The Professors

The Gregorie family produced no fewer than twelve professors and several distinguished academics in the two hundred years from the middle of the seventeenth century, and even a brief summary of their achievements makes fascinating reading.

John Gregorie, minister of Drumoak in Aberdeenshire from 1620, was the founding father of this remarkable family. While he had no claim himself to academic excellence, his wife Janet Anderson was a highly intelligent woman and there is little doubt that much of the genius of the later members of the family was inherited from her.

Janet Anderson came from a family renowned for both its academic and its practical abilities.

Her grandfather’s elder brother Alexander Anderson (1582-1619) was Professor Mathematics at Paris at the beginning of the seventeenth century. He developed the trigonometry of multiple angles and made other mathematical discoveries.

Her grandfather, Gilbert Anderson, married Janet Moir and their son David was described as a man who "had a strong turn for the mathematics and mechanics", so good at solving the apparently insoluble that he was nicknamed "Davie do a’ Thing" (see separate article).

David Anderson married Jean Guild, and Janet was the third of their seven children. Janet married the Rev. John Gregorie about 1620 and their two younger sons David and James were the progenitors of two lines of gifted academics, specialising in mathematics and medicine.

David Gregorie of Kinairdy inherited the estates of Kinairdy and Netherdaill on the death of his elder brother Alexander (see Kinairdy Castle) and lived there until 1690, acting as physician to the local populace. His talents were enormous and diverse. He was a fine, though entirely self-educated, doctor, inventor and scientist and an excellent mathematician. He lived to the great age of 95 and had the distinction of seeing three of his sons — David, James and Charles — all professors of mathematics at British universities at the same time.

David Gregorie, M.A., M.D., F.R.S., (1659-1708), fourth child of David Gregorie of Kinairdy, was educated in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. He was appointed Matheson Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh in 1683 in succession to his uncle James Gregorie. In 1692 he was appointed Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, on the recommendation of Sir Isaac Newton. He was considered one of the great mathematicians of the time, though more for his teaching ability than his originality. His son David was Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, from 1756. The Dean had six children, none of whom had any offspring.

James Gregorie (1666-1742), eleventh child of David Gregorie of Kinairdy, was educated at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. When he was only 22 he was appointed Professor of Mathematics at St Andrews, the post previously held by his famous uncle James Gregorie. In 1692 he succeeded his elder brother David as Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh. He had three sons, of whom James (see South Carolina) and William (see Massachusetts) emigrated to America, and five daughters.

Charles Gregorie, F.R.S. (1681-1754), the 22nd child of David Gregorie of Kinairdy, was born on February 14, 1681. He studied at Marischal College, Aberdeen, then at the University of Glasgow, then at Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1701,M.A. in 1704.

By 1707 the Chair of Mathematics at St Andrews was once again empty. The Gregorie family having been well tested in this post, it was thought that a third person of that name would do no harm. Accordingly, Charles was appointed Professor of Mathematics at St Andrews by Queen Anne in 1707 at the age of twenty six. He held the post for 32 years with "reputation and ability". He was said to be "quiet, studious and able", but little else is known of him.

He published "several mathematical treatises", but these cannot be traced. He resigned in 1739 in favour of his son David.

David Gregorie (1712-1765), was the only son of Charles Gregorie. He was for some time tutor to the sons of the Duke of Gordon, with whom he was connected through his grandmother.

In 1739, David Gregorie succeeded his father as Professor Mathematics at St Andrews, thus becoming the fourth Gregorie to hold the post — James Gregorie being the first in 1670.

He was popular as professor and was described in the Encyclopaedia Britannica as having "eminently inherited the talents of his family." His cousin, Thomas Reid, spoke of him as a "well-bred, sensible gentleman, and much esteemed as a laborious and excellent teacher."

When he tried to extend his influence beyond the classroom, however, he revealed his strict Presbyterian upbringing. A Mr Stockdale, who was admonished by Professor Gregorie for attending divine service in a private home, described the professor as "a bigot who compelled me to attend the kirk." Professor Wilson, who taught Greek, said that "if Mr David Gregorie had been Pope three centuries ago he would infallibly have burned me at the stake."

David Gregorie published only one work, "Arithmeticæ et algebræ compendium," Edinburgh, 1736, which according to Thomas Reid, was an excellent text book.

James Gregorie MA, FRS (1638-1675), was David Gregorie of Kinairdy’s younger bother. He was one of the most eminent mathematicians of the 17th century. He received his early education from his mother Janet and his brother David and later went to Aberdeen Grammar School and Marischal College, Aberdeen. He wrote extensively on mathematics and optics and invented the Gregorian reflecting telescope. He was the first Professor of Mathematics at St Andrews (1669-1674) and the first Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh from 1774 until his sudden death at the age of 36 less than a year later.

