Professors of Natural Philosophy at the Universities of Aberdeen *

Rev Dr John Fleming DD FRSE  10th Jan 1785 - 18th Nov 1857

In his early twenties John Fleming was noted for his geological expertise and conducted a mineralogical survey of Orkney for Sir John Sinclair (author of The Statistical Account of Scotland) and he published in 1807 a mineralogical account of both the Orkney and Shetland Isles. In 1808 he secured a vacancy as a minister in the Shetlands in Bressay. Two years later he moved to a position in Fife where he acquired a reputation as one of the leading Scottish zoologists. In 1813 he married; in 1814 he was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh and awarded an Honorary DD by the University of St Andrews. In 1832 he moved again, this time to the parish of Clackmannan. He clearly combined talents in many fields with a restlessness. In 1834 he was appointed on the 31st of March as Professor of Natural Philosophy and Regent in place of William Paul. Even in this post he continued his interests in Geology and Natural History. He resigned his position on being appointed to the Chair of Natural Science at the Free Church College, Edinburgh, in 1845. A fuller account of his life can be found in the first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, updated in the current version.

A student in the late 1830s recalled William Walker, Dean of Aberdeen and Orkney, "Reminiscences Academical, Ecclesiastic and Scholastic; Aberdeen in the Nineteenth Century Thirties till now" [D. Wylie & Son., Aberdeen 1904]. that Dr John Fleming was the only Professor in those days who had more than a local reputation, and some of his works were not only well known and influential in the English speaking world, but were also translated into French and German. ... He would have been thoroughly at home in the Natural History Chair. This could hardly be said of his position in the Natural Philosophy Chair. He did not seem to be familiar with Mathematical demonstrations, and certainly he made very little use of them in his course. This was unlike his predecessor. Fleming's passion for Natural History is confirmed by the "Catalogue of Antiquities in the Archeological Museum of King's College" that records The archeological museum was originally constituted chiefly under the superintendence of Dr John Fleming (Professor of Natural Philosophy in King's College 1834 - 1945) as a general museum of Natural History as well as Antiquities, Local and Foreign. William Walker does describe Fleming as earnest, painstaking and the best speaker amongst the professors of those times. He suggests that the College hadn't fully shaken off the ethos of the Regenting system when one could hire all-round men and expect them to learn up the subjects that they were less familiar with.

John Fleming

John Fleming


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John S. Reid

Dec. 2017