Robert Kerr (writer)

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The grave of Robert Kerr, Greyfriars Kirkyard

Dr Robert Kerr FRSE FSA FRCSE (20 October 1757 – 11 October 1813) was a Scottish surgeon, writer on scientific and other subjects and translator.


Kerr was born in 1757[1] in Bughtridge, Roxburghshire, the son of James Kerr, a jeweller, who served as MP for Edinburgh 1747-1754,[2] and his wife Elizabeth. He was sent to the High School in Edinburgh.

He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and practised at the Edinburgh Foundling Hospital as a surgeon. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1788. His proposers were Alexander Fraser Tytler, James Russell and Andrew Dalzell.[2] At this time he lived at Foresters Wynd off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.[3]

He translated several scientific works into English, such as Antoine Lavoisier's work of 1789, Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published under the title Elements of Chemistry in a New Systematic Order containing All the Modern Discoveries, in 1790.[4] In 1792, he published The Animal Kingdom, the first two volumes of a four-tome translation of Linnaeus' Systema Naturae, which is often cited as the taxonomic authority for a great many species. (He never did the remaining two volumes.)

In 1794 he left his post as a surgeon to manage a paper mill at Ayton in Berwickshire which he had purchased. He lost much of his fortune with this enterprise. Out of economical necessity he began writing again in 1809, publishing a variety of minor works, for instance a General View of the Agriculture of Berwickshire. His last work was a translation of Cuvier's Recherches sur les ossements fossiles de quadrupedes, which was published after Kerr's death under the title "Essays on the Theory of the Earth".

His other works included a massive historical study entitled A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels in eighteen volumes. Kerr began the series in 1811, dedicating it to Sir Alexander Cochrane, K.B., Vice-Admiral of the White. Publication did not cease following Kerr's death in 1813; the latter volumes were published into the 1820s.

He died at home in Edinburgh, where he had lived since 1810, and is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in central Edinburgh against the eastern wall. His stone is added to a much earlier (1610) ornate stone monument. His son, David Wardrobe Kerr (1796-1815) lies with him.

Selected writings[edit]


  1. ^ Seccombe, Thomas (2004). McConnell, Anita, ed. "Kerr, Robert (1757–1813)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/15466. Retrieved 2016-02-18.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ a b BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX OF FORMER FELLOWS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF EDINBURGH 1783 – 2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X. 
  3. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1784-90
  4. ^ Lavoisier, Antoine (1790). Elements of Chemistry. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Lavoisier, Antoine (1965). Elements of Chemistry. New York: Dover. - The introduction by Douglas McKie has information on Robert Kerr, the book's translator.

External links[edit]