Papers of Sir James Donaldson

Scope and Content

The papers contain much relating to the administration of the University of St Andrews as well as to Donaldson's academic interests in classical studies and theology. They comprise his personal correspondence, as well as notes, scrapbooks, offprints and a fine series of photograph albums:

  • ms5600-9012: Correspondence, 1859-1912
  • ms29951/1-10 Photograph albums (see more detailed description below)
  • ms29952/1-19 Boxed series (listed) including executry papers; miscellaneous personal papers; newspaper cuttings; University addresses and articles, 1891-1914; Addresses and other papers; mixed personal, family, academic and official papers, lectures, addresses, and correspondence including relating to other Scottish universities and university administration, 1845-1914; Papers relating to university appointments, Dundee question, women in the university, special lectureships, benefactions, college church, bursaries, scholarships, university teaching and teachers, examinations etc.
  • ms29953/1-10 Correspondence with C Stuart Grace, Secretary of the University, 1890-1898 and with others including on admission of women students 1892, LLA scheme and University Hall 1888-1900, Berry Bequest 1889-90, SRC over student representative on court 1892
  • ms29954 Correspondence file, letters to Donaldson and autographs, 1880-1916
  • ms29955/1-9 Small volumes
  • ms29956/1-16 Small volumes
  • ms29957/1-107 Notebooks, diaries etc. including lists of school pupils at Edinburgh Royal High School and Stirling High School, on classical and patristic subjects, and on University of St Andrews and University of Aberdeen, 1846-1915
  • ms29958 Diaries, 1879 onwards
  • ms29959 Papers relating to general councils, official university business
  • ms29960/1-12 Newspaper cuttings albums
  • ms29961 Volumes (46) of which 20-25, 30-33 are listed: Bound volumes containing papers and copies of documents relating to the administration of the University, university finance, reports on student numbers and new ventures including the Gatty Marine Laboratory and the Botanic Garden, correspondence, ordinances etc., 1884-1910 (with copies of earlier documents from 1840)
  • ms29962 Papers relating to official university business
  • ms29963/1-37 Printed papers, 1863-1920
  • ms29964/1-19 Press cuttings and correspondence, 1848-1915
  • ms29965/1-35 Diaries, 1854, 1881-1905
  • ms29966/1-13 Photographs and postcards, ca. 1850-1938.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir James Donaldson (1831-1915) was Principal of the United College of St Andrews University from 1886 until 1915 and was an eminent scholar in biblical, theological and classical subjects, as well as being a respected educationalist. 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 then served as Principal of the University 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, moving to St Andrews in 1886.

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.


Correspondence is arranged alphabetically and chronologically.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Special conditions apply for photographs.

Acquisition Information

Some of the material was transferred from the Mackie papers at Glasgow University Archives in 1980: ms29963/1-37 was DC32/13/1-37; ms29964/1-19 was DC32/14/1-19; ms29965/1-35 was DC32/14/20-54 and ms29966/1-13 was DC32/15/1-13.


The images from the photograph albums have been digitised and are held on CD. Some have been indexed on the departmental website.

The library of Sir James Donaldson was bequeathed to the University of St Andrews in 1915. It contains ca. 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.

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Access to the correspondence via alphabetical index by name of correspondent. Partial hard copy list and index are available.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. Special conditions apply for photographs.

Custodial History

Bequeathed to the University in 1915.

Related Material

GB 227 UYUY875/Donaldson: Papers of Sir James Donaldson as Principal of the University of St Andrews, 1886-1915.


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

Geographical Names