Context 164 - May 2020

32 C O N T E X T 1 6 4 : M A Y 2 0 2 0 DOUGLAS CAMPBELL Monumental fall from public consciousness The repair of a vandalised funerary memorial in St Nicholas Kirkyard, Aberdeen’s principal burial ground, throws light on forgotten academic and political economist, Robert Hamilton. The ‘Grecian’ monument sits in a prominent position in St Nicholas Kirkyard, not far from Aberdeen’s principal thoroughfare. Who is the man who commanded such public recognition and what lessons can be learned from the repair of the monument? Aberdeen has no shortage of famous historical sons and daughters, either raised in or adopted by the city. The 18th-century architectural goliath and internationally renowned James Gibbs, best known for his designs for the church of St Martin’s in the Field in London and the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford was Aberdeen born, bred and educated. His design for theWest Kirk of St Nicholas, Aberdeen, is one of only a few known implemented works in Scotland designed by Gibbs. Other famous historical sons include Meredith Brown, born in Glasgow and brought up in Aberdeen, who became recognised as a social reformer interested in the plight of working-class women and founder of the Shaftesbury Institute, London. Local man Alexander Cruden’s single- handed exploits to index and provide commentary on the King James version of the Bible, first published in 1737, still graces the shelf of many a theologian as Cruden’s Concordance . Lord Byron was resident in the city in the late 18th century and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School. Robert Hamilton, though, seems to have fallen entirely from public consciousness, except that he is remembered by the largest and most prominent funerary memorial in St Nicholas Kirkyard, Aberdeen’s principal burial ground. Born in Edinburgh in 1743, Hamilton had a voracious appetite for learning. After studying under Matthew Stewart, professor of mathemat- ics at Edinburgh University, his initial attempt to seek a position as chair of mathematics at Marischal College at the age of 23 was thwarted, although his academic brightness is reported to have shone at interview. After a period in banking and a decade as rec- tor of Perth Academy, he returned to Aberdeen in 1779 to become professor of natural philoso- phy (physics) at Marischal College (part of what is now the University of Aberdeen). Hamilton maintained his Edinburgh connections and is credited as a founder member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1783). During his time at Marischal College he also taught mathematics, later officially taking over that subject area in 1817 until his death in 1829. Outside of academia Hamilton concerned himself with public well-being. He was an original member of the Anti-slavery Society in Aberdeen and worked to improve the living conditions for Aberdonians. His pamphlet Pauperism, called forth by the state of the poor in Aberdeen considered how their situation could be alleviated. It was Hamilton’s economics that brought him to national prominence. His 1790 treatise Peace and War on the economic futility of war The commemorative plaque after conservation (Photo: KK Art and Conservation) Hamilton Monument before restoration, with the tumbled urn beside it (Photo: Aberdeen City Heritage Trust) Opposite: The restored monument (Photo: Aberdeen City Council)