Papers of Sir Archibald Alison (1792-1867)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-273
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      22 volumes, 3 letters.
  • Location
      Gen. 1379-1400; Gen. 1981/7-8, 138; Dk.6.19/2; Dc.3.99/13, ff.9-10

Scope and Content

The collection consists of correspondence and lectures notes, the latter at Gen. 1379-1400 taken at Edinburgh University 1807-1810, and covering logic, moral philosophy, natural philosophy, civil law, Scots law, and chemistry. Correspondence includes a letter about Alison's History of Europe at Dk.6.19/2, a letter to Dr. George Gregory, 1852, at Dc.3.99/13, ff.9-10. There is correspondence on other miscellaneous subjects.

Administrative / Biographical History

The historian Archibald Alison was born on 29 December 1792 in Kenley, Shropshire. In 1800, the family moved to Edinburgh when Alison's father was appointed minister of the episcopal chapel in Cowgate, Edinburgh. He was educated by a private tutor until 1805 when he entered Edinburgh University. Legal studies began in 1810 and in 1814 he was called to the Bar. In 1822, Alison became Advocate Depute. Throughout this period too, he travelled widely in Europe gathering interests and making observations for an intended demolition of the ideas put forward by Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834). In the early 1830s, he began working on his volumes on Scottish criminal law and on history, and in 1835 he became Sheriff of Lanarkshire, settling at Possil House, near Glasgow. While holding this office he was responsible for putting down disorder in association with Chartist unrest and strikes in 1837, 1842-1843, 1848 and 1858. Alison's publications includePrinciples of the criminal law of Scotland (1832), Practice of the criminal law of Scotland (1833), The principles of population, and their connection with human happiness (1840), the multi-volume History of Europe during the French Revolution (1833-1842), The military life of John, Duke of Marlborough (1848), and Lives of Lord Castlereagh and Sir Charles Stewart, the second and third Marquesses of Londonderry (1861). Sir Archibald Alison died on 23 May 1867. Crowds of some 100,000 people attended his funeral.

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. 1. Abbadie-Beadon. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

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

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

Check the local Indexes for Sir Archibald Alison related material. The UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: copies of legal works with MS additions, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MSS 9160-1, and letters to R. M. Martin, 1860-1865, Ref. MS 9817, and correspondence with Blackwoods and literary MSS, 1821-1867, Ref. MSS 4006-4896, and letters (14), 1844-1865, Ref. MS 10997 passim, and also literary MSS, 1814-1842, 1852-1853, Ref. MSS 9571-84 passim; letters to E. B. Lytton, 1844-1866, Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, Ref. D/EK NRA 4598 Bulwer-Lytton; correspondence with Sir Robert Peel, 1834-1842, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MSS 40407-25, 40500-03 passim; and, letters (38) to Lady Londonderry, 1854-1862, Durham County Record Office, Ref. D/Lo/c167, 524 NRA 11528 Vane-Tempest-Stewart.