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Mary Somerville to appear on new RBS £10 note

Scientist Mary Somerville will be the first woman other than a royal to appear on a Royal Bank of Scotland banknote – but only after a steward’s inquiry over an apparent attempt to rig the vote.

Over 4,100 people voted via Facebook for Somerville, whose academic writing played a pivotal role in the discovery of the planet Neptune, to appear on a new £10 note.

A groundswell of support, including a Facebook campaign by students at the Oxford University college bearing her name, put Somerville way out in front on Sunday, the last day of voting.

Rival candidate Thomas Telford, the civil engineer known affectionately as the “Colossus of Roads”, had only gained a meagre 500 votes with just hours to spare. However, a last-minute surge of voting, much of it from India but also other countries, saw Telford reach 5,100 votes by the deadline. 

Despite this, following discussions between Facebook and RBS, the late influx of votes was deemed suspicious and RBS declared that Somerville’s face will adorn the bank’s new polymer £10 notes from 2017.

Somerville will become the first woman other than the Queen to appear on a mainstream RBS banknote issue since they were first printed in 1727.

Born in 1780, Somerville’s relative wealth allowed her access to education in astronomy and geography, despite living in an age when women were discouraged from studying science. She is credited with an instrumental role in the discovery of Neptune, thanks to her writing on a hypothetical planet perturbing the orbit of Uranus.

Somerville, who died in 1872, is also indelibly linked to the advancement of women in academia, having given her name to the Oxford college that initially only admitted women.

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