All in a name (nearly)

A notice from 1827 reveals certain privileges that were available if:

  • Your name was STEWART
  • Your surname was SIMPSON
  • You were a Highlander acquainted with the Gaelic language

These seem to be the only criteria on offer in terms of access to bursaries. Cash-strapped students could also, with favourable recommendation from their parish Minister, be awarded Gratis Tickets.

Notice of Regulations of the Faculty of Arts, 1827

Notice of Regulations of the Faculty of Arts, 1827

Andrew Brown (1763-1834), who issued this notice and was Dean of Faculty, was born at Biggar, in 1763. He was educated at Glasgow University then he entered the Church and was ordained minister of the Scottish Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1787. Brown returned to Scotland in 1795 and held charges in Lochmaben and at New Greyfriars and Old St. Giles’ in Edinburgh.

In 1801 he became Regius Professor of Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres at Edinburgh University, a post first offered to Sir Walter Scott who turned it down. His appointment proved to be a disaster however, for he was more interested in North American history than in literature and during his term of office the subject he was appointed to teach declined. He made no literary contribution and as a lecturer he was uninspired. He died in 1834.

Pipe bombs, hurt sternframes, peas, penguins, stowaways and cookery books: the Salvesen Archive

After the recent BBC whaling documentary produced by KeoFilms / KeoNorth– entitled ‘Britain’s whale hunters: the untold story’ – a spike in enquiries about the archive of the former whaling firm Christian Salvesen & Company of Leith was anticipated. To meet this, some light work has been carried out on the archive, largely to ease the difficulties sometimes encountered when handling the collection. Slightly more expanded listing of the files – beyond those supplied by the Company some decades ago – has revealed interesting aspects of life down in the far Southern Ocean, in the Falkland Islands and on South Georgia.

While the television documentary was very descriptive of how dangerous a whaler’s life could be, both at sea and on the ‘flensing plan’, it is clear that off-duty activities could be dangerous too, if not fatal. A report from Hansen to the Magistrate at Grytviken, South Georgia, relates how two sailors from the whaler ‘Swona’ had gone to the vessel’s powder magazine and taken 10 kilos of gunpowder and a 5 pound tin of ‘granatepowder’. They had then gone ashore in order to make fireworks, putting the 10 kilos of powder into a cast-iron pipe and lighting the powder. One of the sailors was killed when this firework (we would call it a pipe-bomb nowadays) exploded.

Whale-catching vessels could also be ‘hurt’ as shown by this marconigram (wireless telegraph message) from Hansen, again, to the Magistrate at Grytviken. The whale-catcher ‘Sotra’ had lost her propeller and ‘hurt her sternframe’.

Wireless telegraph message sent by Leganger H. Hansen (Salvesen manager, Leith Harbour, South Georgia, between 1916 and 1937)

Wireless telegraph message sent by Leganger H. Hansen (Salvesen manager, Leith Harbour, South Georgia, between 1916 and 1937)

Then there was the difficulty of sending provisions to the whaling stations – inferior goods were often a problem. A letter from the Salvesen offices in Glasgow, 3 December 1912, to a local city supplier refers to the peas supplied to the Company. The Manager of the Whaling Station at South Georgia had written that the peas were of ‘such a bad quality that it is impossible to get them boiled down so as to make pea-soup’.

Letter, 3 December 1912, from the Manager in South Georgia to the Company's offices in Glasgow

Letter, 3 December 1912, from the Salvesen office in Glasgow to a local city supplier, after a complaint from a Manager in South Georgia

Another file shows that in December 1926, the Magistrate at Grytviken granted permission to Salvesen on behalf of the Danish Government to take a selection of 75 penguins for exhibition purposes in Denmark. The permit was conditional upon half of these penguins then being delivered to London Zoo afterwards.

