Papers of John 'Soda' Ferguson, 1837-1916; chemist, bibliographer and Professor of Chemistry, Glasgow University, 1874-1915

Scope and Content

  • Testimonials 1874
  • Private correspondence 1880-1916
  • Photographs 1880-1916
  • Articles 1884-1930
  • Diaries 1895-1916
  • Testamentary records 1916-1923

Administrative / Biographical History

John Ferguson was born on 23 January 1837  in Alloa, Clackmannan-shire, son of William, a merchant. He was educated at the High School of Glasgow and at Glasgow University from 1855-1864  . His first studies at Glasgow University were in the Arts Faculty, receiving a BA in 1861  and an MA the following year. After this he continued his studies, finishing in the Medical Faculty, the only way he could then study Chemistry. He won a number of prizes at University including the Ewing Gold Medal for his essay "Historical Account of the Papacy as a temporal power in Europe", the Gartmore Gold Medal for "The Advantages & Disadvantages of Federal Government" and he twice won the Watt prize for essays entitled "On Cohesion" and "Electricity & Magnetism from the Middle of the Last Century". He studied Natural Philosophy under Professor William Thomson , Lord Kelvin, and Chemistry with Professor Thomas Anderson .

From finishing his studies in 1864 until 1868 when he was appointed University Assistant with charge of tutorial classes and laboratory supervision, he worked as private assistant to Professor Anderson. In 1869, Professor Anderson was taken seriously ill and John Ferguson undertook the general running of the department until November 1870 when the Professor returned. It was during this time that the University moved from the High Street to Gilmorehill and it was Ferguson who planned the new Chemistry Laboratories. Anderson never fully recovered from his illness and when he died in 1874  , Ferguson became the professor of chemistry.

John Ferguson wrote widely on chemistry and particularly on the history of the subject at a time when the history of science was not widely published. He often published in the Proceedings of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow, of which he was president of the Chemical Section and then full President from 1892-1895  . His major work was Bibliotheca Chemica: a catalogue of alchemical, chemical and pharmaceutical books in the collection of the late James Young of Kelly and Durris , ( 1906  , Glasgow). His nickname "Soda" is said to have derived from his personality - a little caustic.

John Ferguson was President of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow , Professor Ferguson was a President of the Glasgow Archaeological Society from 1892-1893  , a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1888  and of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1890  , the Chemical Society of London 1872  and the Institute of Chemistry in London 1878  . He was awarded an LLD by St Andrews University in 1887  . He belonged to several learned societies in Europe and was an honorary member of the Imperial Military Academy of Petrograd. Throughout his life, John "Soda" Ferguson had been connected with Glasgow University, his last position being as Honorary Curator of the Hunterian Library. He died on 2 November 1916  .


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received. It is split into 2 basic categories - records accumulated by Professor Ferguson and those accumulated by his heirs and listed at file level.

Access Information


Acquisition Information


Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom. Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S) 3315) and London (NRA35128)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Archivist's Note

Fonds level description compiled by Moira MacKay, Assistant Archivist, May, 1997.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History



None expected

Related Material

GB 248 DC199/171, Prize essays by John Ferguson, student at Glasgow University - On Cohesion , GB 248 DC199/172 Historical Account of the Papacy as a Temporal Power in Europe , GB 248 DC199/184 The Advantages & Disadvantages of Federal Government , GB 0248 DC199/185 Electricity & Magnetism from the middle of the Last Century ; GB 248 GUA30, 9 Jul 1875, Memorandum by Professor John Ferguson concerning a conversation with Dr Henry Rainy about the terms of his bursary. Student records - matriculation books and library registers, graduation rolls, prize lists

Location of Originals

This material is original


John M ThomsonProfessor John Ferguson, MA, LLD, FRSE. FSA, London and Scotland from Proceedings of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow, Vol 48, pp103-114 1916-1917 Glasgow , Matriculation record in WI Addison, Glasgow University Matriculation Albums 1728-1858, (Glasgow, 1913) Graduation record in WI Addison, A Roll of Graduates of the University of Glasgow 1727-1897 (Glasgow, 1898).