Letter from Patrick Wilson, Prof. of Astronomy, to Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville

London: 1799
Sp Coll MS Murray 663/18/5

This letter gives insights into the politics of University appointments in the late 18th century. It was sent by Patrick Wilson (1743–1811), son of Alexander Wilson and Glasgow’s second Professor of Astronomy, to Henry Dundas, Secretary of State for War and former Rector of the University.

Dundas wielded great influence in Scottish university appointments at the time. Wilson planned to retire and had a successor in mind: Thomas Jackson, a Glasgow graduate who had previously lectured on Natural Philosophy. The University Chancellor, Tory politician James Graham, Duke of Montrose, had refused to endorse Jackson’s appointment. Wilson suggests that politics, not ability, were at play: “unfavourable impressions have been given the Chancellor of the political principles of Mr Jackson”. Convinced of Jackson’s qualities, Wilson tried to leverage his recent large donation of astronomical instruments to the university. Dundas refused to intervene. William Meikleham was ultimately appointed to the Chair instead of Jackson.

 Letter from Patrick Wilson to Henry Dundas (First Page)
Image: first page of the letter, which concerns Thomas Jackson. Wilson had Jackson in mind as his successor.

Go to the next book in the exhibition: John Pringle Nichol: Abstract of Astronomical Lectures