The University of St Andrews Biographical Register, compiled by former Keeper of Muniments Robert N Smart, holds extensive details of the nearly 12,000 students and staff who studied or worked at the University between the middle of the eighteenth and the end of the nineteenth centuries. It can be searched for information about students’ degree courses and qualifications, their dates of birth or baptism, place of schooling and attendance at other institutions of higher learning. Anything known about students’ subsequent careers, from Smart’s research, is also recorded, as are dates and places of death. If publications by a student or member of staff have been traced, these are listed too.
Searches will confirm that, in addition to the hundreds of doctors, ministers, lawyers and teachers who emerged from St Andrews, the University also produced graduates who rose to prominence in a whole range of other professions and occupations. The database identifies, for example, 21 inventors, 25 poets, 6 novelists, 6 playwrights, 71 politicians, 3 signatories to the American Declaration of Independence, 1 conchologist, 1 psychotherapist, 3 body snatchers and 2 errant souls who simply “went to the bad.” Through it we can enjoy the stellar careers of alumnus Isaac Wilson who officiated at the birth of Queen Victoria; of Samuel Foart Simmons who treated the madness of King George III; of Michael Cudmore Furnell who discovered chloroform as an anaesthetic in 1847; of John Leslie who invented the differential thermometer and of Alister Forbes Mackay, the first explorer to reach the magnetic south-pole in 1908.
Originally compiled for the 2004 print edition of the Register, the data has now been made searchable by the University Library’s Digital Humanities and Research Computing teams. The new database makes it possible to search for information not only by students’ names, but by many other fields and keywords. Entering “Madras College”, for example, will return all alumni who attended the school, and the term “doctor” will return all alumni tagged with that profession. The words “thermos flask” return the entry for its inventor James Dewar, and “Charlotte Bronte” returns the entry for Dr Amos Ingham who signed her death certificate. A search on “Eng. Lit.” will produce a list of students who studied English Literature, and this list can be filtered by birth and death dates of students and by the start and end dates of their time at the University.
Other, quirkier, achievements are recorded, too. Alumnus Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin, brought the Elgin marbles to Britain in the early nineteenth century. Thomas Denman Ledward sailed on HMS Bounty with Lieutenant Bligh in 1787, though took no part in the famous mutiny on that voyage. Cathcart Methven presented to Dr Clarke Abel the first orangutan to come alive to Britain, and Alexander Home was among the first to import Labrador retrievers.
Female students, included from their admission to higher education in 1892, were high achievers even against the greater odds of the educational environment of their times. Searches will retrieve information about the careers of suffragist Edith Sophia Hooper, journalist Gwendolyn Lawrence-Hamilton, St Leonards headmistress Louisa Innes Lumsden, Oxford academic Hilda Lorimer, Edinburgh Medical Inspector Mary Jenny Menzies and first woman minister in England, Gertrud von Petzold. Other records celebrate the distinguished medical careers of both the University’s first woman graduate, Agnes Forbes Blackadder, and of Elizabeth Garrett who was its first woman to matriculate in 1862 – a matriculation which was sadly cancelled with “classes refused” shortly afterwards.
The painstaking task of tagging the data to make it machine-readable for the Biographical Register has brought to life the many illustrious alumni of the University and also the few whose mistakes or misfortunes led them down less lauded paths. The glimpses of Thomas Masson who was “involved in breaking Professor Alexander’s windows in 1831,” of Thomas Marr, who was “an unsuccessful student,” of Alexander Henry Lowe who “took to drink and was lost to sight,” and of Archibald Kennedy who was “a great walker and inveterate gambler” create a tangible connection to our past.
We hope that this newly digitised version will open these riches up to an even wider audience than before, and that researchers will enjoy the enhanced search functionality that is now possible.
Senior Librarian (Digital Humanities & Research Computing)