Unquestionably Kincardine’s most famous son, James Dewar was born on the 20th September 1842 in the building that is now the Unicorn Hotel in Excise Street.
This biography is taken from the booklet Tulliallan: Four lads o’ pairts: Sir James Wylie, Sir James Dewar, Robert Maule J.P., Sir Robert Maule; researched and written by Rev. William Meiklejohn, M.A, originally printed by How & Blackhall, 77 Marygate, Berwick-upon-Tweed, and currently available as an ebook from Amazon and Leanpub.com. Please note: this work is the exclusive copyright of Rev. William Meiklejohn and Kincardine Local History Group and has taken considerable (unpaid!) work to research, collate, type, edit, publish and recreate in electronic format. We are happy for anyone to use this information for their own personal research and ask that you contact us to let us know, as we are always pleased to hear from those who have been able to benefit from our work. If you are looking to reference or quote from this work for anything other than personal research please contact us first for permission. We would be delighted to assist you, but do ask that you acknowledge Rev. Meiklejohn and the Kincardine Local History Group as contributors in your own work.
Rev. Meiklejohn was born 1st June 1913 at Wick, Scotland, son of Donald Meiklejohn and Elizabeth Langlands Robertson. He attended Pulteneytown Academy, Wick High School from 1932-7, M.A.; licensed by Presb. of Caithness May 1937; assit. Edinburgh Stenhouse 1937; ord. and ind. Inverallochy and Rathen East 26 October 1938; trans. and ind. 16 February 1943. He transferred from Tulliallan to Rosneath St. Modan’s 1st November 1972, retired 31st October 1978 and passed away on the 6th April 1997. He published “The Prophet of Hope” in 1949.
“To the dear memory of my Father and Mother,
D.M. and E.L.M.
who did justly, loved mercy and walked
humbly with their God.
(Micah VI, v. 8)
In gratitude and love.”
These for my friends in Tulliallan. In preparing these papers for publication I have the pleasant duty of thanking those who have been my helpers: the gentlemen of the Scottish Records Office (Historical Search Room) and of The National Library of Scotland, who brought me the documents and books I wished to consult, for their unfailing courtesy; the Librarian of The Edinburgh District Council for allowing me to read the minutes of the Dick Veterinary College; Dr John Wilson, Lochmaben, for the three illustrations to the paper on Sir James Wylie; the Trustees of The National Portrait Gallery and of The National Library of Scotland for permission to use the portrait of Sir James Dewar and those of Mr Robert and Sir Robert Maule; and Mr William Wolsey for providing me with a photograph of the premises of Robert Maule and Son. I am also to the rector and Archivist of Dollar Academy for their courteous reply to my queries.
To say “thank you” to Messrs How & Blackhall who have put their knowledge and skill as printers at my disposal, in this as in previous publications, is more than a polite gesture; it is an expression of genuine appreciation of the helpfulness and attention which have made it a pleasure to have been associated with them.
Of the inadequacy and imperfections of this necessarily brief account of these four eminent sons of Tulliallan I am well aware – and with the ancient writer would say, “If I have written well that is what I myself desired, but if poorly and indifferently this is all I could attain unto”.
Rev. William Meiklejohn, M.A. January 1990.
Biography of Sir James Dewar
By Rev. William Meiklejohn, W.A.
