Record

CodeNA8688
Dates1781-1868
Person NameBrewster; Sir (1781-1868); scientist
SurnameBrewster
ForenamesSir
Epithetscientist
ActivityDr (later Sir) David Brewster (1781-1868), scientist, was born in Jedburgh, the son of James Brewster, the rector of Jedburgh Grammar School. In 1793 Brewster entered Edinburgh University to prepare for a career in the Church of Scotland. From 1799-1804 he was a tutor for the family of a Captain Horsburgh of Pirn. In 1800 he was awarded an honorary MA by Edinburgh University and in 1802 he became editor of the 'Edinburgh Magazine'. Brewster became licensed by the presbytery of Edinburgh and began preaching in 1804, however he found public speaking very stressful and decided not to pursue this career. In 1804 he became tutor for the family of General Diroon in Dumfriesshire, until 1807 and was able to continue with his scientific studies and literary pursuits. Brewster was awarded an LL D by Aberdeen University and an MA by Cambridge in 1807, also becoming editor of the 'Edinburgh Encyclopaedia', a post he held for 22 years.In July 1810 he married Juliet Macpherson, daughter of 'Ossian Macpherson' . In 1814, his doctors recommended that he take a trip abroad and he toured France and Switzerland. On his return he presented a series of papers to the Royal Society. He became a member in 1815 and, for his discoveries relating to the polarisation of light, was awarded the Copley medal, followed after three years by the Rumford medal and also one of the Royal medals. In 1816 he invented the kaleidoscope, publishing his 'Treatise of the Kaleidoscope' in 1819. Brewster became Secretary of the RSE, 1819-1928, and President, 1864-1868. He started to collect meteorological records about 1818. The majority of his observers lived in Scotland, with some from England, the Continent and the Colonies. Brewster became a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1920 and Director of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, becoming a member of the Royal Irish Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1822 and of the French institute in 1825. In 1831 Brewster was knighted and, in 1837, in addition to the annual grant he received from the government, he was made principal of St Salvator and St Leonard college of St Andrews University. His first wife died in 1850 and in 1857 he married a Miss Jane Kirk Purnell of Scarborough, and their daughter was born in 1861. From 1859, until his death in 1868, he was principal of Edinburgh University. Brewster was a prolific writer throughout his career, between 1806 and 1868 he wrote more than 315 scientific papers and 100 journal articles.
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