George Birkbeck (1776-1841), doctor, academic, philanthropist and early pioneer in adult education. This portrait was commissioned by the Mechanics' Class at Anderson's Institution in 1823.
Born to a Quaker family in Yorkshire, Birkbeck completed his training as a doctor at the University of Edinburgh in 1799. On the recommendation of his predecessor Thomas Garnett, he was then appointed the Professor of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy at Anderson's Institution.
Revenue from the early classes had to be spent on replacing inadequate apparatus. In 1800 Birkbeck started a Mechanics' Class which was initially free of charge. It proved to be hugely successful, with around 500 tradesmen (and many women) attending. New classes in geography and astronomy were introduced. But continuing financial problems led to Birkbeck's resignation in 1804.
Working as a doctor in London, Birkbeck, with others, established the London Mechanics' Institute in November 1823, with himself as first president. It was later renamed Birkbeck College, part of the University of London. When the Glasgow Mechanics' Institution was established in 1823, Birkbeck became its patron.
Reproduced with the permission of Strathclyde University Archives
adult education, Anderson's Institution, astronomy, Birkbeck College, chemistry, geography, Glasgow Mechanics' Institution, London Mechanics' Institute, natural philosophy, philanthropists, physicians, physics, portraits, professors, quakers, science, scientists, University of London