About Andrew Coventry
Andrew Coventry, born in 1764, was eldest son of George Coventry, minister of Stitchell in Roxburghshire. Through his mother, whose maiden name was Horn, he inherited the estate of Shanwell, near Kinross, and some other landed property in Perthshire. He was educated at the university of Edinburgh, and on 15 December 1782 elected a member of the Medical Society of Edinburgh. In September 1783 he graduated M.D. for a thesis De Scarlatina Cynanchica. It is not clear whether he ever practised as a physician; but he appears to have specialised in the sciences bearing upon agriculture.
On 7 July 1790 Sir William Pulteney took the first steps towards endowing a chair of agriculture at Edinburgh, and nominated Coventry as the first professor. Occasional lectures on the subject had earlier been delivered by other professors, e.g. by the professor of chemistry, Dr. William Cullen, at the instigation of Lord Kames. A much fuller course had also been given by John Walker, then professor of natural history, in 1788.
The new chair's foundation seems to have been regarded with a good deal of jealousy: the professor of natural history protested that he was not to be hindered thereby from teaching 'any branch of natural science,' to which the professor of botany objected as infringing his rights; Coventry, for his part, insisted that none but himself had the right to give 'a separate course of georgical lectures.' Moreover, the endowment and patronage of a university chair by a private individual was unprecedented at the time, and seems to have aroused opposition.
In spite of these obstacles Coventry became, on 17 November 1790, the first professor of agriculture in the university, and continued to hold the post until 1831. The endowment of the chair amounted to only £50 per annum; but Coventry supplemented his work as a teacher by many other duties. 'He was constantly called on to arbitrate in land questions, and to give evidence before the court of session and before committees of the House of Commons; the drainage of Loch Leven and the reclamation of the surrounding lands were carried out under his directions'. Coventry gave evidence before the royal commission appointed in 1826 to investigate the condition of the universities and colleges of Scotland, when he said that he had delivered thirty-two courses, some of them, consisting of more than 140 lectures each. Although the subject he taught was not available for graduation, he had attracted classes varying in number from thirty to seventy-eight. Towards the end of his tenure of office, however, he appears to have lectured only in alternate years, 'persuading persons who wished to attend him during any session when he was to be absent to put off doing so, and to attend the classes of chemistry and botany in the meantime.' The royal commission, which concluded its labours in 1830, recommended among other reforms that the chair of agriculture should be abolished 'unless a class could be provided for it, and taught regularly.'
Coventry, who was now sixty-three, accordingly resigned, and was succeeded by David Low (1786–1859) on 16 March 1831. He died in the next year.