His son James Gregorie (1674-1733) was born at St Andrews just before his father moved to Edinburgh. After his father died, his mother brought him back to Aberdeen where he lived for the rest of his life. He practised medicine from 1699 until 1725 when he was elected Mediciner (Professor of Medicine) at King’s College. He was unwilling host to his kinsman Rob Roy MacGregor (see Rob Roy) during the rebellion of 1715. In 1732 he resigned in favour of his son James (1707-1755), third child of his first marriage to Catherine Forbes, and died in 1733.

John Gregory, F.R.S. (1724-1773), was the third child of James Gregorie’s second marriage to Anna Chalmers. He was educated at Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Leyden, where he studied medicine. He was regent (professor) of philosophy at King’s College, Aberdeen, from 1747 to 1749, and at the same time practised medicine in Aberdeen. He married the Hon. Elizabeth Forbes in 1752 and, after a brief stay in London, returned to Aberdeen in 1755 to succeed his half-brother James as Mediciner. The death of his wife in 1761 left him with a young family to bring up (see A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters). He moved to Edinburgh in 1764 and was elected Professor of the Practise of Physic at Edinburgh in 1766.

James Gregory M.D., F.R.C.P, F.R.S.E., (1753-1821) was the eldest child of John Gregory and Elizabeth Forbes. Another very famous medical practitioner and teacher, he is perhaps best remembered for his invention of the infamous "Gregory’s Powder", (see Telescopes, Improving Books and Patent Medicine). He was elected Professor of the Institutes of Medicine at Edinburgh in 1776 and later became Professor of the Practise of Physic, which post he held until his death. He had no children by his first wife, Mary Ross, and eleven by his second wife, Isabella MacLeod. His children excelled in law (John), medicine (James), chemistry (William), history (Donald), and mathematics (Duncan). Of his children only one son married and had one child and one grandchild, who died young, so this line became extinct.

William Gregory M.D., F.R.C.P, F.R.S.E., (1803-1858), fourth son of James Gregory and Isabella MacLeod, was born on Christmas Day, 1803. He was educated in Edinburgh and studied under the famous chemist Dr Thomas Hope. He graduated M.D. in 1828 and became Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians at Edinburgh the following year, but he wished to become a chemist. He studied under Baron Justus von Liebig at Giessen and returned to Scotland to become a private tutor in Chemistry in 1829. After further studies with Liebig, Gregory was appointed Andersonian Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow in 1837. In 1839 he was appointed Mediciner (Professor of Medicine) at King’s College, Aberdeen, the fourth member of his family to hold the post.

He was also required to lecture in chemistry and was known as Professsor of Medicine and chemistry. In 1839 he married Barbara Lisette Scott.

In 1844 he was elected to succeed Professor Hope as professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh University. He died in 1858. David and Barbara Gregory had one son, James Liebig.

William Pultney Alison, M.D., F.R.S., (1790-1859), son of the Rev. Archibald Alison and Dorothea Montague Gregory (sister of James Gregory (1753-1821), was educated in Edinburgh and graduated in 1811.

He held three medical professorships at Edinburgh, Medical Jurisprudence (1820-21), Institutes of Medicine (1821-42) and Practice of Physic (1842-55), a post previously held by his grandfather (1766-73) and his uncle James Gregory (1790-1821).

The Gregory Library in Aberdeen University

Following is a summary of a talk given by Dr Paul Lawrence, B.Sc., Ph.D.,

Medical School Library, Aberdeen University.

Aberdeen University Library contains a number of special collections among its treasures. Some of these originated from one man or from a house or a castle, but few of them were family libraries. One such is the Gregory Library — the books belonging to the Gregory family.

Aberdeen and the north east can lay claim to producing the most astonishing collection of academic prodigies that ever graced Scotland. The Gregory family produced no fewer than 12 professors in 200 years and so their family history makes fascinating reading.

They were descended from the MacGregors of Roro in Glenlyon, Perthshire. James Gregorie (d.1584) was the first to adopt the diminutive "ie" ending in place of the Gaelic "mac" when he settled in the Lowlands of Aberdeenshire.

Like many large and academic families, the Gregory family built up an extensive collection of books. Unlike many, however this collection has been kept together rather than being split up and sold. Only the books belonging to David Gregorie of Kinairdy and his descendants are missing from the collection and these are probably to be found in the Christ Church, Oxford, collection of Dean David Gregorie.

Towards the end of the 19th century the books passed into the hands of the Forbes-Leith family of Fyvie in Aberdeenshire. There are connections between the two families but how or when the library came to be passed to the Forbes family is a mystery.

In January 1938, the "Gregory Library", as it became known, was presented to the University of Aberdeen by Sir Ian Forbes-Leith, Bart., of Fyvie.

Further information on the Gregory Library can be had from:

University Library, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB9 2ZD, SCOTLAND