Colin Maclaurin

1698 - 1746

Professor Colin Maclaurin
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Professor Colin Maclaurin

Mathematician. Born in Glendaruel (Argyll), where his father was a noted minister of Kilmodan Parish Church, who had translated the psalms into Gaelic. Maclaurin entered at the University of Glasgow the at the age of 11 and, at 15, he gave a remarkable public defence of his thesis on the power of gravity. In 1718, at the age of only 19, he was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the Marischal College, Aberdeen. Somewhat to the annoyance of the University authorities, Maclaurin seems to have left to undertake a 'grand tour' of Europe, as was the fashion of the time.

In 1725, Maclaurin was appointed to a Chair of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh, to assist the aged James Gregory - a nephew of the more famous James Gregory (1638-75). Maclaurin had been recommended by Sir Isaac Newton, who was so impressed by the young mathematician he offered to pay Maclaurin's salary.

Maclaurin's is best remembered for Geometrica Organica (1720), his Treatise of fluxions (1742) which examines the theory and use of calculus and his Treatise on Algebra (1748). He also collected money to fund a new astronomical observatory, but it was not until 1776 that Thomas Short was able to use this to begin the City Observatory.

Maclaurin married Anne Stewart, daughter of the Solicitor General for Scotland (1733). He enthusiastically assisted in defending Edinburgh from the advancing Jacobite army (1745), being placed in charge of strengthening the walls. However, when the city fell, he was forced to flee to York. Returning after the Jacobite Army marched south, his exertions had so sapped his strength, he took ill and died the following year. Maclaurin is buried in Greyfriars kirkyard.

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