Robert Kerr (writer)

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For other people named Robert Kerr, see Robert Kerr (disambiguation).
The grave of Robert Kerr, Greyfriars Kirkyard

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 a jeweller. 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 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.[2] 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. 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 is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in central Edinburgh against the eastern wall. His stone is added to a much earlier (1610) ornate stone monument.

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. ^ 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]