National Records of Scotland

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John Playfair (1748-1819)

John Playfair (1748-1819)

Mathematician and geologist

John Playfair was born on 10 March 1748 at Benvie, near Dundee and educated at St Andrews University. He served as Minister of Liff and Benvie from 1773 to 1783. Two years later he was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. It was here that he befriended the geologist, James Hutton. Hutton's revolutionary geological theory had a great impact on Professor Playfair who published 'Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory' (1802) and, in 1805, exchanged his professorship of mathematics for that of natural philosophy. He also undertook much foreign travel in order to examine more geological features to strengthen his arguments.

Death in 1819

John Playfair, Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, was buried on 26 July 1819. The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for South Leith gives his address as 10 Albany Street and place of burial as on the north side within the family tomb. He was aged 70.

Burial entry for John Playfair

Burial entry for John Playfair in the OPR for South Leith (22 KB pdf)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 692-2/32, page 504

Testament of John Playfair

(National Records of Scotland, SC70/1/21 pp 658-664)

In his will John Playfair leaves 100 pounds sterling to his nephew, William Henry Playfair, who later became a celebrated architect.

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