The Quatercentenary celebrations 1906

On the 27th of September 1906, the City of Aberdeen welcomed King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to open the new buildings at Marischal College, amidst some of the most extravagant celebrations and expressions of civic pride ever demonstrated in Aberdeen.

Although the University was founded in 1495, the completion of the extension scheme in 1906 coincided with the 400th anniversary of the completion of the original buildings at King’s, thereby providing a focal point for the University’s major quatercentenary celebrations. Four days of festivities took place across the City, which included church services, banquets, torchlight processions, and fireworks displays. In all, the cost of the four days of festivities was the modern equivalent of £1.34 million.

Special Collections holds a wonderful record of these events, largely thanks to the foresight of the then Librarian, P.J. Anderson, who compiled a series of scrapbooks to document the celebrations and published a printed record of the events.

Marischal College ground floor plan

The man charged with designing the new Marischal College scheme was Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, a member of Aberdeen’s most prolific group of architects. This plan shows the proposed layout of the ground floor. Most of the accommodation was given over to classrooms and laboratories for the teaching of the sciences and medicine, but there were also rooms devoted to magnetism, electricity, smoking and billiards.

Andrew Carnegie, (1835-1919), steelmaker and philanthropist

Wednesday 26th September 1906 saw the University confer honorary degrees on a host of “scientists, poets, musicians, explorers, inventors, discoverers, doctors, administrators, statesmen, judges, and philosophers”. Among those honoured in person or in absentia were the composer Sir Edward Elgar, Guglielmo Marconi, wireless pioneer, the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, as well as Marischal’s architect, Alexander Marshall Mackenzie.

This photograph shows the famous industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, leaving the ceremony having been awarded an honorary doctor of laws. Carnegie was appointed University Rector in 1911, succeeding the Rt Hon Herbert Henry Asquith, MP, which post he held until 1914.

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Lord Strathcona’s banquet, Thursday 27th September

After the departure of their majesties to Ballater, the University Chancellor, Lord Strathcona, entertained around 2500 invited guests in a tent specially designed for the occasion. Dignatories sat at 73 tables and were served nine courses by 500 waiters, including a tortue claire soup which took 90 turtles to make. The evening concluded with an impressive fireworks display for the general public at the Broad Hill. The total cost of Strathcona’s extravaganza was £8518, the equivalent in today’s money of £610,000.

Donald Alexander Smith, first Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal (1820 – 1914) was a native of Forres in Moray who emigrated to Canada and amassed a vast fortune with the Hudson’s Bay Company. In later life he turned to politics, eventually holding the post of Canada’s High Commissioner in London. He also became a noted philanthropist and was particularly generous to McGill University in Montreal and Aberdeen University.

Poem by Thomas Hardy

All manner of odes, panegyrics and verses were penned and commissioned for the occasion. This poem, by the novelist Thomas Hardy, was published in a commemorative edition of the student publication, Alma Mater, and was modestly described by Hardy as a “very poor contribution”.

The University had conferred on Hardy the honorary degree of LLD in April 1905, his first academic distinction. The Archives also holds the manuscript of ‘An Imaginative Woman’, a short story from his Wessex Tales series, which was presented by Hardy to the Library in 1911.

Congratulatory Address from the University of Prague

Over 50 congratulatory addresses were received by the University from other universities, colleges and learned societies, nearly all of which survive in the Archives. The addresses are in a variety of languages and are in either book or roll format.

Commemorative Souvenirs

Souvenirs of all shapes and sizes were produced, not least fine paper handkerchiefs, several of which survive in the Archives, each with different decorative borders. 

A white china plate with crimson designs is decorated with four roundels containing portraits of the 6th Earl Marischal, the founder of Marischal College; Bishop Elphinstone, the founder of King’s College; Alexander Lyon, the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, and The Very Reverend John Marshall Long, the Principal of the University.

A commemorative bronze medal was struck by the Town Council. The Council also presented every schoolchild in Aberdeen with a medal for the princely sum of £238.

Marischal Museum, ABDUA 13722


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