Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Fraser, William (1816-1898)

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FRASER, Sir WILLIAM (1816–1898), Scottish genealogist and antiquary, was born in Kincardineshire in 1816. He came to Edinburgh to be clerk in a lawyer's office, and in 1851 was admitted a solicitor before the supreme courts. In the following year, however, he gave up his practice as solicitor on being appointed deputy-keeper of sasines, an office he held until 1880, when he received the appointment of deputy-keeper of the records. In 1882 he obtained the degree of LL.D. from the university of Edinburgh, in 1885 he was made C.B., and in 1887 he was advanced to the dignity of K.C.B. In 1892 he was compulsorily retired, by the age limit, from the office of deputy-keeper of the records, and he died at 32 Castle Street, Edinburgh, on 13 March 1898.

By his elaborate compilations on Scottish family history Sir William Fraser has placed subsequent students of Scottish history under permanent obligations to him. Undertaken at the expense of the representatives of the historic families whose fortunes they chronicle, their aim is circumscribed, and their tone, as well as many of their conclusions, more or less biassed by their special purpose; but through his free access to charter chests and family papers of all kinds he obtained the means of shedding new light on at least many minor points of general Scottish history; and if his views do not always commend themselves to the impartial student, the industry of his research is undeniable. His method was dry-as-dustish, even when it need not have been so, his narrative is cold and tame, and on strictly historical matters he is frequently weak and commonplace; but by the aid of assistants, whose labours he directed and utilised, he has placed within the reach of the general student of Scottish history a large amount of new and well-authenticated information. The volumes are also of great interest for their illustrations : family portraits, representations of old seals, facsimiles of old documents, &c.

The earliest of Fraser's incursions in genealogy are 'Genealogical Table of Lieutenant-General Sir T. M. Brisbane,' 1840, and 'Genealogical Tables of the Families of Brisbane of Bishopton and Brisbane, Macdougall of Makerstoun, and Hay of Alderstoun, from Family Title-deeds,' 1840. In 1872 he edited 'Registrum Monasterii S. Marie de Cambuskenneth’ for the Grampian Club. The following are his works relating to family history: ‘The Stirlings of Keir,’ 1858; ‘Memorials of the Montgomeries, Earls of Eglinton,’ 2 vols., 1859; ‘Memoirs of the Maxwells of Pollok,’ 2 vols., 1863; ‘The Maxwell, Herries, and Nithsdale Muniments,’ 1865; ‘The Pollok-Maxwell Baronetcy,’ 1866; ‘History of the Carnegies, Earls of Southesk,’ 2 vols., 1867; ‘The Redbook of Grandtully,’ 2 vols., 1868; ‘The Chiefs of Colquhoun and their Country,’ 2 vols., 1869; ‘The Book of Caerlaverock,’ 2 vols., 1873; ‘The Cartulary of Colquhoun,’ 1873; ‘The Lennox,’ 2 vols., 1874; ‘The Cartulary of Pollok-Maxwell,’ 1875; ‘The Earls of Cromartie,’ 2 vols., 1876; ‘The Scotts of Buccleugh,’ 2 vols., 1878; ‘The Frasers of Philorth,’ 3 vols., 1879; ‘The Redbook of Menteith,’ 2 vols., 1880; ‘The Chiefs of Grant,’ 3 vols., 1883; ‘The Douglas Book,’ 4vols., 1885; ‘Memorials of the Family of Wemyss of Wemyss,’ 3 vols., 1888; ‘Memorials of the Earls of Haddington,’ 2 vols., 1889; ‘The Melvilles, Earls of Melville, and the Leslies, Earls of Leven,’ 3 vols., 1890; ‘The Sutherland Book,’ 3 vols., 1892; ‘The Annandale Family Book of the Johnstones, Earls and Marquises of Annandale,’ 2 vols., 1894; and ‘The Elphinstone Family Book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino, and Coupar,’ 2 vols., 1897.

Sir William Fraser also did very important work in connection with the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, having drawn up most of the reports on Scottish historical manuscripts from the appointment of the commission in 1869 until his death in 1898.

Sir William made several munificent bequests for educational and charitable purposes, including 25,000l. for the foundation of a chair of ancient history and palaeography in the university of Edinburgh, 10,000l. as an endowment for the increase of the salaries of the librarian and other officials of the university library, and 25,000l. for the foundation and endowment of homes for the poor in the city or county of Edinburgh.

[Obituary notices, especially those in the Scotsman and the Dundee Advertiser; Edinburgh University Calendar; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. F. H.