Papers of Robert Wilson (1787 - 1871), traveller

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection comprises personal papers of Robert Wilson, compiled during the period 1803 -1855. A notable feature of the collection is the number of fine drawings and paintings which it contains. Most were created by Wilson himself, although some are attributed to an artist identified as G.C. Smith. Of particular interest in this respect are GB 231 MS 0416, which contains finely detailed, coloured drawings of Indian temples and palaces, and GB 231 MS440 and GB O231 MS 0442, which have water colour miniatures of Turkish officers of state and civilians.

The largest series in the collection contains Wilson's travel journals, and these fall into three natural groups. First, the journals of his Grand Tour of Europe, 1816 - 1820, containing details and many illustrations of his routes through France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Sicily (GB 231 MS 0413, 0420, 0428). Second, those recording his archaeological expeditions into the Near and Middle East, 1820 - 1822, containing particularly detailed descriptions of places, people and events encountered therein (GB 231 MS 0415 - 0419). These include details of a journey up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel, where Wilson was one of the first Europeans following Jean Louis Burckhardt's expedition of 1813 to view two temples there; an account of an expedition to view Persepolis, Persia, of which he gives a detailed description, including his excavation techniques supported by drawings (GB 231 MS 0417); an account of his travels through Palestine and Syria, where he was required to adopt Eastern dress and pretended to be the servant of his guide, Yusef (GB 231 MS 0418); and details of his travels with John Hyde in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Babylonia, where both men were held prisoner by the Kurds and the Singarres (GB 231 MS 0419). Some correspondence from this period also survives in two volumes, one containing extracts of letters sent to his brother, 1819 - 1826 (GB 231 MS 0434), the other containing copy letters to the Marquis of Lansdowne and Lord Lauderdale, regarding foreign commerce, 1820 - 1821 (GB 231 MS 0422). The third group of travel journals recounts the shorter European visits made by Wilson later in his life, to Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Bavaria, Austria and Norway, 1854 - 1855 and un-dated (GB 231 MS 0414, and 0435 - 0437).

A further significant group of records relates to Wilson's time as ship's surgeon with the Honourable East India Company, and contain detailed observations on both the general health and on specific medical cases encountered amongst the crew of the Glory, during its passage to India, 1805 - 1807 (GB 231 MS 0430 - 0432).

Other records in the collection include a manuscript of Wilson's (unpublished) novel, Hugh Conwaie (GB 231 MS 0427); two volumes of lecture notes taken by Wilson during Patrick Copland's Natural Philosophy class at Marischal College, 1803 (GB 231 MS 0438 - 0439); a volume of verses written by Wilson's son, Aylmer St Aubyn Wilson, MD, 1823 - 1858 (GB 231 MS 0424); and a catalogue of the Wilson Studio, with an inventory of his library, n.d. (GB 231 MS 443). Several further miscellaneous volumes contain correspondence, notes and observations on various matters. One of these contains detailed autobiographical notes written by Wilson, n.d. (GB 231 MS 0425).

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Wilson was born in 1787 to a small landowner in Banffshire, Scotland. He entered Marischal College, Aberdeen, in 1802, where he completed the first year of the Arts course, and subsequently served as ship's surgeon with the Honourable East India Company. His last voyage was aboard the Admiral Gardner, which was wrecked in passage along the Thames in Jan 1809. The following year he began a series of extended personal travels, starting with the standard Grand Tour of Europe, c 1816 - 1820, and continuing eastwards, c 1820 - c 1822, with a series of archaeological expeditions in Egypt, Nubia, Palestine, Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Persia, and India. From 1824 - 1826 he served as private secretary to Lord Hastings, Governor General of Malta. He later returned to Scotland, where he built Glenairnie House, near Forres in Morayshire. Most of his time thereafter, was spent here, where he became known for his good company as raconteur and wit, broken only by some short periods of travel in Europe. He died on 24 Sept 1871.

The Robert Wilson Trust was created under the terms of his will, to establish an anthropological museum in the buildings at Marischal College, and to administer funds for a scholarship in archaeology at the University of Aberdeen (later, the Wilson Travelling Fellowship). Wilson's library and museum were bequeathed to the University after his death, and the contents of his museum formed the basis of the new Wilson Archaeological Studio (later the Anthropological Museum, now Marischal Museum).

