William Peterson (academic)

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Sir William Peterson
William Peterson.png
Born (1856-05-29)29 May 1856
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 4 January 1921(1921-01-04) (aged 64)
Hampstead Heath, England

Sir William Peterson, KCMG (29 May 1856 – 4 January 1921) was a Scottish academic and the Principal of McGill University from 1895 to 1919.


Born in Edinburgh, the fifth son of John Peterson and Grace Mountford Anderson, Peterson graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1875 and Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 1879. In 1882, he became the first Principal of the recently established University College, Dundee, a position he would hold until 1895.[1] Peterson, despite being aged only 26, won this position ahead of three other candidates including John Edward Aloysious Stegall, who would go on to serve as Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at University College, Dundee. Stegall seems to have resented this for he failed to mention Peterson in the lengthy account of the College's early years which he produced fifty years later.[2]

A Latinist and a classical scholar, Peterson, while enjoying academic argument, disliked the politics of academia, particularly the issues arising from the complex relationship between University College and the University of St Andrews.[3]

From 1895 to 1919, he was the Principal of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Despite being in Canada for almost 25 years he considered himself an exile and always returned to the UK for his summer vacation.[3] He suffered a stroke in Montreal in 1919.[3]

Peterson was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) during the visit to Canada of TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary) in October 1901.[4] In 1915, he was knighted as a Knight Commander (KCMG) of the same order.

In 1919, he returned to England and died at Hampstead Heath in 1921.


  1. ^ Baxter, Kenneth, Rolfe, Mervyn and Swinfen, David (2007). A Dundee Celebration. Dundee: University of Dundee. p. 60. 
  2. ^ Shafe, Michael (1982). University Education in Dundee 1881-1981: A Pictorial History. Dundee: University of Dundee. pp. 25 & 34. 
  3. ^ a b c Shafe, Michael (1982). University Education in Dundee 1881-1981: A Pictorial History. Dundee: University of Dundee. p. 34. 
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27364. p. 6641. 11 October 1901.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
None (Post created)
Principal of University College Dundee
1882 – 1895
Succeeded by
John Yule Mackay
Preceded by
Sir John William Dawson
Principal of McGill University
1895 – 1919
Succeeded by
Auckland Geddes, 1st Baron Geddes