In the 1760s Thomas Dewar left the small rural community at Overtoun, where his forebears had for long been resident, to commence business as a vintner in the rapidly expanding town of Kincardine. The new venture prospered and the Unicorn Inn, often referred to as Dewar’s Inn, became the principal tavern in the parish. There, on 20th September 1842, James Dewar, who was to become an experimental chemist of world renown, was born to the great grandson of the founder of the business, who was also named Thomas, and his wife Agnes Eadie (Note 1). James was their sixth son and the youngest member of the family. The Dewars, one of whom became a Bailie, were highly respected in the community and were frequently called upon to witness legal documents such as wills and sasines, their inn being a recognized venue for property and other goods. The family were staunch members of The Auld Licht Kirk. His father, James tells us, was a man of marked originality and character and was an active member of the Board of Management of the local United Presbyterian Congregation in whose affairs he evinced a keen interest (Note 2). His Presbyterianism was transmitted to his famous son of whom an intimate colleague, Professor H. E. Armstrong, said, “The son was true to the breed; was ever a presbyter”. Besides conducting the routine business of the inn Thomas Dewar also catered for local functions, such as the annual dinner of the Horticultural Society, where his standard of catering and service was invariably highly commended (Note 3). He was a keen amateur naturalist and, possessing also a bent for engineering, by a self-constructed plant he installed gas into his house and inn when it was quite unknown in the neighbourhood (Note 4). After The Kincardine Light & Gas Company, in which he bought shares, became suppliers of gas to the town, he dispensed with his private plant in favour of receiving supplies from that Company and disposed of his equipment. Little is known about James’s early years in Kincardine. He attended the New Subscription School (Note 5) where, in 1852, as a pupil in the second top class he gained with 81% the second prize and was awarded also a prize in drawing. His schooling was interrupted by a long illness; he having contracted rheumatic fever as a result of his falling through the ice, in consequence of which he had to go about on crutches for two years and his lungs were so weakened that he was forced to abandon playing the flute at which he had become quite proficient. At his golden wedding celebrations he remarked in jocular vein that it had been his ambition at that time to become a professional musician. To bring some cheer and variety into the young invalid’s monotonous days, which were spent chiefly in reading, his father engaged the services of the local fiddler who not only entertained James but also taught him to play. Having stuck up a friendship with the local joiner James acquired the art of making fiddles, a skill at which he became quite expert and he often remarked in later life that his manual dexterity, which was the envy of many of his colleagues, sprang from those early years when, as a boy, he tried his prentice hand at fiddle making. Several of his fiddles found their way into the homes of local families and for a number of years were seen about the town. But there was one which he labelled “James Dewar – 1854” in boyish imitation of the practice of Stradivari who signed his violins and about whom twelve-year-old James had been reading at the time. The prank he recalled with puckish humour when that violin was played to good effect by two young ladies after he and Lady Dewar had received a golden wedding present from the members of the Royal Institution in August 1921. During his two years’ convalescence James, who was a voracious reader, laid the foundation of what was to become his extraordinarily wide knowledge of English literature and his life-long love of good books. But his particular interest was given to arithmetic and mathematics. By 1858 James had so far outstripped his teacher in these disciplines that “the teacher had to prepare for the pupil”, which was a far from satisfactory state of affairs. In that year the sixteen-year-old boy, whose mother had died in 1852, had to face also the sad, traumatic experience of his father’s death which took place on 2nd September 1857, and which resulted in the almost immediate break-up of the family home. Now, James was an orphan with no home of his own. Alexander, one of his older brothers who for a short time had been a teacher in the Subscription School, was to become a medical student at Edinburgh University. None of the others were interested in carrying on the large business which their father had pursued with considerable success. The Unicorn Inn or Hotel, which was also a well-known posting house, with its entire equipment, furnishings, coach houses and stables was put on the market at the end of September (Note 6). For James the schoolboy, it must have been a very trying and unsettling time and one is not surprised that, in all the circumstances, he was reluctant to continue at the local school. He appears to have made his home with his brother Robert Menzies who in that year had commenced business in the town as a draper and who showed a kindly interest in his youngest brother. Fortunately James had in his minister, the Rev. Andrew Gardiner, in whose church his father had been an office-bearer and who was a close family friend and who was also a trustee in the late Thomas Dewar’s estate, a wise and kind counsellor. Himself, “a classical scholar of no mean order”, Mr Gardiner appreciated the outstanding ability of his young charge and persuaded him to go for a year to The Dollar Institution and not without