Biography of Alexander Wilson
Alexander Wilson (1713-1786)
Alexander Wilson (1714-1786) was the University's first Regius Professor of Astronomy, from 1760 until 1784. He was elected Clerk of Senate in 1771.
Born in St Andrews, Wilson graduated MA (1733) from the University there and became an apprentice to a surgeon and apothecary in London. He returned to St Andrews in 1739 to start a type foundry with a business partner, and he became sole partner shortly after the business moved to Glasgow in 1744. The foundry supplied the University printers, the Foulis brothers, with types for the Foulis Press.
As Regius Professor of Astronomy from 1760, Wilson was responsible for the MacFarlane Observatory built in 1757 in the Old College grounds but was not obliged to teach. He made serious studies of the movements of the planets and in 1769 noticed changes in the shape of sunspots near the edge of the Sun's visible disk that became known as the Wilson Effect. Wilson was a founder member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783.
In 1782, Wilson's request to employ his son Patrick as his assistant and successor was rejected by the Crown. However, the Faculty permitted him to employ Patrick as his assistant at the observatory, caring for the instruments and teaching there. The Crown finally accepted that Patrick should be appointed his father's successor in 1784.
Biographical account of Alexander Wilson, M.D., from the Edinburgh Journal of Science, Vol. 10, 1829, kindly submitted by Dr John Wells.