Letter, 1926, from the Magistrate in Grytviken, South Georgia, granting permission to take several dozen penguins to Denmark for exhibition

Letter, 1926, from the Magistrate in Grytviken, South Georgia, granting permission to take several dozen penguins to Denmark for exhibition

In spite of the hard life of the whaler, there were always stowaways willing to bring change to their lives either in the Southern Ocean or in the other parts of the world fished and hunted by Salvesen. This is proved in a 1933 letter from Leganger H. Hansen (the Salvesen manager of the Leith Harbour whaling station, South Georgia, between 1916 and 1937, and almost certainly the same Hansen mentioned in the brief glimpses of whaling life described above). In the letter, Hansen tells how the whale-factory ship ‘Salvestria’ had acquired three stowaways and that they could possibly be ‘landed at Dover’. He did not ‘wish any stowaways to receive either pay or part’, and he believed ‘it best that such men should be transferred to the ‘Coronda’ and placed under the command of Captain Begg, who has assured us that he will make them work’. There was a possibility of stowaways on other Salvesen vessels too – ‘Sourabaya’ and ‘New Sevilla’.

Whale-factory ships 'Coronda' and 'New Sevilla', season 1934-35

Transport ship ‘Coronda’, and whale-factory ship ‘New Sevilla’, season 1934-35

The archive informs us of the wholly different political perspective that existed in the Falkland Islands in the early years of the 20th century. Today for example, it would be very unlikely that an islander would refer to the island group as ‘The Malvinas’, the Spanish name applied by Argentina. Yet, in 1909, in Stanley, the principal town of the Falkland Islands, there was a thriving business called ‘Malvina Stores’ selling everything that might be needed, from corsets, cookery books, spare pants and under clothing, fingering yarn, ear syringes, toilet covers, nuns veiling, and bronchitis kettles. Earlier, in an ‘Ordinance relating to Aliens, Destitute Immigrants, and to the Naturalization of Foreign Subjects’ dated 27 July 1900, William Grey-Wilson, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief, advised that several South Americans including Uruguayans and an Argentinean had taken the oath of allegiance.

Advertisement for 'Malvina Store', Stanley, Falkland Islands, from 'The Falkland Islands magazine and Church Paper' No.1. Vol.XXI. May 1909

Advertisement for ‘Malvina Store’, Stanley, Falkland Islands, from ‘The Falkland Islands Magazine and Church Paper’ No.1. Vol.XXI. May 1909

From 'An Ordinance relating to Aliens, Destitute Immigrants, and to the Naturalization of Foreign Subjects', 27 July 1900

From ‘An Ordinance relating to Aliens, Destitute Immigrants, and to the Naturalization of Foreign Subjects’, 27 July 1900

What a difference a century can make !

Graeme D. Eddie, Assistant Librarian Archives and Manuscripts, Centre for Research Collections


Whale hunting: New documentary for broadcast on BBC Four

The story of Britain’s whale hunters is to be broadcast across the UK in a new 2-part documentary on BBC Four on Monday 9 June and Monday 16 June. The documentary has been produced by ‘KEO films’, and in the second episode some material from the Salvesen Archive will appear. The collection had been given to us on permanent loan in 1969, and with subsequent additions, and was finally gifted by Christian Salvesen Investments Limited in 2012.


Recently a ‘Keo films’ researcher spent some days looking at material from the Salvesen archive before travelling to South Georgia in the South Atlantic to visit the remains of the Salvesen whaling operation there.

Box. 2. No. 1.

In addition to the broadcast in June, the documentary entitled ‘Britain’s Whale hunters: The Untold Story’ will again be transmitted on BBC Two, in Scotland only, later in the year, no date confirmed.

The Salvesen story itself had been an interesting one. In the early decades of the 20th century, the shipping firm Salvesen of Leith, Scotland, led the whaling industry at a time when food oils and other products from the Antarctic were considered an endless resource. Indeed, whaling dominated the Salvesen business. In later years – the 1960s and 1970s – the firm had diversified into the tanker fleet business, shipping steel and coke to Norway for the Norwegian shipbuilding and steel industries, factory fishing trawlers, and then to shore-based cold storage, canning, property development and also to house-building. Then, in October 2007, the French based transport and logistics provider Norbert Dentressangle announced that it had reached an agreement to acquire Christian Salvesen.

The images shown here are also from the Salvesen Archive and show the Company vessels ‘Coronda’ and ‘New Sevilla’ at Leith Harbour in South Georgia, and crew on board a prospecting cruise to South Georgia and Antarctica in 1913-1914.

