Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)

Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)

Natural philosopher and academic administrator

Sir David Brewster made major discoveries in relation to the polarisation of light and was the inventor of the kaleidoscope (1816). He was Principal of the University of Edinburgh; a writer on optics and astronomy; a corresponding member of the Institute of France, and the Royal Academies of Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Denmark; first director of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts (1821); and contributor to the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica'. He also made alterations to the stereoscope invented by Wheatstone.

Birth in 1781

David Brewster was born on 11 December 1781, the son of James Brewster, rector of the Grammar School in Jedburgh and Margaret Key. The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Jedburgh gives the date of baptism as 23 December.

Baptism entry for David Brewster

Baptism entry for David Brewster in the OPR for Jedburgh (111 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR792/4, page 304

Marriage in 1810

Dr David Brewster married Juliet McPherson on 31 July 1810 in St Andrews Church parish. The entry in the Old Parish Register for Edinburgh only gives some details of her father's name - the deceased [blank] McPherson Esquire of [blank].

Marriage entry for David Brewster

Marriage entry for David Brewster in the OPR for Edinburgh (24 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR.685-1/53, page 338

1841 to 1861 censuses

In 1841 Sir David Brewster was living at St Leonard's Lane in St Andrews. He was aged 59 and Principal of the United College of St Salvatore and St Leonard. He is enumerated with his wife, Lady Brewster, and daughter, Maria. The 1841 census records yes (Y) for someone born within the county or no (N) if born elsewhere in Scotland. The final column shows Lady Brewster was born in England.  

1841 census entry for David Brewster

Household of David Brewster in the 1841 census of St Andrews and St Leonards (33 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1841/453/9, page 5

In 1851 he was at the same address, aged 69, Principal, United College St Andrews, a widower, with his daughter and three servants (St Andrews and St Leonards, 1851/453/18, page 8).

By 1861 he had moved to Duncliff in Edinburgh. He was aged 79, Principal, University of Edinburgh, with his second wife, Jane, aged 33, their daughter Constance aged three months and four servants (St Cuthberts, 1861/685-1/111, page 14)

Death in 1868

Sir David Brewster, Knight, Principal of the Edinburgh University, died on 10 February 1868 at his home, Allerly. The entry in the statutory register of deaths for Melrose gives the name of his second wife, Jane Kirk Purnell. They had married in Nice on 27 March 1857. The registrar made two clerical errors - in column four (age at death) and in column six (mis-spelling of broncho-pneumonia under cause of death). He has noted and initialled them in the right margin of the register page.

Death entry for David Brewster

Death entry for David Brewster in the statutory register for Melrose (22 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1868/799-1/8

Testament of Sir David Brewster

National Records of Scotland, SC62/44/45, pp 781-823

An inventory of the personal estate of Sir David Brewster of Allerly near Melrose was presented at Jedburgh Sheriff Court on 1 April 1868. His eldest surviving son, Colonel David Edward Brewster Macpherson was appointed executor.