Presidents of The Watt club

Constitutional Role

The President of The Watt Club is elected at the Annual Meeting for a non-renewable three-year term. Prior to 2010, Presidents were elected for a one-year term and only a handful served more than one term.

For their period in office, the President is the senior graduate of the University. On assuming office, the President quotes Lord Brougham’s eloquent epitaph (1825) to James Watt:

"Not to perpetuate a name which must endure while the peaceful arts flourish, but to show that mankind have learned to know those who best deserve their gratitude. The King, His Ministers, and many of the Nobles and Commoners of the Realm raised this monument to James Watt who, directing the force of an original genius, early exercised in philosophic research, to the improvement of the steam engine, enlarged the resources of his country, increased the power of man, and rose to an eminent place among the most illustrious followers of science and the real benefactors of the world."

The roles and responsibilities of the President, include (but are not limited to):

  • Chairing meetings of the Council
  • Chairing the Annual General Meeting
  • Representing the views of The Watt Club to senior University management
  • Attending graduation ceremonies to welcome new graduates to The Watt Club and to present The Watt Club Medals
  • Representing The Watt Club at the annual remembrance service at the University of Edinburgh
  • Hosting Watt Club events in Edinburgh and Scotland
  • Representing The Watt Club at University functions (for example the anniversary service, University carol service etc.)

The Vice-President deputises when the President is unable to attend an event.


The first President of The Watt Club was John E. Vernon, an Edinburgh jeweller.

The first graduate of the University (or its predecessors) to be President was Thomas Rowatt in 1937-38. He was Director of the Royal Scottish Museum (now National Museums Scotland). The last non-graduate to serve as President was Dr Duncan Cameron, former Secretary of Heriot-Watt University, in 1992-93.

Since 1854, the 122 Presidents of The Watt Club have included:

  • Twenty-nine Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, including three Vice-Presidents and two Presidents
  • Three Lord Provosts of Edinburgh
  • The inventor of the steam catapult on aircraft carriers
  • The four Principals of Heriot-Watt College and two Principals of Heriot-Watt University
  • A Knight of the Thistle, the premier order of chivalry in Scotland
  • A descendent of James Watt
  • Two Directors of what is now National Museums Scotland
  • A President of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
  • A member of the famous Stevenson family of lighthouse builders

A complete list of Presidents can be found here.