Jedburgh scientist on new £10 bank note

The first woman other than the queen to appear on a banknote will be a trailblazing polymath who hailed from Jedburgh.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 12th February 2016, 11:35 am
Updated Friday, 12th February 2016, 11:39 am
SBSR Mary Somerville will appearon RBS £10 notes
SBSR Mary Somerville will appearon RBS £10 notes

Mary Somerville, who is credited with predicting the existence of the planet Neptune and for whom the term ‘scientist’ was coined, was the most popular candidate in a Facebook campaign to appear on the new Royal Bank of Scotland £10 notes.

The mathematician and astronomer known as ‘The Rose of Jedburgh’ was voted in with help from writer Jules Horne, of Hawick, who contacted Somerville College, Oxford (named after Mary) to support the campaign.

“I’m a massive fan of Mary Somerville, and helped Scottish Borders Council Museums to develop their scientist and engineer display at Jedburgh Castle Jail,” said Jules.

“I saw that she was on the shortlist and sent the link on Facebook to Somerville College, and also to Women in Science.

“They spread the word to their alumni, and over 4,000 people voted for Mary.

“I’m doubly delighted because she’s a fantastic role model for women in science, and a Borderer who’s not that well known. She also appears in the Mike Leigh film, Mr Turner, so maybe her moment has come!”

Mary is the first woman other than the Queen ever to appear on an RBS banknote.

The announcement followed a week-long public vote to choose between three historical Scottish figures – Mary Somerville, James Clerk Maxwell and Thomas Telford – judged to have made significant contributions to the field of science and innovation.

And, as with a similar proposal south of the border to have Jane Austen on bank notes, the voting was not without its controversies

Following concerns over a huge influx of last minute votes for Thomas Telford from outside the UK, RBS decided to choose Mary Somerville as the winner.

Somerville had been the clear leader throughout the process with the vast majority of her votes coming from the UK.

Born at Jedburgh in 1780, at a time when women’s participation in science was discouraged, Mary took part in her brothers’ lessons, and was only able to fully commit to her own education after the death of her first husband.

Eventually she was jointly nominated to be the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1835.

Somerville’s writing influenced fellow thinkers James Clerk Maxwell and John Couch Adams with her discussion of a hypothetical planet, leading Adams to look for and discover Neptune. In fact, in a review by William Whewell of Somerville’s treatise, On The Connexion of the Sciences, she was the first person to be described as a “scientist”.

She also counted novelists such as Maria Edgeworth among her correspondents, and remained active in society until her old age. At the age of 87, she put her name to an unsuccessful call for women’s sufferage.

She died at Naples in 1872, where she is buried in the English Cemetery.

In the years since her death she has been commemorated in many different ways, a testimony to her wide-ranging interests in the sciences.

An island in the Arctic Sea and a crater on the moon have both been named after her, as well as an asteroid belt and a committee room at the Scottish Parliament.

Commenting on the announcement earlier this week, Malcolm Buchanan, chair of RBS’s Scotland board, said: “I was overwhelmed by the response to this initiative – a first for the Royal Bank of Scotland - and would like to thank all those who took the time to vote.

“Having the opportunity to choose the face of our new £10 notes obviously meant a great deal to a great number of people.

“Any of our final nominees would have been worthy winners and we wanted to make sure that our choice properly reflected the wishes of those who took part. Mary Somerville’s immense contribution to science and her determination to succeed against all the odds clearly resonate as much today as they did during her lifetime.”

The new banknotes, which will appear in the second half of 2017, will be printed on a plymer material, harder-wearing than the traditional cotton.

RBS has been issuing bank notes since 1727, and has an average of £1.5bn worth of notes in circulation every day.