Papers of Sir James Donaldson, Principal of the University of St Andrews, 1886-1915

Scope and Content

The papers comprise three boxes: Box 1 Court, Senate, General Council; Box 2 Financial: University income and expenditure, trusts and bursaries etc.; Box 3 Other papers, relating to students and former students, staff, lectureships, bursaries, general university business, World War I, Scots College of Paris, 1890-1908, special events such as The George Buchanan Quarter-Centenary, 1906, personal matters etc.

In addition there is a roll recording the presentation of a medal to Donaldson by the Administration Committee of the Alliance Franaise, 10 May 1913 and a casket: silver mounted wood, with engraved coats of arms of the University and burgh of St Andrews, and engraved picture of St Salvator's Chapel, 'Presented to Sir James Donaldson Kt, MA, DD, LLD, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews on the occasion of his admission as an Honorary Burgess of the City of St Andrews, 27th June 1912', with contents.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir James Donaldson (1831-1915) was appointed as Principal of the United College in 1886. He served as Senior Principal of the University until 1890, thus being, in effect, Principal of the whole University. His position was endorsed through the terms of the Universities (Scotland) Act of 1889. He served as Principal of the University in this capacity from 1890 to 1915.

He was born in Aberdeenshire and studied at Aberdeen Grammar School and Marischal College, Aberdeen, then New College, London and the University of Berlin. He returned from Germany in 1852 and was appointed assistant to the professor of Greek in the University of Edinburgh. In 1854 he became Rector of Stirling High School. In 1856 he was appointed Classical Master at the Royal High School in Edinburgh and its Rector in 1866. He was made LL.D. by Aberdeen in 1865 and became Professor of Humanity there in 1882.

Upon the death of Principal Shairp he was appointed as Principal of the United College. He wrote widely on Greek, Classical and Theological subjects, publishing a Modern Greek Grammar as early as 1853. He is well known for his Critical History of Christian Literature and Doctrine from the death of the Apostles to the Nicene Councils (1864-66). He was joint editor of the Ante-Nicene Christian Library in 24 volumes (1867-72). He was active in University reform. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and was knighted in 1907. He was awarded an LL.D by Glasgow and an honorary D.D. by Aberdeen in recognition of his work in Church History.

His period of office was much influenced by the growing pains of the University College in Dundee, founded in 1881. During his time at St Andrews additions were made to the lecture rooms and laboratories of the United College, the University Library buildings were enlarged, the Bute Medical School and the Gatty Marine laboratory were both added. Union buildings and dining halls for both male and female students were erected as well as a gymnasium and recreation park and a hall of residence for female students.


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

Access Information

By appointment with the University Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Hand list available in Reading Room.

Related Material

The manuscripts of Sir James Donaldson are held as GB 227 ms5600-9012 and ms29951-29963.These contain a lot of material relating to the University and there is considerable overlap with the series described here.The library of Sir James Donaldson was bequeathed to the University in 1915. It contains c.10,000 volumes including two incunabula, 75 books of the sixteenth century, about 600 volumes printed before 1801, but mostly nineteenth century books on philosophy, religion, the classics and education. It is of particular interest as the integral working library of a leading Scottish academic at the turn of the nineteenth century. A small proportion of the collection is available through the on-line University Library catalogue; the whole collection can be found through the manual guard book catalogue. Principal Donaldson's own thematic catalogue in manuscript is also held. The collection has the prefix Don.


A Scott Lowson, Principal Sir James Donaldson: education and political patronage in Victorian Scotland (St Andrews University Ph.D thesis, 1988).