some difficulty did he also persuade his co-trustees to make available the funds necessary for the lad’s maintenance as a boarder at the school. There, in the house of Dr Lindsay, he found an excellent “home from home” under the supervision of a genial Christian man and also, in Dr Lindsay the dominie, a superb mathematician and an unusually brilliant teacher under whose tuition James was to make most remarkable progress. Nothing finer could have happened to the boy. Between teacher and pupil a very close bond of friendship grew up. James Dewar was spoken of as “the doctor’s favourite pupil” and the pupil cherished a life-long sense of gratitude to his mentor. When, in 1907, he returned to his former school, now as Sir James Dewar and a scientist of European renown, he began his address to the pupils with a eulogy of Dr Lindsay “under whose roof it had been my great good fortune to reside and who could only be described as a great man. It was entirely due to his influence and under his direction that my bent in life was directed toward the side which it has been“ – and then he added with his customary modesty when speaking about himself – “and probably the only side where I should have succeeded”. Nor was he alone in appreciating Dr Lindsay’s knowledge and teaching skill. Sir David Gill, one year senior to James at school and later to become Astronomer Royal at Capetown, had this to say about Dr Lindsay’s method of instruction; “I shall never forget my first lesson in Euclid. My word, that was a revelation! . . . We were taken through the whole axioms in Euclid and asked to deny them if we could. Lindsay made us feel as if we were finding out things for ourselves and that we were really growing Euclids that might advance to knowledge. There was at once a strong practical interest in the whole business. So it came about that the whole thing was one of deepest interest to us from beginning to end. In chemistry it was extraordinary how, absolutely without a laboratory, he continued to instruct us in it. Lindsay got hold of me and all my soul was wrapt up in him and what he had to teach me.” In James Dewar’s time John Milne was the Rector. “Dignified, genial, immaculately dressed and always a perfect gentleman”, says a former pupil, “he occasionally taught the classics and did it well”. There was Mr Kirk, a man of wide erudition, who taught Latin but who knew also several other languages including Hebrew and Hindustani (Note 7). Dr Clyde, who later went to Edinburgh Academy where he taught Latin and Greek, was a charming man who at Dollar taught French, German and Italian. Mr Douglas, who had succeeded Mr Peter Steven as writing master in 1855, was known to the pupils as “Black John”. He was swarthy of countenance and inky of finger and though an excellent instructor he had a most irascible temper. His house was exactly opposite Dr Lindsay’s and on dark winter nights the boarders in Dr Lindsay’s house would tie a long thin string, which was carried across the street from the window of their boarding house, to the knocker of Black John’s door. Then, a knock would be heard at the door. A servant would open it to find no one there. Another knock followed, with similar consequences and yet another, until Black John himself would emerge in a tearing rage and rush around the garden looking for the culprit among the buses, to the delighted amusement of the boys opposite who remained quite unsuspected – James Dewar, one imagines, being among “the innocents”! Reflecting on his schooldays, Sir James, who presided on Thursday, 24th May 1906, at the first “Old Dollar Boys’ Dinner” south of the Tweed, in the Great Central Hall in London, said of his teachers: “They were not only teachers but men to whom the pupils could look back with confidence for guidance and example in the broader issues of life.” His brief career at The Dollar Institution terminated on 3rd August 1859 when the annual examination, attended by external examiners, took place to be followed by the prize-giving. The two principal examiners were Professors Pillans and Kelland. Among the visitors, whose presence was recorded in the local newspapers, were the Rev. Andrew Gardiner and Messrs Duncan Wright, the well-known Kincardine shipbuilder, and James’s brother Robert who had a drapery business in Kincardine. It must have been a proud occasion for the Kincardine trio, for by far and away the most outstanding pupil in the school was James Dewar. The catalogue of the awards he won is impressive. Here they are: Mechanical drawing – 3rd Prize; geometry (senior) – 1st Prize; algebra – 2nd Prize; experimental philosophy – 1st Prize; chemistry – 1st Prize; mineralogy and geology – 1st Prize; physical geography – 3rd Prize; human physiology, laws of health and zoology – 2nd Prize. The mathematical medal – 1st equal James Dewar and Playford Reynolds. In a statement at the prize giving Principal Milne said that “James Dewar was by his scholarship entitled to the medal and would have got it but for a law of the Institution which declares that no one can receive it unless he has attended the Academy for two sessions, and as he had attended but one, it was awarded to the other boy”. Commenting on the examinees in the mathematical classes Professor Kelland spoke of the exceedingly creditable performance of all the boys, “more especially as regarded one lad who had scarcely any knowledge of mathematics, yet, through only one session at school he showed abilities which might well have been the labour of three years (Note 8). James Dewar was not only a lad of quite exceptional ability but a dedicated student, as he was to prove to be also at the university where a fellow student said of him that “he used to sit up half the night in pursuit of his studies”.
