Records of the Literary and Philosophical Society of St Andrews

Scope and Content

1 University Museum, Minute of Agreement with St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, 1904.1 University Museum, Minute of Agreement with St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, 1904.2 Minutes, 1838-1861.2 Minutes, 1838-1861.3 Minutes, 1861-1916.3 Minutes, 1861-1916.4 List of ordinary members.4 List of ordinary members.5 List of honorary members.5 List of honorary members.6 List of associate members.6 List of associate members.7 Cash book, 1838-1890.7 Cash book, 1838-1890.8 Cash book, 1890-1916.8 Cash book, 1890-1916.9 Folder of correspondence and accounts, 1838-1856.9 Folder of correspondence and accounts, 1838-1856.10 Binder of correspondence and papers, 1840-1868.10 Binder of correspondence and papers, 1840-1868.11 Binder of correspondence and papers, 1846-1898.11 Binder of correspondence and papers, 1846-1898.12 Binder of correspondence and papers, 1890-1907.12 Binder of correspondence and papers, 1890-1907.13 Binder of papers submitted to the Society, 1839-1905.13 Binder of papers submitted to the Society, 1839-1905.14 Binder of meteorological and other papers, 1847-1873.14 Binder of meteorological and other papers, 1847-1873.15 Papers read to and offprints sent to Society, 1838-1894.15 Papers read to and offprints sent to Society, 1838-1894.16 Accessions catalogue of Society museum, 1836 onwards.16 Accessions catalogue of Society museum, 1836 onwards.17 Catalogue, 1830-1873.17 Catalogue, 1830-1873.18 Membership certificates.18 Membership certificates.19 Miscellaneous items.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Literary and Philosophical Society of St Andrews was founded in 1838 when it was announced that "Several Gentlemen connected with the University and the City of St Andrews, being desirous of establishing a Literary and Philosophical Society, are anxious to receive the names of those Gentlemen, who are disposed to countenance such an Institution. Beside the general object of promoting Literary and Philosophic research the Society would especially have in view the establishment of a Museum in the University'. Signed by: John Adamson, Principal Robert Haldane, Walter Glass, Principal Sir David Brewster, John Bain, Thomas Duncan, William Tennant, George Buist, Charles J Lyon, Adam Anderson, William D Playfair, George Cook, William Thomson, Thomas Gillespie, Alexander Meldrum, Hugh Lyon Playfair, William Lothian, Thomas L Jackson, Cathcart Dempster, James Hunter, James Lumsdaine, William Ferrie, William Arnott, Andrew Alexander, Benjamin Broughton, Patrick Wallace, Thomas Aitken, Robert Briggs, Robert Pattullo, W R K Douglas, Henry Cox, Patrick Mudie, Robert G Smyth, George Govan, William Bonthrone, and Robert Daun.

There were to be two categories of membership, ordinary, paying a subscription of half a guinea (10s 6d), and honorary. In March 1857 a third category was added, associate membership, awarded to local people who paid a lower or no subscription and had no voting rights. The election of honorary members became intermittent from about 1850 and the last one seems to have been elected in 1890. Associate membership was briefly revived in 1890, for locals who of a slightly lower social class than normal members but were interested in science and / or helped in the museum.

Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), principal of the United College, and one of the founder members, served as vice-president from 1838 until his death. Other vice presidents demitted office in rotation, but Brewster stayed put. He dominated the proceedings of the Society until the 1860s. His successor, James David Forbes (1809-1868), was an active vice-president, as was Major Hugh Lyon Playfair, another dominant character, who also served as vice-president for an unusually long time, from 1841 to 1860. Various professors of science at the University contributed to the society after the deaths of Brewster, Playfair and Forbes, including William Carmichael McIntosh, Matthew Forster Heddle and James Bell Pettigrew.

The Society met once a month at 12 noon (after the initial enthusiasm, this was term-time only, from November to May). The AGM was held at the end of November or the beginning of December. In 1850 they instituted occasional evening meetings for members, guests and students, and from 1853 students were welcomed to ordinary meetings. Towards the end of its life the Society was inactive apart from holding public lectures which appear to have been popular.

The museum was housed on University premises, and there were occasional tensions between the University and the Society. By the 1850s there was increasing pressure to open the museum to the public. In April 1855 it was agreed to open for two hours every Saturday afternoon during the summer. This was repeated the following summer, but not in 1857 for lack of money to pay a custodian. In 1858, in response to public pressure, the Society decided to open the museum from 10 to 4 during term time and 10 to 6 during the summer, with charges for non-members. But this arrangement did not last. The Society was in decline in the 1870s, revived slightly, then in 1889 members had a serious debate as to whether to continue or not.

For about the first twenty years of its existence the Society produced printed Proceedings of their meetings, which were loose and designed to be bound by individuals. Unfortunately the Secretary does not appear to have kept a set for his own records. A few survive, supplemented by newspaper reports. It is not clear at what date the Proceedings stopped being produced, or whether they were always intermittent. Some secretaries, particularly after 1870, put fuller reports in the minutes of papers given at meetings.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Special conditions apply to photographs.

Acquisition Information

By agreement with the University Court, the papers of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society were bound, labelled, and donated to the University Library.


The manuscript volumes and loose papers are stored within the University Muniments collection. Some of the printed journals can be found in the University Library at perQC925.4B8 and perTS540.H7.

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project, based on a description on the manuscripts database created by Paula Martin.

Other Finding Aids

The collection has been listed and is available on-line on the Special Collections departmental website.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.



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Geographical Names