Professors of Natural Philosophy* at the Universities of Aberdeen


* effectively the subject of Physics

  In the beginning

A long time ago in a land far, far away, inhabited by "rude, unlettered and almost barbarous men" (in the words of our founder Bishop Elphinstone) King's College was establshed in the city of Old Aberdeen in 1495. It was to be a University, part of a European network of centres of learning under the aegis of the Pope, with the strong support of the King of Scotland, James IV. Almost a century later, in 1593, the 5th Earl Marischal of Scotland founded a second University in New Aberdeen, sanctioned by the Scots Parliament and the Scottish Church General Assembly, with the support of James VI. The Earl Marischal (George Keith) was frustrated by the backward looking attitude of King's College (he had been a student there) and its failure to embrace both religious and academic reform. Two universities little more than a mile apart may not be uncommon these days but it was unheard of four centuries ago. George Keith had the wealth and strength of character to overcome the inevitable criticism. His tag-line (to use the modern phrase), still ornamenting the stone of the present Marischal College building, was ‘Thay haif said, Quhat say thay, Lat thame say’. Aberdeen has undoubtedly been physically and intellectually richer because of his bold move.

In 1860 the two Universities were united as 'The University of Aberdeen'. Part of the 'fusion' arrangements, as they were called, was that there would be a single professor for each subject. Since 1992 Aberdeen has again had two Universities, the addition being The Robert Gordon University created from the former Institute of Technology. This web page does not cover Professors of Physics they have had.

For more on the Colleges and some information on the people in the rough timelines below, please click on a box. At the foot of each page the yellow shield takes one back in time, the timeline thumbnail back to this page and the green shield forward for binge reading. There is historic evidence for everything said but not all quotations are referenced or sources tagged, for the pages are intended to be freely readible and not academic articles. Images not credited were created by the author. The 20th century holders of the Chair, at least, deserve a chapter each and not just a few paragraphs but that's a task for another day (or year).

Timeline King's College King's College Regents William Duncan, King's College William Paul John Fleming David Thomson King's Fusion: University of Aberdeen David Thomson Aberdeen University Charles Niven G P THoson John A Carroll Marischal College Marischal College Regents David Gray James Clerk Maxwell James Sibbald John Seaton William Duncan Gearoge Skene Patrick Copland 1 Robert Hamilston Patrick Copland 2 William Knight Rotating Regents Geoffrey Marr R V Jones Personal chairs

Iíll close with a few personal comments. Why have I bothered to generate the 27 pages above? First, because I wanted to know. Secondly, out of a feeling that just as we as individuals owe a substantial amount of who we are to genetic inheritance stretching back into the mists of time, so too the place we work in is what it is now as a consequence of what it has been. No-one starts from scratch. Thirdly, there are lessons in history, examples of things done better in the past and examples of mistakes made. If no-one looks at what our predecessors did, nothing will be learnt. That, of course, is a very Scottish attitude: do something because itís worthy. It was also fun finding out.

Page by

John S. Reid

Dec. 2017