Tilloch, Alexander

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(b. Glasgow, Scotland, 28 February 1759; d. Islington, London, England, 26 January 1825)

Natural philosophy, science journalis.

The son of John Tulloch, a tobacco merchant and magistrate, Alexander Tilloch attended the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1771. While working in his father’s firm he experimented with printing, and in 1781 he rediscovered the method of printing books from plates (stereotyping) instead of from movable type. Stereoprinting had first been developed (unsuccessfully) by the Edinburgh jeweler William Ged in 1725. In 1784 Tilloch patented the process with Andrew Foulis, printer for the University of Glasgow, and together they produced several books. A man of considerable inventiveness, Tilloch filed other patents for mill drives and steam engines, and devised printing methods for the prevention of banknote forgeries.

In 1787, calling himself Tilloch rather than Tulloch, he moved to London, where, with the aid of friends, he bought an evening daily newspaper, The Star, which he edited until 1821. From 1809 he used this paper to expound his views on biblical prophecies. He joined the Sandemanian sect (Goswell Street Chapel) but, like Michael Faraday, he reconciled its fundamentalism with a scientific outlook. A gregarious man with pronounced antiquarian tastes, Tilloch belonged to innumerable societies, including William Allen’s Askesian group.

In 1797 William Nicholson founded his Journal of Natural Philosophy. In June 1798, in direct competition, Tilloch published the monthly Philosophical Magazine in order “to diffuse Philosophical Knowledge among every class of Society, and to give the Public as early an Account as possible of every thing new or curious in the Scientific World, both at Home or on the [war-torn] Continent” (preface to the first volume). Launched in the educational spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment, the Philosophical Magazine in its early years catered more to artisans than to the educated scientific establishment. (Tilloch founded an explicit mechanics’ journal, Mechanic’s Oracle, in 1824.) From 1810 onward, through skillful journalism, because of the decline and takeover of Nicholson’s Journal (in 1814), and because of the exciting competition from Thomas Thomson’s Annals of Philosophy after 1812, Tilloch’s Philosophical Magazine came to be of major importance for the dissemination of original scientific news.


I. Original Works. Eight of Tilloch’s post-1800 papers are recorded in the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, V (London, 1867–1925), 996. His biblical writings are cited in Carlyle (below). Files of the Star newspaper and the Mechanic’s Oracle and Artisan’s Laboratory and Workshop (July 1824–1825) are kept at the British Museum. The library of the University of Edinburgh possesses a few letters.

II. Secondary Literature. Biographical notices with further references will be found in Gentleman’s Magazine, 95 (1825), i, 276–281, and by E. lrving Carlyle in Dictionary of National Biography, LVI (1898), 391–392. See also W. I. Addison, Matriculation Albums of the University of Glasgow (Glasgow, 1913), 96; and J. Harrison, ed., Printing Patents, 1617–1857 (London, 1859; repr. London, 1969), 93–95.

The foundation of the Philosophical Magazine is discussed by Allan and John Ferguson in a bicentenary commemoration number edited by A. Ferguson, Natural Philosophy Through the Eighteenth Century and Allied Topics (London, 1948); and S. Lilley, “Nicholson’s Journal,” in Annals of Science, 6 (1948–1950), 78–101.

W. H. Brock