Papers of Sir John Graham Kerr, 1869-1957, Zoologist and Professor of Natural History, University of Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Correspondence on the Marine Biological Association, 1903-1916;
  • Reports and papers relating to the Marine Biological Association, 1896-1917;
  • Correspondence on war camouflage, 1914-1950;
  • Correspondence on the Mid Scotland Ship Canal scheme, 1917-1944 (predominantly 1940s);
  • Publications, reports and papers relating to the Mid Scotland Ship Canal, 1909-1944;
  • Correspondence concerning South American tour, 1896-1901;
  • Personal correspondence and papers, predominantly concerning appointments and memberships, 1889-1959;
  • Testimonials, 1901-1902;
  • Correspondence about his "A Series of Nature Lectures", 1930;
  • Zoological notes, books and pamphlets, 1886-1963;
  • Papers concerning published works, c1910-1949;
  • Political career records, 1939-1949.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Graham Kerr was born at Rowley Lodge, Arkley, Barnet, England on 18 September 1869. He was commonly known as Graham Kerr. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland, and at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied Mathematics and Philosophy, before enrolling in the Medical Faculty. He interrupted his medical studies to join an Argentine expedition, led by Captain Juan Page. He returned to England in 1891 and entered Christ's College, Cambridge, gaining First Class Honours in both parts of the Natural Sciences Tripos (1894-1896).

In 1903, he married Elizabeth Mary Kerr and had two sons and one daughter. His first wife died in 1934, and in 1936 he married Isobel, the widow of Alan E Clapperton, LLD.

In 1896, he made an expedition to Paraguay to study the South American Lungfish (Lepidosiren), accompanied by J S Budgett. Their collections of specimens, and those of three further expeditions to the Chaco region, have been preserved in the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. On his return from Paraguay in 1896, he was appointed demonstrator in Animal Morphology at Cambridge University, a post he held until 1902.

He was a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge from 1898-1904 and was appointed Regius Professor of Zoology at the University of Glasgow in 1902. During his professorship he concentrated on teaching medical students, using a largely morphological and embryological approach. This approach is reflected in his books: "Zoology for Medical Students" (1921) and "ntroduction to Zoology" (1929).

Graham was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1909 and held office in many scientific societies and organisations including president of the Scottish Marine Biological Association (1942-1949) and as a member of the Advisory Committee on Fishery Research from 1919-1949. He served on the council of the British Association, being President of the Zoology Section at the Oxford meeting in 1926.

In 1939 Graham Kerr was given a knighthood. Other awards included Honorary Degrees of LLD from Edinburgh University (1935) and St. Andrews University (1950); Honorary Fellowship of Christ'College, Cambridge (1935); the Linnean Gold Medal (1955); and Associate Membership of the Royal Academy of Belgium (1946).

Kerr was particularly interested in war camouflage, and he corresponded with the Admiralty at great length. His suggestion for the use of obliterative shading and disruption was adopted, and was used extensively during the 1939-1945 World War. He also claimed to have invented dazzle painting of warships in 1914, although the collection of papers reflects the dispute over his claim.

In 1935, he was elected as the Independent Member of Parliament for the Scottish Universities, serving until the abolition of University seats in 1950. At the time of his election he resigned his post at the University and moved to live at Barley, near Royston, Hertfordshire, England, where he died on 21 April 1957.

Source: Who's Who and Dictionary of National Biography.


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information

Access to records within this collection is open, however an appointment may be required. Please email Archives and Special Collections for advice:

Acquisition Information

Transfer : Department of Zoology, University of Glasgow : 1963

Other Finding Aids

See also University of Glasgow Collections

Digital file level list available in searchroom. Manual file level list available at the National Register of Archives in London (NRA14019)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. Applications for permission to quote should be sent to Archives and Special Collections, please email:

Appraisal Information

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

Custodial History

The bulk of this collection of papers was given to the Zoology Department of Glasgow University by Sir John himself in 1936, along with his specimens and scientific apparatus. The Department gave them to the University Archives in 1963 with the non-archival material being kept in the Zoology Museum.


None expected

Related Material

GB 114 Lecture notes 1910-1911 (Royal College of Surgeons of England)

Location of Originals

This material is original

Personal Names