Mary (Fairfax) Somerville

Mary (Fairfax) Somerville (1780 - 1872)

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Mary Somerville formerly Fairfax aka Greig
Born in Jedburgh, Scotlandmap
Daughter of [father unknown] and [mother unknown]
[sibling(s) unknown]
Wife of — married [location unknown]
Wife of — married in Scotlandmap
[children unknown]
Died in Naples, Italymap
Profile last modified | Created 27 Jan 2017
This page has been accessed 133 times.


Mary (Fairfax) Somerville was a Scottish science writer, astronomer, and mathematician. When she died in 1872, she was hailed as "The Queen of Nineteenth-Century Science". In 1835, she and Caroline Herschel became the first women members of the Royal Astronomical Society.

She was the daughter of Vice-Admiral Sir William George Fairfax (8 March 1739 – 7 November 1813)[1][2] and his second wife, Margaret Charters (daughter of Samuel Charters). She was born in 1780 at the Manse of Jedburgh, home of her aunt and future mother-in-law, Martha Somerville. Her father was then at sea.

At age 10, she spent a year at Musselburgh, an expensive boarding school, but received no further formal education (her father forbade it). She learned from relatives (e.g., sitting in on her brother's sessions with his tutor) and by reading (Euclid's Elements of Geometry, plane and spherical trigonometry, conic sections, and Fergusson's Astronomy).

In 1804, she married a second cousin, Captain Samuel Greig, who was the Russian consul in London. They had two sons, one of whom was Woronzow Greig (died 1865), a barrister and scientist. Samuel Greig was not supportive of her academic studies. When he died in 1807, she returned to Scotland.

In 1812, she married another cousin, Dr William Somerville[3][4], inspector of the Army Medical Board. He encouraged her study of physical sciences. They had two daughters, Mary and Martha. who both died unmarried.

In 1838, after William's serious illness, they moved to Italy. He died in 1860 in FLorence. She continued to be active, publishing ‘Molecular and Microscopic Science,’ in 1869. She died in Naples, on 29 Nov. 1872 (age ninety-two) , and was buried in the English cemetery there.


  1. Wikipedia William George Fairfax
  2. Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 18 Fairfax, William George
  3. Wikipedia William Somerville (physician)
  4. Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53 Somerville, William (1771-1860)

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Mary Somerville
Mary Somerville


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