Search for alumni in the new online University of St Andrews Biographical Register 1747-1897

Monday 15 May 2017

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.

Screenshot of online Register search

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.

Sir James Dewar, thermos flask inventor. Image by Mayall and Co. Ltd., 1870 (ms-37103-2.10r)
Amos Ingham, who signed the death certificate of Charlotte Bronte. Image by an unknown photographer, 1855-1864 (Alb-113-24-1)

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.

A portrait of the Blackadder family, taken December 1907 in Broughty Ferry. From left to right: Thomas Blackadder, Helen Blackadder, Robert Blackadder, Robin Blackadder, David Blackadder, Agnes Savill (née Blackadder), Agnes Blackadder (née Sturrock), Henry Blackadder and Willie Blackadder. Agnes Forbes Blackadder (4th from the right) was the University’s first woman graduate. (GPS-BlackadderA-1). Image Courtesy of the Decker Family
A presentation album for Louisa Innes Lumsden, warden of University Hall, from the students of University Hall, on the occasion of her retirement. June 1900 (ms38672)

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.

Elizabeth Garrett (later Anderson), first woman to matriculate in 1862 but was refused admission to classes. Image by Dr John Adamson, 1862 (ALB-8-40)

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.

Page from the 1739-1888 Graduation and Matriculation Roll, one of the records used to compile the Register. This page from 1758 lists James Wilson, who was a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence, among the students (UYUY309)

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.

Alice Crawford
Senior Librarian (Digital Humanities & Research Computing)

The Biographical Register was featured in Scotland on Sunday, the Sunday Herald and The Courier.

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7 thoughts on "Search for alumni in the new online University of St Andrews Biographical Register 1747-1897"

  • St Andrews University students from Coldingham – Coldingham One-Place Study
    Friday 19 May 2017, 9.29am

    […] of the Muniments at St Andrews, Dr Robert Smart. For more descriptive details see the blog post here, and search the database […]

  • St Andrews University students from Melrose – Melrose One-Place Study
    Friday 19 May 2017, 9.55am

    […] of the Muniments at St Andrews, Dr Robert Smart. For more descriptive details see the blog post here, and search the database […]

  • Visualising the Biographical Register of the University of St Andrews (1747-1897): Where Did St Andrews Alumni Come From? Part I. | Echoes from the Vault
    Thursday 16 November 2017, 11.53am

    […] staff. 9 years after its publication (2004), the printed version (see Figures 3 and 4) underwent a digitisation process led by Dr Alice Crawford. This resulted in a web-based platform which enables a quick search of […]

  • bruce mclaren
    bruce mclaren
    Sunday 4 March 2018, 9.22am

    i couldn't get it to work

    • St Andrews Special Collections
      St Andrews Special Collections
      Monday 5 March 2018, 8.57am

      Hi Bruce, the biographical register search facility seems to be working. If you could send us an email ([email protected]) detailing the problem we can try and advise as to how to sort the issue.

  • Tribute to Dr Robert N Smart (1931-2019) | Echoes from the Vault
    Friday 26 July 2019, 11.58am

    […] in the University Library to convert the 1747-1897 register into database format and it is now available online. The data is being reinterpreted by research students in Computer Science working on visualisation […]

  • stuart wallace
    stuart wallace
    Monday 30 January 2023, 8.18pm

    The database entry for GEORGE HOME MONRO born c.1866 could be supplemented by biographical information in R.E. Wright-St. Clair, "Doctors Monro Medical Saga" (Wellcome Historical Medical Library 1964) pp. 155-6, where his dates are given as 1865-1935. He is a descendant of the famous Edinburgh medical dynasty which began with Alexander Monro (1697-1767)


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