Papers of the Rev. John Fleming, Professor of Natural Philosophy (1785-1857)

Scope and Content

The collection is composed of: letter from Mrs Melville Fleming, widow, to William Carruthers, Keeper of the Dept. of Botany, British Museum, 1865, within a copy of The lithology of Edinburgh; box of scientific papers mainly delivered at meetings of learned societies, 1808-1857; letters of S. W. Carruthers to Adam Mitchell Hunter, 1930 and 1931, contained within Memoir of Rev. John Fleming, D.D., F.R.S.E.; also loosely inserted within latter are, Fleming's observations on the formation of submarine forests in general and in the Firth of Tay in particular, material on the state and prospects of the Chair of Natural Science in New College, 1856-1857, paper by William Carruthers on superficial deposits and his pencil notes on Fleming.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Fleming was born near Bathgate, West Lothian, on 10 January 1785. Although he studied in preparation for the Church he was also deeply in interested in natural history and science, and he managed to follow the two throughout his life. By conducting a mineralogical survey of Orkney and Shetland for Sir John Sinclair he became acquainted with the clergy in Shetland and managed to find a vacancy in the Parish of Bressay in 1808. During this time he published Economical mineralogy of the Orkney and Zetland islands (1807) and On the narwhal or sea-unicorn. In 1810 he went to the Parish of Flisk, Fife, and after many papers on local natural history he became known as Scotland's first zoologist. In 1814, Fleming was awarded the degree of D.D. from St. Andrews University and in 1822 he published The philosophy of zoology. This was translated into Italian by Zandrini and it became a standard work in Italy in the nineteenth century. In 1832 he went to the Parish of Clackmannan, and in 1834 he was appointed to the Chair of Natural Philosophy at Aberdeen University. Fleming also published British animals (1828) and The lithology of Edinburgh (1859). In 1843 after the Disruption, he joined the new Free Church of Scotland. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The Rev. John Fleming died on 18 November 1857.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 7. Finch-Gloucester. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Local lists.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes at Edinburgh University Library (Special Collections Division), George Square, Edinburgh, show various references to Fleming related material (check the Indexes for more details): letters to Professor R. Jameson about the Wernerian Society, 1816 and undated, at Gen. 129 onwards; letters to D. Laing and to C. Innes, 1827 and 1836, at La.IV.17; letter to John Murray, 1829, at Gen. 1971/2/12; letter to Sir C. Lyell, 1848, at Gen. 108 onwards; letters to Sir. R. I. Murchison, 1855, at Gen. 523/4, and 1857, at Gen. 524; letter from Sir W. Jardine, 1830, at Dk.6.20/156; mentioned in a letter of R. K. Greville to Jardine, 1830, at Dk.6.20/128; and, mentioned in various letters of G. Johnston to Jardine, 1837-1841, at Dk.6.20/161-186.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: letters to F. W. Hope, 1824-1839, Oxford University, Museum of Natural History, NRA 42507 Oxford; letters (12) to Gideon Algernon Mantell, 1830-1850, National Library of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. MS Papers 83 Folder 41 NRA 40579 Mantell; letters to Sir R. I. Murchison, 1845-1855, and undated, Geological Society of London, Ref. M/F8 NRA 28354 Geological Soc; and correspondence with John Wilson (1 vol), 1820-1851, Leeds University Library, Special Collections.