Robert Kerr (writer)

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The grave of Robert Kerr, Greyfriars Kirkyard The grave of Robert Kerr, Greyfriars Kirkyard.jpg
The grave of Robert Kerr, Greyfriars Kirkyard

Dr Robert Kerr FRSE FAS FRCSE (20 October 1757 – 11 October 1813) was a Scottish surgeon, writer on scientific and other subjects, and translator.



Kerr was born in 1757 [1] in Bughtridge, Roxburghshire, the son of James Kerr, a jeweller, who served as MP for Edinburgh 1747–1754, [2] and his wife Elizabeth. He was sent to the High School in Edinburgh.

He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and practised at the Edinburgh Foundling Hospital as a surgeon. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1788. His proposers were Alexander Fraser Tytler, James Russell and Andrew Dalzell. [2] At this time he lived at Foresters Wynd off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. [3]

He translated several scientific works into English, such as Antoine Lavoisier's work of 1789, Traité Élémentaire de Chimie , published under the title Elements of Chemistry in a New Systematic Order containing All the Modern Discoveries, in 1790. [4] In 1792, he published The Animal Kingdom, the first two volumes of a four-tome translation of Linnaeus' Systema Naturae , which is often cited as the taxonomic authority for a great many species. (He never translated the remaining two volumes.)

In 1794 he left his post as a surgeon to manage a paper mill at Ayton in Berwickshire which he had purchased. He lost much of his fortune with this enterprise. Out of economical necessity he began writing again in 1809, publishing a variety of minor works, for instance a General View of the Agriculture of Berwickshire. His last work was a translation of Cuvier's Recherches sur les ossements fossiles de quadrupedes, which was published after Kerr's death under the title "Essays on the Theory of the Earth".

His other works included a massive historical study entitled A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels in eighteen volumes. Kerr began the series in 1811, dedicating it to Sir Alexander Cochrane, K.B., Vice-Admiral of the White. Publication did not cease following Kerr's death in 1813; the latter volumes were published into the 1820s.

He died at home, Hope Park House, [5] east of the Meadows in Edinburgh, where he had lived since 1810, and is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in central Edinburgh against the eastern wall. His stone is added to a much earlier (1610) ornate stone monument. His son, David Wardrobe Kerr (1796–1815) lies with him.

Selected writings

See also


  1. Seccombe, Thomas (2004). "Kerr, Robert (1757–1813)" . In McConnell, Anita (ed.). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/15466 . Retrieved 18 February 2016.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. 1 2 Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN   0-902-198-84-X.
  3. Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1784-90
  4. Lavoisier, Antoine (1790). Elements of Chemistry.
  5. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1813

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Further reading