Graeme D. Eddie, Assistant Librarian Archives & Manuscripts


William Soutar’s Caricatures of Hugh MacDiarmid

A few days ago I gave a talk to the Friends of William Soutar in Perth on the friendship between Soutar and his fellow Scots poet Hugh MacDiarmid, as illustrated by letters in Edinburgh University Library’s C. M. Grieve Archive (MS 2960.18).

Soutar, confined to bed with a debilitating disease for the last 13 years of his life, adorned some of his letters with affectionate pen-and-ink caricatures of MacDiarmid (whom Soutar always addressed by his real forename ‘Christopher’). On 9 January 1937, he pokes gentle fun at the workaholic MacDiarmid’s idea of ‘taking it easy’, portraying him as a Marxist superman surrounded by piles of manuscripts headed ‘Lyrics’, ‘Autobiog.’, ‘Epic’, and ‘Articles’. When war breaks out, he suggests (19 December 1940) that the drafts of MacDiarmid’s works in progress will make a more than adequate bomb shelter.


Soutar was an Edinburgh University student, matriculating in 1919, after serving in the Royal Navy during the First World War (an experience that turned him into a pacifist). He began a medical degree, but soon switched to English Literature, where he proved a notoriously difficult student. He refused to study both Anglo-Saxon and novels in general as he considered both irrelevant to his future career as a poet. He did, however, publish early verses in The Student, many of which reappeared in his first published volume Gleanings by an Undergraduate (1923).

For information on our holdings of William Soutar manuscripts and correspondence, see Scottish Literary Papers.

Paul Barnaby, Centre for Research Collections

New Guide to Scottish Literary Papers

A new online guide to some of our major collections of Scottish literary papers is now available on the Centre for Research Collections website. It provides an overview of fourteen of our most significant twentieth-century collections, covering the literary manuscripts and correspondence of poets George Mackay Brown, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Edwin Muir, Sydney Goodsir Smith, Helen Cruickshank, Tom Scott, Andrew Young, Maurice Lindsay, and Duncan Glen, of short-story writer Fred Urquhart, and of historian and biographer Marion Lochhead. There are also pages on novelist John Buchan’s correspondence as literary adviser to Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd (in our Nelson Archive).

IMG_08732014-04-30 10.49.08

The guide not only lists the most significant literary manuscripts for each writer, but highlights links between the collections, charting correspondence between the featured writers, and mutually inspired creative and critical writings. For each writer, there is also a list of manuscript materials of relevance in other Edinburgh University Library collections. There are further links to online hand-lists and to relevant entries in the Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue.

The literary papers cover a great variety of materials:

  • Manuscript and typescript drafts of literary works, such as Norman MacCaig‘s version of the Brecht/Weil song Mack the Knife (above right)
  • Correspondence, including George Mackay Brown‘s application for a summer job at Edinburgh University Library (below left)!
  • Photographs, such as W. R. Aitken‘s portrait of Hugh MacDiarmid and family on Whalsay, Shetland (above left)
  • Other visual materials, such as Sydney Goodsir Smith‘s sketches for staging one of his plays (below right)


In due course, the pages will be expanded to cover smaller Scottish collections and pre-20th-century manuscripts, and to detail our holdings of writers (like Sorley Maclean or Edwin Morgan) for whom we have no discrete named collection. We hope that the guide will provide an invaluable gateway to our collections for anyone interested in researching 20th-century Scottish writing. To explore the site, go to:

Paul Barnaby

The University benefits from Christmas

Robert Irvine (1839-1902) FRSE

Robert Irvine (1839-1902) FRSE. Endowed the Chair of Bacteriology.

A recent enquiry about a benefactor has thrown up an interesting set of connections within and beyond the University.

The son of Robert Irvine, manager of The Scotsman newspaper, Robert Irvine was born in Edinburgh in 1839.  By 1871 he was married to Margaret Sclater and living in a large house in Baltic Street, Leith, the manager of a chemical works.  By 1891 he was the owner of Caroline Park at Granton.  This included, the marine station, laboratories and warehouse as well as his own home.  He was now a Chemical Manufacturer. He was a friend of oceanographer, Sir John Murray (1841-1915), assistant on the Challenger Expedition and founder of the Marine Station at Granton, either on or adjacent to Irvine’s property (accounts differ).

