g., Walker [1988]; Kedslie [1990], but this effort fills an existing gap by virtue of its concentration of attention on some of the important actors in this earliest professionalization movement.

Each of the three vignettes is approximately seventy pages in length, and each contributes in different ways toward providing a comprehensive view of the life and times of the professional accountant in Victorian and Edwardian Scotland. Walker’s study of Jamieson (1828-1900) is valuable in that it provides extensive cultural background to the early days of the Scottish professionalism movement. While Jamieson was destined to establish a distinguished Edinburgh firm, his origins were in Aberdeen, the least studied of the three early Scottish societies. Walker provides an in-depth analysis of the various services Jamison’s firm provided. Jamieson himself specialized in liquidation work. The man was an active political economist as well as an accountant, personifying the interdisciplinarity of accounting practice. In his later years Jamieson became politically active, standing unsuccessfully for Parliament but serving extensively in local government. He was unmistakenly a Victorian gentleman, espousing ideals of self-improvement, individualism, and confidence in natural law.

Alexander Sloan (1843-1927) dedicated his career more to the service of his professional community than to public accounting practice. He was Secretary of the Glasgow Institute for 36 years and served one term as its President from 1909-1912. Shackleton and Milner provide a number of insights into the differences that distinguished chartered accountancy in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Glasgow CA seemingly endured a greater struggle to achieve professional status, was more directly involved in commercial and industrial ventures, and engaged more heavily in stock exchange activities and less with legal matters than his Edinburgh colleagues. The authors likewise provide an analysis of fee structure at Sloan’s practice which underscores the rise of audit work in the late nineteenth century. At a time when the Edinburgh and Glasgow professional societies failed to get along except when confronting opposition from the South, Sloan was outspokenly in favor of closer cooperation.

Richard Brown (1856-1918), the best known of the Scottish accountants studied here, arose from more humble origins than the other two. Lee paints the portrait of a man much like Thomas Jefferson-highly spiritual, dedicated to community service, a prolific author. As Secretary of the Edinburgh Society for 24 years and its President from 1916-1918, Brown was a driving force on issues such as the regulation of the CA designation, registration processes, and cooperation among Scottish societies. He was instrumental in creating the General Examining Board in 1893 to provide uniform standards. From our prospective as academic accounting historians, one of his most important contributions was the establishment of the Society’s relationships with educational institutions, Heriot-Watt College and the University of Edinburgh.

In my estimation the three biographies discussed briefly above were all well-researched and well-written. Together they constitute a welcome addition to the Garland series on accounting history. As my UK friends might say about this volume, “it is a pleasant little read.”

Copyright Academy of Accounting Historians Dec 1996

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