John Guthrie Kerr

Born: 27 June 1853 in Girvan, Ayrshire, Scotland
Died: 12 March 1932 in Inverbruie, Aberdeen, Scotland

John Kerr's father was James Drynan Kerr (born in Girvan, Ayrshire in 1825) who was a coal merchant. His mother was Sarah Guthrie born in Girvan, Ayrshire in 1824). John Kerr had an older brother William (born about 1851) and younger sisters Helen (born about 1855), Ettie (born about 1857), Janet (born about 1860), Grace (born 1861) and Annie (born about 1864).

John Kerr was educated at Dumbarton Academy. He was awarded the Browne Bursary in his final year at the Academy and entered the University of Glasgow in 1871. He won prizes in Mathematics, Greek and Natural Philosophy. He matriculated at Balliol College on 20 October 1874 age 21. He was a Snell Exhibitioner 1874-77. He taught at Kilmarnock Academy 1876-77. He married Euphemia Fleming on 3 July 1877 in Dunbarton and they had children: George, James and Barbara.

James Barr (1862-1949), minister of religion and politician, wrote [1]:-

In February, 1877, I entered Kilmarnock Academy , then in North Hamilton Street , where Dr Hugh Dickie was Rector and the leading teacher was Dr John G Kerr, later of Allan Glen's School, Glasgow. I was fortunate beyond measure. Dr Kerr was a Snell Exhibitioner of Balliol College, Oxford. He was equally distinguished in Classics and in Mathematics. I soon came under his spell and within a fortnight of entering his class in Mathematics I took up Euclid at the sixteenth proposition in the first book and read on with great delight proposition after proposition. At the end of six months I was awarded the first prize in the Junior section, and two years thereafter I won the gold medal for Mathematics and was declared dux of the school.
Kerr was a lecturer in Mathematics and Physics at the Church of Scotland Teacher-Training College (1877-90). During this period he joined the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, becoming a member in April 1884 after attending Muir's lecture on The Promotion of Research with Special Reference to the Present State of the Scottish Universities and Secondary Schools in the previous month. He resigned from the Society on 13 November 1896.

Allan Glen's School, Glasgow, was established under the will of Allan Glen after his death in 1850. In 1876, the governors of Allan Glen's School obtained the Allan Glen's Institution Act and embarked upon an extensive programme of scientific and technical education. In 1890 John Kerr was appointed Headmaster of Allan Glen's School. Andrew McCance writes [3]:-

... [In the early 1900s James McFadyen McNeill] won a scholarship to Allan Glen's School in Glasgow. Under the headmastership of Dr John G Kerr, an outstanding character and teacher, this school was then at the height of its influence as a school where science teaching occupied an important part of the curriculum on both the theoretical and practical sides - a very unusual feature in schools of that period.
The character of the School during this period can be seen from the advertising material:-
... mathematical and practical science are relied on to develop and fortify the mind ... Latin plays an unimportant part in the training and Greek, by regulations of the school, is expressly excluded.
Mangan, in [2], writes:-
Kerr was always to insist that training in science and workshop exercises offered by the specialised curriculum of the school, was valuable, not so much on account of its direct utility to the boy in his career but rather because of its value as an aid to intellectual growth.
Kerr died in 1932 in Inverbruie, Aberdeen.

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

July 2008
MacTutor History of Mathematics