From 1917 onwards, he studied at the University of Glasgow, from which he graduated in 1922.
He received his secondary education in Dundee and Glenalmond. In 1920, he partook in an expedition to Spitsbergen. Between 1922 and 1924, he was an assistant at the geology department of the British Museum (Natural History) in London.
Subsequently, Swinton was appointed as a curator of fossil amphibians, reptiles and birds.
In 1933, he received his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Glasgow. He enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1937, and served during the entire Second World War with Navy intelligence, eventually reaching the rank of Lieutenant commander.
In the late 1950s he joined an expedition to climb Mount Everest, but he failed to reach the summit. Two years later, he emigrated to Canada to take up a post in Toronto.
He died in that city in 1994, 93 years old.
Swinton remained unmarried and had no children. At the museum, Swinton was responsible for writing a large number of museum guides and books The latter mainly popularizing works about paleontology.
One of his most famous works was The Dinosaurs from 1934.
These books were translated into many languages, making him influential in determining the public perception of dinosaurs in the middle of the twentieth century. However, his ideas on the subject were already old-fashioned at the time, and this problem became more urgent as the books were being reprinted for decades.
Swinton left the BMNH in 1961, to accept a post as professor of zoology at the University of Toronto, Canada. He combined this post with the directorship of the department of biology at the Royal Ontario Museum, and was soon appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
In 1963, he became overall director of the ROM. Under his directorship, the museum gained both in public attendance and scientific prestige.
His last appointment, until 1979, was as an extraordinary professor at Queen"s University in Kingston.
(Fun book featuring answers to curious questions about din...)
(From photos to fossils tables & charts. Index at back.)