University of St Andrews

University Library Special Collections



Playfair papers (msdep14)

Images of the Playfair collection

Early in 2007 special funding, largely from Mr Piers Playfair in New York, enabled work to start on this two-fold project. It was designed to open up some of the riches held within Special Collections by, firstly, providing a detailed, online catalogue of the Playfair Collection and, secondly, by creating a database of records relating to the Scottish diaspora across all the collections held within the department.

The Playfair papers (1778 - 1999) resulted from the careers of members of this large and strongly attached family from Fife to London, India, Aden, Algeria and Zanzibar in academia, medicine, politics, local government, military and consular services. In all their various professions, they made their mark whilst several members of the family were ennobled or marked out for other high honours.

Much of the collection centres round the sons of Dr George Playfair  - Surgeon-General George Ranken (1816-1881) also of the Indian Medical Service;  Lyon, Lord Playfair of St Andrews (1818-1898) an eminent chemist who turned to politics and rose to ministerial rank; Sir (Robert) Lambert (1828-99) who ended his career as consul-general of Algiers and Tunis, a scholar and prolific author; Dr William Smoult (1836-1903) a fashionable London doctor with royal patrons, and the only poor, little lame duck of the family, (James) Octavius (1839-1864), who had a brief and unfortunate army career, emigrated to Argentina and died there as a young man.  Additional Playfair papers that have been deposited during the course of the project have brought the family saga forward several generations and into other professions.

The Playfair catalogue is now available via the online catalogue. 

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