Alexander Yule Fraser

Born: 3 May 1857 in Cargill, near Perth, Scotland
Died: 9 November 1890 in Glasgow, Scotland

Alexander Yule Fraser's father was Thomas Fraser (born in Caputh, Perthshire about 1832) who was a shopman. His mother was Elisabeth Fraser (born in Little Dunkeld, Perthshire about 1832). Alexander had three younger siblings: Jessie (born about 1860), Donald (born about 1862), and Frederick (born about 1877).

Alexander Fraser's was educated at the University of Aberdeen where he specialised in mathematics and physics. He graduated M.A. with First Class Honours in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in 1881 and was then appointed Second Mathematics Master, George Watson's College, Edinburgh [1]:-

When George Heriot's Hospital was opened as a day school. Mr Fraser was entrusted with the charge of the Mathematical and Physical departments; and it is not too much to say that not a little of the success of this school is due to the energy with which he threw himself into the work of his department. He spared no pains in providing for the due equipment of the Physical Laboratory, and in preparing courses of Practical Geometry and Experimental Physics suitable for boys.
In 1889 Fraser was appointed as Headmaster of Allen Glen's Institution in Glasgow. However he had only been in the post for two months when he suffered from a severe attack of pleurisy and felt that he could not continue in the post so offered his resignation. It was not accepted, however, and the governors gave him nine months leave during which time they hoped that he would recover his health. He went to South Africa, believing that the climate would help him recover. Indeed he did make a good recovery and returned to Glasgow for the start of the session 1890-91. Once back in Glasgow his health rapidly deteriorated again and he resigned his post intending to take up permanent residence in South Africa. Sadly he died before he could leave Scotland.

The Edinburgh Mathematical Society was founded in February 1883 and it was Fraser together with Andrew Jeffrey Gunion Barclay, also a mathematics master at George Watson's College at the time, together with Cargill Gilston Knott, an Assistant to the Professor of Natural Philosophy in Edinburgh University, who issued a circular 'to gentlemen in Edinburgh, in Cambridge and throughout Scotland generally whom they deemed likely to take an interest in such a Society' calling for a Mathematical Society to be set up. The circular read as follows:

23, 1883.

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, beg to call your attention to the following proposal, in the hope that you will find it in your power to give it your support:-

It is proposed to establish, primarily in connection with the University, a Society for the mutual improvement of its members in the Mathematical Sciences, pure and applied.

Amongst the methods by which this object might be attained may be mentioned: Reviews of works both British and Foreign, historical notes, discussion of new problems or new solutions, and comparison of the various systems of teaching in different countries, or any other means tending to the promotion of mathematical Education.

It is suggested that the Society be formed, in the first instance, of all those who shall give in their names on or before February 2, 1883, and who are (1) present or former students in either of the Advanced Mathematical Classes of Edinburgh University, (2) Honours Graduates in any of the British Universities, or (3) recognised Teachers of Mathematics; and that, after the above mentioned date, members be nominated and elected by ballot in the usual manner.

It may be added that Professors Tait and Chrystal have expressed themselves as highly favourable to the project, as one that may lead to important results.

If there are any of your friends who might take an interest in the Society, kindly inform them of its objects, and invite them to attend the Preliminary Meeting, to be held in the MATHEMATICAL CLASS ROOM here, on Friday, February 2,1883, at Eight p.m., at which meeting your presence is respectively requested.

We are,

Yours faithfully,

CARGILL G. KNOTT, D.Sc.(Edin.), F.R.S.E.

Fraser became a founder member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society and was Secretary during 1883-88, and Treasurer during 1883-85. At the meeting on Friday 8 January 1886 Fraser gave an account of the methods for the quadrature of areas, especially by planimeters. He exhibited and described several of these instruments, including two of his own instruments. He was elected President for the session 1889-90.

At the meeting on Friday 14 November 1890, R E Allardice, vice-president of the Society, was in the chair. He referred to the loss the Society had suffered through the death of its president, Mr A Y Fraser:-

Mr Fraser was a distinguished graduate of Aberdeen University, where he took first-class mathematical honours. After leaving the University he became second mathematical master at George Watson's College. On the opening of George Heriot's Hospital as a day school, Mr Fraser was appointed head of the mathematical and physical departments, to the equipment and organisation of which be devoted himself with energy and success. A little over a year ago Mr Fraser was appointed to the headmaster-ship of Allan Glen's Institution in Glasgow, but failing health compelled him to give it up, and be resigned with the intention of going to South Africa. He was on the eve of his departure when he succumbed a week ago to an attack of pneumonia at the early age of 33. While Mr Fraser was still a junior master at Watson's College, the idea occurred to him that there was room in Edinburgh for a Mathematical Society. This led to the foundation of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, which is now in its ninth session, and has 150 members.
In fact Fraser had been intending to address the meeting of the Society on Friday 14 November 1890 on the topic of the history of the controversy concerning the differential calculus.

Fraser was elected to a fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 1 June 1885. He was proposed by George Chrystal, Peter Guthrie Tait, John Sturgeon Mackay, and Thomas Harvey. The President, Sir Douglas Maclagan, address the Society on 1 December 1890. He spoke of Alexander Fraser [1]:-

Mr Fraser was remarkable, among other things, for the activity of his intellect, an intellect that could never be idle; and for the energy with which he devoted himself to any work he undertook. His friends always found a talk with him to have a stimulating effect, and many will find in the future want of this stimulus a loss which is not easy to make good.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

November 2007
MacTutor History of Mathematics