Detailed autobiographical notes are contained in GB 231 MS 0425. See also H. Hargreaves, Dr Robert Wilson, Aberdeen University Review, 43 (1970), 374 - 384.

Arrangement

None observed.

Conditions Governing Access

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

Acquisition Information

Bequeathed by Wilson, who died in 1871.

Other Finding Aids

Descriptive list available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives, University of Aberdeen.

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online http://www.abdn.ac.uk/diss/library/

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: speclib@abdn.ac.uk ) 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

Accruals

No accruals expected

Related Material

Three volumes from Robert Wilson's library were deposited with the records described above, but accessioned separately. These are: Three volumes from Robert Wilson's library were deposited with the records described above, but accessioned separately. These are: Manuscript of Roman Antiquities presented by the Marquess de Berrio to Mr Robert Wilson, Naples, in Jun 1820 (GB 231 MS 411). A single volume containing 6 essays, written in Italian, with detailed and carefully executed drawings of monuments and finds from Roman sites.Manuscript of Roman Antiquities presented by the Marquess de Berrio to Mr Robert Wilson, Naples, in Jun 1820 (GB 231 MS 411). A single volume containing 6 essays, written in Italian, with detailed and carefully executed drawings of monuments and finds from Roman sites.Manuscript copy of The Whiggs Supplication (part ii), by Samuel Colvil (GB 231 MS 0412). A letter inside the volume, dated 9 Apr 1863, from C. Innes to Wilson states that the manuscript is the second part of a book, once well-known as The Scotch Hudebras. He describes its author, Samuel Colvil(l), grandson of Lady Culcrop, as a ne'er-de-well who went about trying to get subscribers for his book. [ A further copy of Colvill, S., Mock poem or, Whigg's supplication is deposited at GB 231 MS 0103.]Manuscript copy of The Whiggs Supplication (part ii), by Samuel Colvil (GB 231 MS 0412). A letter inside the volume, dated 9 Apr 1863, from C. Innes to Wilson states that the manuscript is the second part of a book, once well-known as The Scotch Hudebras. He describes its author, Samuel Colvil(l), grandson of Lady Culcrop, as a ne'er-de-well who went about trying to get subscribers for his book. [ A further copy of Colvill, S., Mock poem or, Whigg's supplication is deposited at GB 231 MS 0103.]Volume containing two manuscript essays, written by George Lomax, 1730, De Fluxo Marino, and An essay on St Paul's Thorns in Flesh, bound with a copy of The Gentleman's Magazine, Dec 1748 (GB 231 MS 441).

Papers of Robert Wilson's Trust, 1805 - 1986 (GB 231 MS 3390 and GB 231 MSU 1083). These 2 deposits contain the records of Robert Wilson's Trust, together with papers relating to its establishment, and a small volume of personal papers.

The Wilson Collection is one of several named library collections administered by Special Libraries and Archives (ref. WN). Comprising the contents of Robert Wilson's library, bequeathed to the University in 1871, it is particularly rich in travel material along with smaller collections in history, archaeology, literature and medicine, dating principally from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but also including a two-colour printed edition of Ptolemy, Liber geographiae (Venice, 1511). A collection level description of the library is available from the Historic Collections home page http://www.abdn.ac.uk/diss/historic/collects/stiqcgi/prelim01.html

Marischal Museum, successor to the Wilson Archaeological Studio, continues to care for and build upon the anthropological collections which were bequeathed to the University by Wilson in 1871. Further details are available from the Historic Collections home page http://www.abdn.ac.uk/diss/historic/collects/stiqcgi/prelim01.html

Bibliography

Thelma G. Watt, From Banff to Bengal and beyond: the life, travels and writings of a remarkable north-east loon, Robert Wilson, M.D. (1787-1871), 2 vols (unpublished master's thesis, University of Aberdeen, 1995)

Henry Hargreaves, Dr Robert Wilson : alumnus and benefactor of Marischal College: the man and his paper, Aberdeen University Review, 43 (1970), 374 - 384

Thelma G. Watt, Robert Wilson - man of numerous talents, Leopard Magazine, Feb. 1998, 18-20

Additional Information

This material is original