Papers of Professor John Lee (1779-1859)

Scope and Content

Within the collection, at Dk.8.7-8, are papers, chiefly lectures and notes on theology, philosophy, biblical criticism, and rhetoric, c.1812-1854. At Dc.8.140-165 are notebooks written as a student at Edinburgh University, chiefly notes of lectures, 1794-1801, and a Latin vocabulary. At Gen. 186D are diplomas, commissions etc, 1801-1858, along with a list of items which include diplomas from St. Andrews University 1801 and the Masonic Lodge 1818, as well as the Freedom of Aberdeen 1827, and Commissions by King George IV, King William IV, and Queen Victoria appointing Lee as Chaplain in Ordinary. At CHA4 are 1829-43 letters to Thomas Chalmers.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Lee was born at Torwoodlee Mains, near Stow, in Midlothian, on 22 November 1779. He began studies at Edinburgh University in 1794 taking full courses in Arts, Medicine and Divinity and graduated with the degree of MD in 1801. His thesis was entitled De viribus animi in corpus agentibus. After a brief period with the army hospital service, he began to study law. He became licensed as a preacher and was a pastor in London for a brief period before being ordained in 1808 as a Minister in Peebles. In 1812, Lee was appointed Professor of Church History at St. Mary's College, St. Andrews, and became Rector of the College. In 1820, he was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy at King's College, Aberdeen. A year later he resigned both Professorships, and after he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity by St. Andrews University he became Minister of Canongate Church in Edinburgh, and then Minister of Lady Yester's Church. In 1827, Lee was made principal clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and in 1832 he unsuccessfully contested the Moderatorship of the Assembly with Dr. Thomas Chalmers. In 1834, he became Minister of the Old Kirk of St. Giles in Edinburgh, and in 1837 he was Principal of the United College at St. Andrews. Lee was appointed Principal of Edinburgh University in 1840 and by 1843 he held the office along with the Chair of Divinity in succession to Chalmers. He was appointed Moderator of the General Assembly in 1844. This occurred just after the Disruption within the Church in 1843, when Chalmers demitted office to lead the Free Church of Scotland. Lee's publications include Memorial for the bible societies in Scotland. Remarks on the complaint of His Majesty's printers against the Marquis of Huntly and others (1824), Dr. Lee's refutation of the charges brought against him by the Rev. Dr. Chalmers and others ... (1837), Dr. Lee's additional refutation of the charges brought against him by the Rev. Dr. Chalmers and others (1837), Lectures on the history of the Church of Scotland, from the reformation to the revolution settlement (1860), and The University of Edinburgh from its foundation in 1583 to the year 1839: a historical sketch (1884). Lee served on the Royal Commission on the Universities and Colleges of Scotland, 1826, the recommendations of which were incorporated in an Act of 1858. Among its provisions was that the office of Principal would be no longer considered an ecclesiastical office attached to the Church of Scotland but would be open lay persons and members of any Church. In 1830, Lee had been appointed as a Chaplain in ordinary to the King, and in 1840 he was Dean of the Chapel Royal in Stirling. Dr. John Lee died in Edinburgh University on 2 May 1859.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Lee's papers at Dk.8.7-8 were presented by W. E. Lee, 1927.


The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sydney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.11. Kennett-Lluelyn. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909. (2) Rice, D. Talbot (comp.). The university portraits. pp.126-128. Edinburgh: The University Press, 1957. (3) Grant, Alexander. The story of the University of Edinburgh during its first three hundred years. Vol.2. pp.271-274. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1884.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various references to material related to Principal John Lee (check the Indexes for more details): correspondence to and from Lee; address book at Dc.3.99/5; class cards and class certificates; matriculation cards; receipts; and, testimonials. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence and papers at the National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division; papers relating to St. Andrews University and other correspondence at St. Andrews University Library; and, letters at the National Archives of Scotland.