Alexander Nimmo was born in 1783 in Cupar, Fife, not in Kirkcaldy as some sources suggest. His family moved to Kirkcaldy and he may have attended its burgh school. He was a student at St Andrew's University for two years from early 1797 having won a bursary, and he then attended Edinburgh University for two years. After a period of tutoring in Edinburgh, he taught mathematics as second master at Fortrose Academy from early 1802, before moving to Inverness Royal Academy, as its fourth Rector, in 1805, where he served until 1811.
The school had been founded in 1792, replacing a former grammar school in the town. The premises were then in Academy Street, originally called New Street. Nimmo was appointed after an examination, at the request of the Academy directors, by some of the professors at Edinburgh University. He taught mathematics, geography and natural philosophy (physics).
In 1804, with Simon Fraser of Foyers, he carried out experiments in an attempt to determine the temperature of the water at great depths in Loch Ness. He also had a paper read to a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh concerning movements of sediment in the Moray Firth near Chanonry. He was elected a Fellow of that Society on 1st January 1811, having been proposed by Sir George Steuart MacKenzie of Coul in Ross-shire.
Early evidence of his surveying ability is shown in a sketch of Fort George in the collection of the Highland Folk Museum in Kingussie. This can be dated to 1805 or 1806, but the inscription has been amended and the date cannot be clearly read.
During the summer of 1806 he surveyed the accurate boundaries of the various Highland Counties, to allow the completion of Aaron Arrowsmith's map of Scotland, published in 1807. He received £150 from the Government for carrying out this task, a sum much greater than his annual teaching salary plus the pupils' fees. Joseph Mitchell, the engineer, was a pupil at the Academy immediately after Nimmo resigned, and mentioned him in his Reminiscences of my Life in the Highlands, volume 1, but some of the information recorded by Mitchell is inaccurate.
Nimmo came to the attention of Thomas Telford, the engineer, and, as a result, he abandoned teaching to work as an engineer and surveyor in Ireland on the reclamation of bogs, and on roads, bridges, harbours and similar structures. Nimmo died in Dublin in January 1832, aged 49, with 'a dropsy', a condition now called oedema, which usually follows rheumatic fever. This marble bust, the only known image of him, is in the premises of the Royal Dublin Society. The bust was sculpted by John Edward Jones (1806-1862), who had trained as an engineer under Nimmo, but had later become a sculptor.
(Thanks to Robert Preece and Prof. NoŽl Wilkins of Galway for this information and also to the Royal Dublin Society for allowing us to reproduce the image)