Murray was also involved in establishing the Christmas Island Phosphate Company.  One of the investors was Irvine and it was part of the fortune realised by this lucrative venture that was bequeathed to the University of Edinburgh.  This established the Chair in Bacteriology and the first Professor was James Ritchie (1864-1923), MA, BSc, MD, FRCPE.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1886, his proposers including Sir John Murray, and David Mather Masson, Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (English Literature).  The winner of the Neill Prize 1892-5, he also served as Councillor 1899-1902.

Irvine died in 1902 at his home at Granton, predeceased by his wife.  They had no children.

Irvine appears in our collections not only as a benefactor to the University but also in the records of the Granton Marine Station, which suggest his was role in it was quite hands-on.  The station closed shortly after Irvine’s death by which time most of the work had already moved to the west coast (for further information, see

Grant Buttars, Deputy University Archivist

New acquisition: Further papers of Alexander Craig Aitken

aitken1The mathematician, statistician, writer, composer and musician, Alexander Craig Aitken, was born in Dunedin, New Zealand on 1 April 1895. He was of Scottish descent. He attended Otago Boys’ High School from 1908 to 1912. On winning a university scholarship in 1912 he went on to study at the University of Otago in 1913, enrolling in Mathematics, French and Latin. Studies were cut short by the 1914-1918 War however and he enlisted in 1915 serving with the Otago Infantry. Aitken saw action in Gallipoli and Egypt, and he was wounded during the Battle of the Somme. After his hospitalisation, he returned to New Zealand in 1917.

On the completion of his studies in 1920, Aitken became a school-teacher at Otago Boys’ High School and the same year he married Winifred Betts the first lecturer in Botany at the University of Otago where he also did some tutoring. Then, encouraged by a professor of mathematics at the University, he gained a postgraduate scholarship which brought him to Edinburgh University in 1923. His thesis on statistics gained him the degree of D.Sc. in 1925 when he also joined the University staff as a lecturer in Statistics and Mathematical Economics. In 1937 he was promoted to Reader, and in 1946 was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics.

Aitken’s publications include: jointly with H. W. Turnbull, The theory of canonical matrices (1932); with D. E. Rutherford, a series of Mathematical Texts; wartime experiences in Gallipoli to the Somme: Recollections of a New Zealand infantryman (1963); and, posthumously To catch the spirit. The memoir of A.C. Aitken with a biographical introduction by P.C. Fenton (1995). He made many important contributions to the many fields of his subject, particularly in the theory of Matrix Algebra and its application to various branches of mathematics. In his time, Professor Aitken was one of the fastest mathematical calculators in the world.

While at school, Aitken had learned to play the violin, and later on in life he played both the violin and viola and composed pieces for performance by university groups.  He died in Edinburgh on 3 November 1967.

Shortly before Christmas we acquired a further tranche of Aitken’s papers.  These include a number of original mathematical manuscripts, correspondence, legal documents, offprints, publications and photographs.  Amongst these is a review by Aitken of Sara Turning’s “Alan Turing”.


At the moment we still have to look through the collection, box it up and create a basic handlist.  Once this is done it will be available for consultation.

Clerk Ranken

Clerk Ranken was born in 1880, Edinburgh.  Educated at George Heriot’s School, he then went to Edinburgh University, graduating BSc (Pure Science) in 1902, then DSc in 1907. He was recipient of both the Hope Prize and Mackay Smith Scholarships. At the age of only 21 he read a paper before the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

As a Carnegie Fellow, he worked with Georg Bredig at Heidelberg University.  On his return from Germany he became lecturer in Chemistry at the Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh, and later Assistant Professor in Chemistry. In 1917 he left academia to take up as post with Messrs. T. & J. Bernard, Ltd., the Edinburgh brewers.

We recently became aware, thanks to Dr. Andrew Alexander (Chemistry) that two photographs we had labelled as “Dr. Rubens?” are actually of Ranken and taken (most likely) during his student days.

Chemistry students c1905

Chemistry students c1905

The first is a group photograph and we assume it is a group of Chemistry students.  The doorway has been identified as one of those leading into the Reid Concert Hall (adjacent to the Medical School, where Chemistry was based). Clerk Ranken is in the front row, furthest left.

