Professors of Natural Philosophy at the Universities of Aberdeen *

William Duncan AM   28th April 1749 - 20th July 1815

William Duncan "who has for many years taught Mathematics in Aberdeen with the greatest successOfficers and Graduates of University & King's College Aberdeen MVD - MDCCCLX ed. Peter John Anderson, New Spalding Club, Aberdeen 1893, p65" was appointed as the first Professor of Natural Philosophy and Regent at King's College on 11th July 1800 in place Roderick MacLeod who was made Principal. Duncan was a Marischal College graduate of 1766, the same cohort of students from which his counterpart at Marischal College (Patrick Copland) had come from. It seems that only the King's College Principal supported Duncan. Four professors voted for Dr Andrew Mackay (well known in Aberdeen as a teacher of navigation and effectively astronomer at the Castlehill Observatory while it existed). The remaining four supported Professor Patrick Copland himself, who declined the invitation. Mackay took the issue to the Court of Session in Edinburgh but eventually lost his case and he moved to London, William Paul taught the subject from 22nd September 1800 for the session and again in 1801 - 1802. Mr Wright took the subject for 1802 - 1803. Duncan was appointed Regent and Professor of Mathematics on 30th Jan 1811. Both his prior calling as a successful maths teacher and his subsequent appointment as Professor of Mathematics suggests that Duncan's course was good on theory but perhaps light on the use of demonstration apparatus.

Duncan must have been a very effective teacher for there is an impressive marble memorial to him with a well carved Muse looking down on the suggestion of a likeness, located in St Nicholas Church in the centre of Aberdeen. The tablet below is hard to read even up close for it is lightly engraved. The wording is: "TO THE MEMORY OF/ WILLIAM DUNCAN AM/ PROFESSOR of NATURAL PHILOSOPHY in KINGS COLLEGE and UNIVERSITY/ ABERDEEN/ FORMERLY MASTER FOR A PERIOD OF TWENTY EIGHT YEARS OF THE PUBLIC/ WRITING AND MATHEMATICAL SCHOOL OF THIS CITY/ FROM WHICH HE WAS TRANSLATED TO THE UNIVERSITY IN 1803/ BORN 28TH APRIL 1749 DIED 20TH JULY 1815/ / Erected as a tribute of gratitude for his eminent abilities as a TEACHER/ and of respect for his aimiable character as a MAN/ by a few of his PUPILS of that school".

Duncan memorial


Page by

John S. Reid

Dec. 2017