Burnett, John (1729-1784) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 07
Burnett, John (1729-1784)

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BURNETT, JOHN (1729–1784), founder of the Burnett prize, was the son of an Aberdeen merchant, who belonged to the episcopal church. Burnett was born in 1729, entered business in 1750, his father having failed shortly before, and made a competence. He was concerned in stocking-weaving and salmon-fishing. He and his brother paid off their father's debts, amounting to 7,000l. or 8,000l. Burnett was ‘hard at a bargain,’ but returned any profits which exceeded his expectations. He gave up attending public worship, lest he should be committed to the creed of a church, but gave religious instruction to his servants. He was influenced by the example of Howard, the philanthropist, whom he probably met in 1776 in Scotland, and took an interest in various charitable movements. He died unmarried on 9 Nov. 1784. He directed that part of his estate should be applied for the benefit of the poor of Aberdeen and the neighbourhood, and part to a fund for inoculation (the last was afterwards applied to vaccination). The remaining income was to accumulate for a period, and then to be given as a first and second prize for essays in proof of the existence of a supreme Creator, upon grounds both of reason and revelation. In 1815 the first prize was won by William Laurence Brown [q. v.] and the second by John Bird Sumner, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. In 1855 the first prize (1,800l.) was won by the Rev. Robert A. Thomson, and the second by John Tulloch, afterwards principal of St. Andrews. The funds have since been applied to the support of a lectureship on some branch of science, history, or archæology treated in illustration of natural theology. The first lectures under the new scheme were delivered at Aberdeen by Professor Stokes of Cambridge in November 1883.

[Memoir by W. L. Brown prefixed to Essay on the Existence of a Supreme Creator, being the first Burnett prize essay; Aberdeen Free Press, 6 Nov. 1883.]