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December 15th 1846

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Adam Anderson - the appliance of science to Perth

Though Adam Anderson was born at Kincardine-on-Forth and died at St Andrews he will be chiefly remembered for the work he carried out during the 28 years that he was Rector of Perth Academy.

Two years before Anderson’s arrival the Academy had transferred to its new position in Rose Terrace overlooking the North Inch. It was in these new more commodious premises that Anderson immediately made his presence felt with a new emphasis on the teaching of science generally and chemistry in particular. He was a willing and popular lecturer to outside bodies and a frequent contributor to scientific journals.

His reputation was such that the Academy attracted pupils from a wide area including those from overseas. If there was any criticism to be made it was that the Academy had become a centre for ‘high flyers’ and the syllabus was too advanced for the average children of the town. For all that the Lord Provost was able to speak approvingly of the satisfactory state of the “business of education”  in Perth.

In 1822 following a clamour for the adoption of gas lighting within the town, a new joint stock company, the Perth Gas Light Company, was established with the Lord Provost and many of the local politicians on the board. Also included was Adam Anderson himself and as part of his duties he was asked to tour existing gas works in other parts of the country. Not only did he do this but he also designed the new gasworks in Perth.

In order to gain support, he held a series of public lectures within the Academy on the chemical properties of gases enlivened by a number of experiments. The room was of course lit by gas. He also carried on a lively correspondence in the newspapers extolling the merits of the new methods. The townspeople were not disappointed when the streets were illuminated by gas lamps and it was widely believed that the quality and brilliance of the city’s lighting was superior to that of Edinburgh.

Of particular satisfaction to the town was the new appearance of Smeaton’s Bridge now lit by 20 batwing gas burners in place of the old oil lamps. A useful by-product of the change to gas was the noticeable decrease in crime. Anderson himself was later asked to superintend the erection of gasworks in Arbroath and Montrose.

If Anderson’s work in the bringing of a gas supply to Perth was important it was certainly no more so than his construction of a new water supply. Since 1750 the town’s supply had been drawn from the Town Lade but with the rise of industrialisation the water had become increasingly polluted. Also with the increase in population it was proving quite inadequate for the needs of the town. A number of schemes were put forward but it was left to Anderson to provide a practical method of extracting water from the Tay. At the extreme north edge of Moncrieff Island a filter bed was set up and water was pumped from below the level of the river to the new waterworks situated at the bottom of Marshall Place. Anderson took over as superintending engineer, producing detailed specifications of lengths and diameters of piping.

He also showed himself to be a passable architect designing both the engine house and the reservoirs. This is the so-called Round House which now houses the J.D. Fergusson art collection. Anderson’s Latin message may still be seen outside the building ‘Aquam Igne et Aqua Haurio’ (By fire and water I draw water).

Later Anderson was active in moves to improve the port facilities at Friarton and also with the coming of the railway from Dundee to Perth. One might wonder when he found time to attend to his duties as Rector.

Finally in 1837 he became Professor of Natural Philosophy at St Andrews and there continued till his death on December 15th 1846. His body was brought back to Perth for a civic funeral and was buried in Greyfriars Cemetery.

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