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John Robison (physicist) : biography

4 February 1739 - 30 January 1805

John Robison FRSE (4 February 1739 – 30 January 1805) was a Scottish physicist and mathematician. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.

A member of the Edinburgh Philosophical Society when it received its royal warrant, he was appointed as the first General Secretary to the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1783–98). Robison invented the siren and also worked with James Watt on an early steam car. Following the French Revolution, Robison became disenchanted with elements of the Enlightenment. He authored Proofs of a Conspiracy in 1798—a polemic accusing Freemasonry of being infiltrated by Weishaupt's Order of the Illuminati.

His son was the inventor Sir John Robison (1778-1843).


  • Outlines of Mechanical philosophy: Containing the Heads of a Course of Lectures, Edinburgh, William Creech, 1781.
  • Outlines of a Course of Experimental Philosophy, Edinburgh, William Creech, 1784.
  • Outlines of a Course of Lectures on Mechanical Philosophy, Edinburgh, J. Brown, 1803.
  • Edinburgh, Archibald Constable, 1804.
  • Robison contributed well over forty articles to the third edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, (1797) and its supplement, including: Resistance of Fluids, Roof, Running of Rivers, Seamanship, Telescope and Water-works. Edinburgh University Library Department of Special Collections.
  • , Edinburgh, J. Murray, 1822.

Proofs of Conspiracy, reprints and related documents

  • Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free-Masons, Illuminati and Reading Societies, etc., collected from good authorities, Edinburgh, 1797; 2nd ed. London, T. Cadell & W. Davies, 1797 with a Postsript; with Postscript, Philadelphia, T. Dobson & W. Cobbet, 1798; , G. Forman, New York, 1798; Dublin 1798; Proofs of a Conspiracy, Western Islands, 1900; The Illuminati, taken from "Proofs of a world conspiracy", Elizabeth Knauss [1930]; Proof's [sic!] of a Conspiracy, Ram Reprints, 1964; Proofs of a conspiracy, Boston, Western Islands, "The Americanist Classics", [1967]; Proofs of a Conspiracy, Islands Press, 1978; C P a Book Pub, 2002 ISBN 0-944379-69-9 ; Kessinger Publishing, 2003 ISBN 0-7661-8124-3
  • translated in German, Königslutter, 1800.
    • [Anti-Jacobin], New Lights on Jacobinism, abstracted from Professor Robison’s History of Free Masonry, with an appendix containing an account of Voltaire’s behaviour on his death-bed, and a letter from J. H. Stone to Dr. Priestley, disclosing the principles of Jacobinism. By the author of , Birmingham, E. Piercy, Birmingham, 1798.
    • William Bentley & John Bacon, Extracts from Professor Robison’s "Proofs of a Conspiracy" & c., with Brief Reflections on the Charges he has Exhibited, the Evidence he has Produced and the Merit of his Performance, Boston, Manning & Loring, Boston, 1799.
    • Abraham Bishop, J. Babcock, 1802.
    • Seth Payson, Charlestown, 1802 [reprinted by Invisible College Press, LLC, 2003]. ISBN 1-931468-14-1
    • Henry Dana Ward, New York, 1828.


  • Philosophical Magazine, Vol. X, 1801.
  • Philosophical Magazine, Vol. XIII, 1802.


The physicist

The son of John Robison, a Glasgow merchant, he was born in Boghall, Baldernock, Stirlingshire (now East Dunbartonshire) and attended Glasgow Grammar School and the University of Glasgow (MA 1756). After a brief stay in London in 1758 Robison joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman, and accompanied Thomas Wolfe on his expedition to Quebec and Portugal (1756–62). His mathematical skills were employed in navigation and surveying. Returning to England in 1762, he joined the Board of Longitude — a team of scientists who tested John Harrison’s marine chronometer on a voyage to Jamaica.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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