Professors of Natural Philosophy at the Universities of Aberdeen *

Dr Robert Hamilton LLD FRSE  31 May 1743 (OS) - 14th July 1829

Not a lot needs to be said about Robert Hamilton here for although he was in title Professor of Natural Philosophy for 35 years in fact he taught the subject only for the first year of his appointment. In 1779 he had exchanged Chairs with Patrick Copland. Hamilton, though, 'broke much of the apparatus of glass' and was out of his comfort zone. The Chair of Mathematics that Copland had moved to was in the gift of the Town Council, as specified by Duncan Liddell's bequest over a century and a half earlier. It was better paid than the Natural Philosophy Chair, though lacking the title of Regent. In the interests of the College and the students, Hamilton and Copland agreed to exchange back their courses, with the agreement of the Senate, though Copland would keep the better paid Chair. The National Gallery of Scotland hold an engraving on paper by William Holl that shows Hamilton younger than his portrait here.

Hamilton would make his mark in the mathematics Chair, to the extent that he is commemorated by a memorial some 6 m tall in the city's principal churchyard, as illustrated here. James Clerk Maxwell's flat on Union Street almost overlooked this curious creation to his predecessor. For more on Hamilton the teacher of mathematics, see The Scientific Tourist.

Robert HamiltonRobert Hamilton from a portrait by John Moir, circa 1817, in possession of the University of Aberdeen (ABDUA:30079)
Hamilton memorialRobert Hamilton's memorial rising about 6 m high in St Nicholas churchyard, Aberdeen


Page by

John S. Reid

Dec. 2017