Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anderson, John (1726-1796)

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For works with similar titles, see Anderson, John.

ANDERSON, JOHN (1726–1796), natural philosopher, was born at Roseneath, Dumbartonshire. After the death of his father, the minister of Roseneath, he was educated at Stirling by an aunt, Mrs. Turner, whom he afterwards repaid for the expense. He was officer in a corps raised to resist the rebellion of 1745. He studied at Glasgow, where, in 1756, he became professor of oriental languages, and in 1760 professor of natural philosophy. He was specially interested in practical applications of science, and allowed artisans to attend his lectures in their working dress. He planned the fortifications raised to defend Greenock against Thurot in 1759. He sympathised with the French revolution, and having invented a cannon in which the recoil was counteracted by the condensation of air in the carriage, he went to Paris in 1791 (after failing to attract the attention of the English government), and offered it to the National Convention, who placed a model in their hall, inscribed ‘The gift of science to liberty.’ He translated into French two essays he had already written on war and military instruments, and distributed them among the people of Paris. He invented a plan for smuggling French newspapers into Germany at this time by means of small balloons. His principles made him unpopular with the other professors; and he brought an action against them in regard to the accounts, which he lost, though malversation was afterwards shown to have existed. Elaborate statements of the dispute were issued by both Anderson and his opponents. He published in 1786 the ‘Institutes of Physics,’ which went through five editions in ten years. He wrote various periodical papers, one of which, ‘Observations upon Roman Antiquities lately discovered,’ appeared as an appendix to Roy's ‘Military Antiquities’ in 1793, and was separately published in 1800. He also helped to obtain a collection of Roman remains, found near the wall of Antoninus, for the university. He died 13 Jan. 1796.

Anderson left all his apparatus, library, &c., for the foundation of an educational institution in Glasgow, which bears his name. Funds were raised by subscription; Thomas Garnett was appointed professor of natural philosophy under the trust 21 Sept. 1796; and on 21 June 1797 the institution was incorporated. Dr. Garnett was succeeded in 1800 by Dr. Birkbeck, who gave free lectures to 500 operative mechanics; and the institution has since been extended.

[Glasgow Mechanics' Magazine, ii. 412–4, iii. pp. v–ix and p. 215; Brit. Mus. Cat.]