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    Detail from an etching by John Kay showing Alexander Webster (1785)
Alexander Webster
Date of birth (prefix)
Born 1707
Died January 25, 1784

Son of James Webster (1659-1720) and Agnes Menzies, dau of Alexander Menzies of Culterallers. In 1737, he married Mary Erskine, Boswell's maternal aunt. The couple had six sons and one daughter, including James Webster, John Webster and William Webster.

Alexander Webster was the sometime minister of Haddington and Culross and later became Minister of the centrally located Tolbooth Kirk in Edinburgh (1737-?). Sometime moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. D.D. from Edinburgh University (1760). Sometime Dean of the Chapel Royal, and one of His Majesty's Chaplains in Ordinary for Scotland. He also directed the first census of Scotland in 1755.

In his autobiography, Alexander Carlyle gives the following description of Webster:

"Webster had justly obtained much respect amongst the clergy, and all ranks, indeed, for having established the Widows' Fund; for though Dr. Wallace, who was an able mathematician, had made the calculations, Webster had the merit of carrying the scheme into execution. Having married a lady of fashion, who had a fortune of £4,000 (an estate in those days), he kept better company than most of the clergy. His appearance of great strictness in religion, to which he was bred under his father, who was a very popular minister of the Tolbooth Church, not acting in restraint of his convivial humor, he was held to be excellent company, even by those of dissolute manners; while, being a five-bottle man, he could lay them all under the table. This had [brought] on him the nickname of Dr. Bonum Magnum in the time of faction; but never being indecently the worse of liquor, and a love of claret to any degree not being reckoned in those days a sin in Scotland, all his excesses were pardoned."1

Only a few of Webster's writings were published, most notably the Calculations, with the Principles and Data on Which They Are Instituted (1748),2  about "his pioneering actuarial scheme for the Church of Scotland which was to have considerable influence on insurance companies for at least 150 years".

  • 1 In Autobiography of the Rev. Dr. Alexander Carlyle, Minister of Inveresk: Containing Memorials of the Men and Events of His Time, p. 195
  • 2With the amazing subtitle Relative to A Late Act of Parliament, Intituled, An Act for Raising and Establishing A Fund for A Provision for the Widows and Children of the Ministers of the Church, and of the Heads, Principals, and Masters of the Universities of Scotland Shewing the Rise and Progress of the Fund Published by Order of the Trustees Nominated in the Said Act of Parliament.
Life with Boswell

Webster was married to Boswell's maternal aunt, Mary, lived in Edinburgh and had a son (James) of about Boswell's age.

The first mention of Webster in Boswell's journals is when on October 27, 1762, Boswell dined at Webster's place. Boswell described him as "a man of great talents - little literature, but great application to business. He is vivacious and loves society and is very jolly and merry over a bottle."

On August 17, 1773, Webster was invited to sup at Boswell's place in Edinburgh on the occasion of Dr Johnson's visit there, shortly before Boswell and Johnson set out on their tour to the Hebrides. Boswell later wrote in this Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, that Webster, "though not learned, had such a knowledge of mankind, such a fund of information and entertainment, so clear a head and such accommodating manners, that Dr Johnson found him a very agreeable companion."


Webster's Calculations, with the Principles and Data on Which They Are Instituted (1748) is a rarity, but is sometimes available from used bookstores such as AbeBooks.