First Meeting of General Council, 1859

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The first Meeting of the General Council of Edinburgh University took place on 28 October 1859.

One of the principal measures of the Universities (Scotland) Act 1858 was the setting up of General Councils, designed to involve graduates in the governance of their alma mater. After the Act became law on 2 August 1858, an Executive Commission was set up to implement it and to frame ordinances for regulating the revenues, curricula, degree-systems, election of officers, and all other important features of the life of the four Scottish universities. The Commissioners ordained that the Act should come into force from 15 October 1859. It was immediately evident that instituting a General Council was the first step that Edinburgh University had to take to conform to the Act. Under the Act, ultimate authority was to lie with a University Court, but membership of the Court was to include Assessors appointed by the General Council and by the Chancellor, a new office which was to be elected by the General Council. The University Court could not, then, be constituted until the General Council had met.

A problem facing the Executive Commission was the Arts graduation had fallen out of use and that graduation in Law and Divinity had not yet been introduced. So, if the new General Councils were to consist entirely all of graduates, almost all would be Doctors of Medicine. To enable wider representations, the Commissioners therefore opened admission to all alumni who had regularly attended university classes as matriculated students for four full sessions. A total of 1964 former students applied to be made Members of the General Council of Edinburgh University, of whom the Commission admitted 1862.

The first Meeting of the General Council was held in a hired-concert room as no academical assembly hall then existed. It was presided over by Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), the newly appointed Principal. The main purpose of the first meeting was the election of a Chancellor. Two candidates were proposed, representing different party political interests. The Whig members of the council proposed Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778-1868), co-founder of the Edinburgh Review and former Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. The Tories put up Walter Francis Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch (1806-1884). There was probably a Whig majority on the council but Lord Brougham's scientific interests also drew cross party support, and he was duly elected as the University's first Chancellor.

Other University Events in 1859

See also