Professors of Natural Philosophy at the Universities of Aberdeen *

Marischal College Rotating Regents

There seems to be no satisfactory answer in the records to the question of why Marischal College changed in 1641 to the system practised by King's College of Regents taking a class through all four years, especially as it went against the wishes of the Founder. Perhaps they felt the challenge was rewarding. The Earls Marischal, the Founder's successors, retained a supervisory role over the College until 1716, when they were deprived of this privilege as a consequence of their support for the Jacobite cause. The change apparently passed the scrutiny of Earls. The mathematician and astronomer James Gregory graduated in 1657 under this scheme, his Regent being the youthful Alexander WhiteThe list of Regents until 1753 is given in the appendix of P J Anderson (Ed.) "Fasti Academiae Mariscallanae Aberdonensis" Spalding Club, Aberdeen, vol II, 1898. who had himself graduated from the College in 1650. Another graduate from the rotating Regents scheme was Robert Gordon, who on his death bequested money to found a school initially called 'Robert Gordon's Hospital' that became Robert Gordon's College. A spin-off technical college after a few changes of title became 'The Robert Gordon University'.

There were significant changes at Marischal College during this period. In the century since its foundation the syllabus had morphed considerably. First year students were instructed in Philology, Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Arithmetic and were required to make 'public' presentations in Greek and Latin on 'commendable subjects'. In the second year they studied largely philosophy and logic, with frequent examinations. In the third year, mainly physiology and natural philosophy with some morality and aesthetics. The final year was devoted to metaphysics and special physiology and 'how to explain all the particular phenomena of nature'. They also had instruction in the principles of astronomy. Those wishing to graduate were examined on the teaching in all four years, quite a daunting task, and had to submit and publicly defend a thesis. Quite a few aspects of the procedure would appeal to the modern educationalist, if not the syllabus itself.

The 'glorious revolution' of the late 1680s had little direct effect on Marischal College but the Jacobite uprising of 1715 certainly did. Not only did the Earls Marischal lose their influence but all the staff bar one were sacked or fled for supporting the Stuart cause and the College was closed for two years. The new staff that included Colin Maclaurin the mathematician tried hard to move the College forward. [For a local take on Maclaurin, see The Scientific Tourist].

Robert Gordon frontispieceFrontispiece from Robert Gordon's notes (?) made from the lectures on Descarte's philosophy given by Regent George Peacock to the third year class in 1688. This image used to hang in the class library of the Department of Natural Philosophy.


Page by

John S. Reid

Dec. 2017