St Andrews, Fife

Mathematical Gazetteer of the British Isles

The University of St Andrews was founded by a papal bull in 1411 or 1413. It is the oldest in Scotland and has the only Regius (i.e. royally appointed) Professor of Mathematics in the UK. Before it was the Regius Chair, the first holder was James Gregory (1638-1675) in 1673-1674 (or 1669-1674). However, [1] say that the chair was established by Charles II at the instigation of Sir Robert Moray, apparently for Gregory, who was the first holder from 1668 to 1674. It is not known where Gregory lived, but he worked in the Upper Hall of the Library. The pendulum clock that he used is still here, though it has been converted from a wall clock to a free-standing one. On the east side of the second window from the west in the south wall is the bracket that supported his telescopes. His meridian line runs along the floor to this window and there is an iron alignment trident on the hill a mile away (now obscured by trees). He established the first British observatory here in 1673, but it is not clear if he built something by the library or if this refers to a small observatory which he may have started, but which is first recorded in 1713, near what is now the foot of West Burn Lane, in the roadway on the south side of Queen's Terrace, and which was demolished in 1736. [2]; [1] Recent writers are tending to use the form Gregorie.

A nephew, Charles Gregory was professor of mathematics here to 1739 and was succeeded by his son David Gregory (1712-1765) [1].

The Regius chair was held by Herbert Westren Turnbull (1921-1950), and E.T. Copson (1950-1969).

Napier (1550-1617) was a student in 1563-1565 but didn't take a degree.

Arbuthnot graduated in medicine in 1696.

In 1753, the University awarded a degree to James Short, the noted telescope maker who had moved from Edinburgh to London in 1738. This was done at his request, though he was already an FRS for 15 years. [3].

John Playfair (1748-1819) was a student.

John West (1756-1817) entered as a student in 1769. He later became a teacher of mathematics, with James Ivory and John Leslie being among his students. His Elements of Mathematics of 1784 was popular in Scotland, but he found his income inadequate and emigrated to Jamaica in 1784. [4]

David Brewster (1781-1868), inventor of the kaleidoscope (1814, patented 1817, but not adequately and he didn't make any money from it) and first biographer of Newton, was Principal of the United College of the University in 1838-1859. FRS, 1813. The kaleidoscope certainly existed in some form before Brewster, but he described it in the Phil. Trans. in 1815, patented it in 1816(?) and popularized it through his Treatise on the Kaleidoscope in 1819. He studied polarization of light and received a Rumford medal for this in 1818. He also was an inventor of the stereoscope - Wheatstone had a similar device and they are considered the joint inventors, though Huygens had described a similar device in 1659 - and of dioptic lenses for lighthouses. A founder of the BAAS. Kt. in 1831.

John Stuart Mill was Lord Rector in 1866. [5]

Chrystal was professor in 1877-1879.

D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948), of On Growth and Form, was a professor here from 1917 and there was a bust and a display commemorating him and his work in the foyer of the Physics Building - it was not there in 1992.

J.C. Adams was a Professor here before returning to Cambridge.

The foyer of the Physics Building has an exhibition of scientific instruments, including a great astrolabe made and signed by Humphrey Cole, 1575, a mariner's astrolabe made and signed by Elias Allen in 1616 - the only example definitely known to be made in England - and an orrery by Benjamin Cole, c1750. One of the astrolabes was probably brought by James Gregory, c1673. There is also a wave model by Charles Wheatstone, c1840, of which only one other example is known - at the Royal Institution, London. A microscope of Brewster's is also on display [3]. However, [6] reports that the Cole and Allen astrolabes have been removed for safe keeping.

In 1552, Cardan (1501-1576) was summoned to St Andrews and successfully treated John Hamilton, Archbishop and brother of the Regent of Scotland, for asthma (and general dissipation) so severe that his life was feared for. [7] says the consultations took place in Edinburgh and Monimail, Fife.

References (show)

  1. Turnbull, David. Airy plaque unveiled. Astronomy Now 6:11 (Nov 1992) 15. & Bushnell
  2. Gilbert, A. D. James Gregory FRS 1638-1675. Typescript of unknown provenance sent by John Searl.
  3. Wray, E. M.. Historical Scientific Instruments from the Collection of the Department of Physics, University of St Andrews. A Guide to Selected Exhibits. Dept. of Physics, Univ. of St Andrews, 1984.
  4. Craik, Alex D. D. Geometry, analysis, and the baptism of slaves: John West in Scotland and Jamaica. Hist. Math. 25:1 (1998) 29-74. pp.31-40
  5. Crosland, M., ed. A Traveller's Guide to Literary Europe. 3 vols., Hugh Evelyn, London, 1965-1967. vol. 2, p.116.
  6. Craik, Alex British Libraries #7: The University of St Andrews Library, BSHM Newsletter 29 (Summer 1995) 31
  7. Guthrie, Douglas. A History of Medicine. Nelson, London, 1945. pp.162-163

The Mathematical Gazetteer of the British Isles was created by David Singmaster.
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