Peter Paterson, Scottish civil engineer, was educated in Edinburgh and was admitted as a member of the (British) Institution of Civil Engineers (MICE). He was employed by the government of Barbados in 1851 to erect iron lighthouses on the island, and in 1855 went to Grenada as surveyor of roads and government architect.
In 1860 Paterson was transferred to Natal as colonial engineer. He was responsible for the construction of many bridges, including those over the Umgeni, Mooi, Umvoti, and Bushman's Rivers, planned a road between Ladysmith and Newcastle, and designed the supreme court building in Pietermaritzburg and the old court house and government offices in Durban. However, his most important work was on the improvement of Durban harbour. He designed and supervised the erection of the first lighthouse on the Bluff (completed in 1867) and implemented a scheme of J. Abernethy by extending the north pier of the harbour some 400 meters. Though his work was praised by the British harbour engineer Sir John Coode*, the Legislative Council of Natal abolished the post of colonial engineer in 1872. In compensation for the loss of his post, Paterson was appointed magistrate at Inanda and, from 1874 to 1894, at Estcourt and Weenen. However, years after his post as colonial engineer was abolished he compiled a chart of Durban harbour entitled "Plan of harbour of Port Natal shewing various plans proposed and partially carried out for increasing the depth of the water over the bar" (1887). He resigned his post in 1894, but subsequently served as acting magistrate for Umgeni in 1896. He left Natal for England in 1906.
Paterson had wide interests, which included both scientific and other topics. He was an "up-country" member of the first council of the Natural History Association of Natal, founded in Durban in 1868, and served in this position until the society faded away a few years later. He redesigned the Natal coat of arms in 1879. By 1888 he was president of the Estcourt Literary and Debating Society. Later he served on the council of the Natal Society for 1898-1899, and was also a member of its museum committee. In 1897 he published an Abstract of ordinances, acts and laws, of the Colony of Natal, for the use of justices of the peace, fieldcornets, & others (Pietermaritzburg, 1897, 22 pp).
As an enthusiastic volunteer soldier he was at one time commanding officer (with the rank of captain) of the Pietermaritzburg Volunteer Rifle Corps, while in 1879 he raised a force of 1500 black soldiers at Estcourt, who assisted the English in their war against the Zulus. He was married to Charlotte W. Flack, with whom he had two sons and two daughters.