Image courtesy of Patrick A
Copland, descendant of Professor
Copland, from a painting in his
possession by John Moir, 1817.

Patrick Copland was born in Fintray, Aberdeenshire. He received a bursary to Marischal College and studied Natural Philosophy under George Skene and Moral Philosophy with James Beattie, the professors in their respective subjects at Aberdeen University at that time. In 1775 Copland became Professor of Philosophy at Marischal College, and Professor of Mathematics from 1779 to 1817.  A very popular lecturer, Copland introduced the use of his own inventions into his lectures, where students were able to learn from practical demonstrations alongside the lectures. His teaching techniques gained the attention of the local government and he was appointed academic consultant to the city. Copland was also a consultant physicist and advised the town on fresh water supplies, sand and gravel filtration beds and surveying. He also helped record the first measurements of the Deeside hills using barometrics and was instrumental in the introduction of chlorine bleach to Britain.

In 1780, he built the first publicly funded Astronomical Observatory with modern equipment in Castle Hill near Marischal College. An observatory was later built on top of Marischal College. Some of the instruments made for the observatory are still in the collection.

Further information on Patrick Copland available here.


Friction wheels ABDNP:200205a

A large part of Patrick Copland’s collection of inventions and demonstration equipment is held in the Museum collections, including the Head of Despair which “when the head is electro statically charged, the hair stands on end in a shocking fashion," and the Astronomical Clock made by Copland which once hung at the Astronomical Observatory.


Special Collections contains archival materials directly related to Copland such as lecture notes, correspondence with the town council, correspondence with his contemporaries and family, essays and manuscripts. William Knight's records of Marischal College contain extensive records relating to the acquisition of Copland's collection.

Corbet’s Notes on Professor
Copland’s Lectures,
1814-15. MSM 174/2
Corbet’s Notes on Professor Copland’s
Lectures, 1814-15. MSM 174/1

Copland believed passionately in the practical application of physics. Such a utilitarian approach can be readily discerned in many of his lecture notes which survive in the University’s Archives. The description and illustration of a fire engine comes under the heading of ‘useful machines’.


For more information on the University museum and archival collections please search the online catalogue