Clerk Ranken in Chemistry laboratory

Clerk Ranken in Chemistry laboratory

The second shows Ranken in a laboratory.  In 1903 the number of Chemistry laboratories had been increased and, although we have yet to place this specifically, it is of a similar style to laboratories known to be known in the Medical School building.

Clerk Ranken died in May 1936.  An obituary can be found in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 42, Issue 4.

Ivanhoe in Belgium

Holograph letter of Walter Scott to George Steuart Mackenzie 1824Last weekend I was in Leuven at the Annual Conference of the Belgian Association of Anglicists in Higher Education (BAAHE), where I’d been invited to give a paper on translations of Walter Scott in our Corson Collection. While there, I took the opportunity to display two images from another University Collections item which vividly illustrates the extent of ‘Scottomania’ in 1820s Belgium. These are from an album of hand-coloured lithographs by Marcellin Jobard (later Belgium’s first photographer) showing the Ivanhoe-inspired costumes for a fancy dress ball hosted by the Prince and Princess of Orange in Brussels on 5 February 1823.

Belgium was then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, whose court resided in The Hague and Brussels in alternate years. A report in the Lady’s Monthly Museum (May 1823) noted that while the Queen’s balls were very ‘showy and stately’, those held by the Crown Prince and Princess were ‘recherché and graceful’. The 5 February ball was held in honour of the British community, to whom the young royals were ‘remarkably attentive’. Three weeks notice was given

during which period, you may be sure, the hammers of the armourers of old, on the eve of a battle, were never plied with more skill and industry than were our own fancies and our maids’ needles, to prepare for these promised fêtes

0030007dA party of thirty-two guests went as characters from Ivanhoe, dancing a quadrille which caused such a sensation that they were invited to repeat the performance at the next Queen’s Ball. Three months later, a report in The Repository of Arts, Literatures, Fashions, Manufactures, &c declared that the Ivanhoe costumes remained ‘the principal topic of conversation at Brussels’. They clearly made sufficient impression for the costumes to be immortalized by the country’s leading lithographic press. The images show the costumes for Ivanhoe himself, for the ‘Black Knight’ (aka Richard the Lionheart), and for their rivals Prince John and Maurice de Bracy. We also hold hand-coloured engravings for a similar Scott-inspired costume ball in Vienna in 1826.

Paul Barnaby

1906 female medical graduates

One of our earliest group photographs of female medical graduates depicts the MBChB class of 1906.  It shows 13 women and bears their signatures.

Female MBChB graduates 1906

Female MBChB graduates 1906

Alice Meredith BURN, New Zealand
Agnes Marshall COWAN, Scotland
Jessie Handyside GELLATLY, Scotland
M Deborah HANCOCK / Marjorie DUAKE-COHEN *
Meher Ardeshir Dadabhai NAHOROJI, India
Agnes Ellen PORTER, Scotland
Edith Gertrude PYCROFT, England
Mabel Lida RAMSAY, England
Elsie Blair SAUNDERS, England
Nettie Bell TURNBULL, Scotland
Annie Davidson URQUHART, England
Ethel WISEMAN, England

There was a further female MBChB graduate that year; Isabel HILL, Scotland, graduated in absentia.

* The signature for the student front row, furthest left, is given as M. Deborah Hancock (it may say Harcourt).  However no student of that name graduated.  The remaining student who whose name appears in the list of graduates is Marjorie Duake Cohen.  Her graduation record notes this as being her married name and has her also as Miss Averyl Harcourt.

Some online research has located a reference in the London Gazette, 31 Jan. 1930, to a Mrs Simha Duake Cohen, otherwise Marjorie Averyl Harcourt, who died in 1929.  It also refers to an Anthony Dowling, aka Vernon Harcourt.  The precise circumstances of name changes have not been determined but it does look likely that the remaining graduate in the photograph is Mrs. Duake Cohen.  Why her hood is a different colour to the others has not (yet) been determined.

UPDATE, 28 Nov.

The woman in the photograph is now thought to be Mary Deborah Hancock. Although not a MBChB graduate (which would account for her different hood), this is clearly a perfect match with the signature.

Further research into Marjorie Duake Cohen continues and, if sufficient information comes to light, she may feature in a future blog post.