John Ferguson

Biography of John Ferguson

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

John [nicknamed "Soda"] Ferguson (1838-1916) was a University of Glasgow graduate who was Regius Professor of Chemistry from 1874 to 1915.

Born in Alloa, the young Ferguson and his family moved to Glasgow where he was educated at the city’s Old High School. He first matriculated to study at the University in 1855 and graduated BA in 1861 and MA with honours in 1862.

Having developed an interest in science, upon graduating he worked with Professor William Thomson on research into electric telegraph cables. He returned to the University in 1863 to study Chemistry within the Medical Faculty and became an assistant to Professor Thomas Anderson. In 1869 he took on the responsibility of running the Chemistry Department and was instrumental in overseeing the transfer of the Chemistry Department to the University’s new Gilmorehill Campus in 1870. Shortly after this, in 1874, he became the Regius Professor of Chemistry.

Ferguson was also President of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow and the Glasgow Archaeological Society. Here the featured photograph of Ferguson shows him dressed in the uniform of the Royal Company of Archers, a ceremonial unit which served as the Sovereign’s bodyguard in Scotland.

Ferguson devoted much of his working life to researching and writing about the history of Science. His most famous work is the Biblioteca Chemica (1906), a bibliography of writers on alchemy and chemistry. During his lifetime he amassed a large personal library of around 18,000 volumes, the larger part of which was acquired for the University Library in 1921 and named the Ferguson Collection.

The main strengths of his collection lie in alchemy, chemistry and related topics such as books of secrets, with important offshoots into the occult sciences and witchcraft, Cabbalism, Rosicrucianism, Free Masonry and Gypsy literature.

The collection includes 118 incunabula and 317 manuscripts - almost all of the latter are of alchemical interest and several date back to the 15th century. Ferguson’s own extensive bibliographical notes and papers accompany his alchemical and related books.


John Ferguson
Chemist and Bibliographer

Born 24 January 1838, Alloa, Scotland.
Died 3 November 1916.
University Link: Graduate, Professor
GU Degrees: BA, 1861; MA, 1862;
Occupation categories: bibliographers; chemists
NNAF Reference: GB/NNAF/P159145
View Major Archive Collection Record
Search for this person in the DNB
Record last updated: 9th Aug 2017

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