Mary Somerville and Jedburgh Abbey

Mathematician, astronomer, one of Scotland’s greatest women scientists. Explore Mary Somerville's connections to Jedburgh Abbey.

In 1780, Mary Somerville was born in Jedburgh Abbey Manse, in the home of her aunt and uncle. She would go on to become a famous mathematician and astronomer. The word ‘scientist’ was coined to describe her (as opposed to ‘man of science’).

Listen to Somerville's memories of Jedburgh.

I was never happier in my life than during the months I spent at Jedburgh.

Mary Somerville

Listen to 'Learning Latin'

Listen to Somerville's memories of learning Latin with her uncle.

Read 'Learning Latin'

"I went that summer on a visit to my aunt at Jedburgh, and, for the first time in my life, I met in my uncle, Dr Somerville, with a friend who approved of my thirst for knowledge.

During long walks with him in the early mornings, he was so kind that I had the courage to tell him that I had been trying to learn Latin, but that I feared it was in vain; for my brother and other boys, superior to me in talent, and with every assistance, spent years in learning it.

He assured me, on the contrary, that in ancient times many women – some of them the highest rank in England – had been very elegant scholars, and that he would read Virgil with me if I would come to his study for an hour or two every morning before breakfast, which I gladly did.

I was never happier in my life than during the months I spent at Jedburgh."

Listen to 'The Manse, Gardens and Forests.'

Listen to Somerville's memories of her uncle's home in Jedburgh.

Read 'The Manse, Gardens and Forests'

"My uncle’s house – the manse – in which I was born, stands in a pretty garden, bounded by the fine ancient abbey, which, though partially ruined, still serves as the parish kirk.

The garden produced an abundance of common flowers, vegetables and fruit. Some of the plum and pear trees were very old, and were said to have been planted by the monks.

Both were excellent in quality, and very productive. The view from both the garden and manse was over the beautiful narrow valley through which the Jed flows.

The precipitous banks of red sandstone are richly clothed with vegetation, some of the ancient trees and very fine, especially the magnificent one called the capon tree, and the lofty king of the wood, remnants of the fine forests which at one time covered the country."

Listen to 'Leisure Time'

Listen to Somerville's memories of relaxing and having fun in Jedburgh.

Read 'Leisure Time'

"We often bathed in the pure stream of the Jed. My aunt always went with us, and was the merriest of the party; we bathed in a pool which was deep under the high scaur, but sloped gradually from the grassy bank on the other side.

The evenings were cheerful; my aunt sang Scotch songs prettily, and told us stories and legends about Jedburgh, which had been a royal residence in the olden time.

She had a tame white and tawny coloured owl, which we fed every night, and sometimes brought into the drawing room."

Mary Somerville (1780 – 1872)