Papers of and relating to Dr David Skene and his circle

Scope and Content

Skene's original records cover the period 1751 - 1770. Their subject matter is wide ranging, and includes individual volumes recording his research in medicine (GB 231 MS 0476 - 0477), botany (GB 231 MS 0471, 0473 and 0479), entomology (GB 231 MS 0474), zoology (GB 231 MS 0481), mineralogy (GB 231 MS 0478), chemistry (GB 231 MS 0472), moral and natural philosophy (GB 231 MS 0037, 0475, 0480/1, 0540). Friends and contemporaries mentioned in his papers include Thomas Reid, philosopher; John Hope, botanist; Lord Kames, Scottish judge and author; Lord Monboddo, Scottish judge; Thomas Pennant, traveller and naturalist; John Ellis, naturalist; C.F. Linne, alias Linnaeus, Swedish naturalist. Two volumes also include personal and family correspondence.

Around 1892, James Trail, Professor of Botany at Aberdeen University, transcribed a volume of Skene's correspondence (GB 231 MS 0038). The letters which he transcribed include Skene's correspondence with John Ellis and John Hope, as well as family correspondence relating to Skene's medical training and his brother Andrew's early medical career (GB 231 MS 0039 - 0040).

In 1967, Bernhard Fabian and Karen Kloth undertook research on the four volumes relating to the Aberdeen Philosophical Society (GB 231 MS 0037, 0475, 0480/1, 0540). Transcripts of these record are included in the collection (GB 231 MS 0480/2) and their research has been published in The Bibliotheck, 5 (1967 - 1970), (see Publication note for further details).

Administrative / Biographical History

David Skene was born in Aberdeen on the 13 August 1731, the son of Dr Andrew Skene and Margaret, daughter of David Lumsden of Cushnie. He began his education at Aberdeen Grammar School and in 1748 graduated MA from Marischal College, Aberdeen. From 1751 - 1753 he studied medicine in Edinburgh, London and Paris. During this period some time was also spent studying Botany under Dr Alston of Edinburgh University. In 1753 he received the degree of MD from King's College, Aberdeen, and that same year he joined his father in medical practice in Aberdeen.

From 1767 until his death in 1770 he was elected annually as Dean of Faculty in Marischal College. During this time, he was also a manager of Aberdeen Infirmary and acted on behalf of the Commissioners for Sick and Wounded Seamen. He was one of the co-founders of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society (est. 1758), whose members included James Beattie, poet and philosopher, and Thomas Reid, philosopher. He also undertook a great deal of research into all areas of natural history and the sciences, and corresponded with leading contemporary scholars in these fields. See Scope and Content for further details.

For additional biographical information, see Publication Note.


The contents of each volume are listed individually, and with the exception of MS 38, items are listed in the order in which they appear in the volume. Original foliation or pagination has generally been followed, although this is often imperfect; supplementary numbers with a sub-letter indicate gaps in the original numeration. In unpaginated volumes, each item has been given a serial number and the number of sheets occupied by it has been added to the entry.

GB 231 AU MS 38 is listed according to the groups devised by James Trail (see Scope and Content), with piece numbers following in brackets.

Correspondents and other persons mentioned in the list have been identified where possible and colloquial forms of book titles have been extended. Members of the Skene family and regular correspondents have been represented, after the first occurrence of their name, by initials.

In the calendaring of long letters, only information relating to topics or persons of historical, scientific or medical interest has been extracted; family letters and other personalia have generally been excluded.

In the listing of scientific papers etc. the practice has been to use, where possible, Skene's own headings, in single quotation-marks, retaining the original spelling and extending abbreviations in conformity with the doctor's own practice. When there are no headings or other indications of content, the main subject of the paper has been listed, together with such supplementary information as could be readily extracted.

Conditions Governing Access

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

It is believed that the records were bequeathed to the University Library in 1868 by Skene's grand nephew, Alexander Thomson of Banchory. See Archival History, above.

Other Finding Aids

Item level lists for MS 37 - 40 and MS 471 - 483 are available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives, University of Aberdeen.

Very brief collection level description available for all accessions in this Collection on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

Skene's papers passed to his grand-nephew, Alexander Thomson of Banchory, who transcribed some and had the majority bound in quarter calf volumes. It is believed that he bequeathed the collection to the University Library on his death in 1868. Transcriptions and indexes of some of the papers were compiled at a later date, and these are included in the collection (see Scope and Content, and Publication Note for further details).

Several of Thomson's volumes have been disbound since their deposit in the University Library, and are now stored as loose papers or pamphlets.


No accruals expected

Related Material

Records of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society (GB 231 MS 0539 and 0597) Records of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society (GB 231 MS 0539 and 0597)Papers of James Beattie (GB 231 MS 0030 and 0555)Papers of James Beattie (GB 231 MS 0030 and 0555)Papers of Thomas Reid (GB 231 MS 2360, 2131 and 3061)Papers of Thomas Reid (GB 231 MS 2360, 2131 and 3061)Papers of James Trail (GB 231 MS 0851 - 0871 and 3083)Papers of James Trail (GB 231 MS 0851 - 0871 and 3083)


Alexander Thomson, A brief biographical sketch of David Skene, in Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 2nd ser., 5 (Oct 1859). It should be noted that some of the original papers referred to by Thomson have not been discovered in the collection listed here.

Natural Science in the Aberdeen Universities, James W.H. Trail, in Studies in the History of the University, ed. by P.J. Anderson (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1906), pp. 147-200. This paper contains a short biography of Skene, in the context of his position as Dean of Faculty at Marischal College.

Ella Hill Burton Rodger, Aberdeen Doctors at Home and Abroad: the narrative of a medical school, (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1893). This account was based largely on Thomson and Trail's work.

James Trail, Flora of Aberdeen, in James William Helenus Trail: A Memorial Volume, Aberdeen Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 4 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1923).

Bernhard Fabian, David Skene and the Aberdeen Philosophical Society, in The Bibliotheck, 5 (1967 - 1970), 81-99.

Minutes of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society, 1758 - 1773, ed. by H. Lewis Ulman, Aberdeen University: Studies 158 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1990)

Additional Information

This material is original

Geographical Names