John Robison (inventor)

Sir John Robison KH FRSE FRSSA (11 June 1778 – 7 March 1843) was a Scottish inventor and writer on scientific subjects. He was the son of the physicist and mathematician, Professor John Robison.

John Robison's house at 9 Atholl Crescent in Edinburgh
Memorial to Sir John Robison, St John's Episcopal Church, Edinburgh


He was born in Edinburgh on 11 June 1778, the son of Rachel Wright and John Robison.[1]

Education and first jobEdit

Robison was educated at the High School in Edinburgh and then studied at the University of Edinburgh. Around 1795 he entered the cotton-spinning industry, first in Paisley and then moving south to Manchester.

Hyderabad, IndiaEdit

In 1802 he entered the service of Nizam of Hyderabad as a contractor for the establishment and maintenance of military service. He left India a wealthy man, in 1815.


In 1816 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and served as its General Secretary from 1828 to 1840. His proposers were John Playfair, David Brewster and James Jardine.[1]

In 1821, with David Brewster he jointly founded the Scottish Society of Arts. He served as its Secretary from foundation until 1824, Vice President 1828-9 and 1833–4, and as President 1841–2.[2]

In the 1830s he is listed as living at 9 Atholl Crescent, a large townhouse in Edinburgh's west end.[3]

Law EnforcementEdit

From 1834 he was the Edinburgh Commissioner of Police.

He received the Guelphic Order in 1837 from William IV and knighted in 1838. He founded the Royal Scottish Society of Art in 1841 and served as its first President.


He died at his final house in Edinburgh, 13 Randolph Crescent,[4] on 7 March 1843. A memorial exists to Sir John Robison on the south wall of St John's Episcopal Church in Edinburgh a few hundred yards east of his house.

Notable InventionsEdit



He married twice, firstly in 1816 to Jean Grahame who died in 1824 and secondly to Miss Benson who died in 1837.[1] His granddaughters were the novelists Emily Gerard (1849-1905) and Dorothea Gerard (1855-1915).


  1. ^ a b c Waterston, C. D. (2006). Former fellows of The Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1783-2002 : biographical index. A. Macmillan Shearer, Royal Society of Edinburgh. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ISBN 0-902198-84-X. OCLC 83595094.
  2. ^ "RSSA: History: Past Presidents". Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  3. ^ "Edinburgh Post Office annual directory, 1832-1833". National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  4. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1840-41
  5. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: John Robison