Robert Kerr (writer)

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The grave of Robert Kerr, Greyfriars Kirkyard

Robert Kerr FRSE FSA FRCSE (1759 – 11 October 1813) was a Scottish surgeon, scientific writer and translator.


Kerr was born in Bughtridge, Roxburghshire, the son of a jeweller. He was sent to the High School in Edinburgh.

He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and practised at the Edinburgh Foundling Hospital as a surgeon. He translated several scientific works into English, such as Antoine Lavoisier's work of 1789, Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published under the title Elements of Chemistry in a New Systematic Order containing All the Modern Discoveries, in 1790.[1] In 1792, he published The Animal Kingdom, the first two volumes of a four-tome translation of Linnaeus' Systema Naturae, which is often cited as the taxonomic authority for a great many species. (He never did the remaining two volumes.)

In 1794 he left his post as a surgeon to manage a paper mill. He lost much of his fortune with this enterprise. Out of economical necessity he began writing again in 1809, publishing a variety of minor works, for instance a General View of the Agriculture of Berwickshire. His last work was a translation of Cuvier's Recherches sur les ossements fossiles de quadrupedes, which was published after Kerr's death under the title "Essays on the Theory of the Earth".

His other works included a massive historical study entitled A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels in eighteen volumes. Kerr began the series in 1811, dedicating it to Sir Alexander Cochrane, K.B., Vice-Admiral of the White. Publication did not cease following Kerr's death in 1813; the latter volumes were published into the 1820s.

He is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in central Edinburgh against the eastern wall. His stone is added to a much earlier (1610) ornate stone monument.

Selected writings


  •  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). [ "Kerr, Robert (1755–1813)" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. 31. London: Smith, Elder & Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  1. Antoine Lavoisier, Elements of Chemistry (1790)

Further reading

  • Lavoisier, Antoine (1965). Elements of Chemistry. New York: Dover.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>- The introduction by Douglas McKie has information on Robert Kerr, the book's translator.

External links