Papers of Sir John Graham Kerr, 1869-1957, relating to the protective coloration of War ships during World War I

Scope and Content

Collection of typescript documents relating to protective coloration of ships etc. in the Great War, 1914-1918

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 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 and 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 is open, however an appointment may be required. Please email Archives and Special Collections for advice:

Acquisition Information

Gift : September 1971 : ACCN 4237

Other Finding Aids

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 247 procedures

Custodial History

Not known


None expected

Related Material

GB 248 DC 006 Papers of Sir John Graham Kerr (Glasgow University Archive Services)

Corporate Names