With the completion of his short but distinguished career at Dollar in August 1859 he did not cease to be interested in his old school, nor did it forget him. With justifiable pride there was duly chronicled in the Dollar Magazine the plethora of honours, which came to their former pupil as year succeeded year and in 1907 the magazine carried this intimation: “We are glad to learn that Sir James Dewar promised to be present at the academy exhibition on 27th June and to give a lecture on his great discovery, liquefied air, accomplished with the nadir of temperature – 443 Fahrenheit of frost.” Let the Rector, Mr Dougall, report the occasion: “The big hall was packed, as it never was packed before, to hear him describe the wonderful properties of liquid air and to see him actually reduce the air of Dollar to a liquid state. In the course of the lecture Sir James seized an India rubber ball. Suddenly turning to the wall he threw it forcibly and to the delight of everyone he brought off a low catch. Then, once more resuming a serious attitude, he dipped the ball into the liquid and again threw it; and to everyone’s astonishment it smashed on the wall to atoms.” The magazine article which describes the event, ends with these sentences: “To the uninitiated the lecture was fascinating in the extreme. Even to those deeply versed in scientific matters it seemed to open up a fairy world, the genius of which had taken up residence in a liquid, BOILING at a temperature far beyond zero. Truly he was no uncertain genius under the control of such a magician as a successor of Michael Faraday.” After the lecture Lady Dewar presented to the Academy an attractive statuette, about twelve inches high, of Sir James in his London laboratory holding aloft a vessel of liquid air, which was accepted by Mr Dougall and which is still today one of the school’s treasured possessions. Thereafter, Sir James and Lady Dewar went to the Library Hall for lunch where he had an opportunity of meeting and conversing with some who were his contemporaries at school. But more important and of much more enduring value to the school was the conversation which he had with the mangers in which he urged them in the strongest terms to provide laboratory accommodation for the teaching of science. A genius like Dr Lindsay might be able to teach chemistry from a book and inspire a few of his listeners to pursue their study of the subject at a university but without a laboratory, Sir James insisted, that was well-nigh impossible. The seed fell on good ground and to their credit the managers gave to his advice the weight it merited. New laboratories, toward the building of which Sir James gave £110, were erected at a cost of £5,000 and were in use two years later. In 1912 he gave a donation, the most generous in the list of contributions, of £20 to The Tennis Court Fund, and in 1919, when the school was celebrating its centenary, he added to his message of congratulations a cheque for £100, all of which verifies the remark he made in a letter accompanying the photograph, taken in 1902 by Dr A. Scott in the laboratory of The Royal Institution and sent in response to a request from the school, in which he said, “anything I could do to show my appreciation of my Academy career would be a real pleasure”, adding with his usual modesty, “all the same I think you are making too much of my work”. As a member and first president of The London Old Boys’ Club and as a regular subscriber to The Dollar Magazine he kept in touch with his school, grateful not only for the instruction he had received but also for the idyllic environment in which the school is set. “How we all, as boys, used to visit the Glen and Castle Campbell and at the old pile endeavour to relate the exact spot where John Knox dispensed the Sacrament within its walls – and Sheriffmuir, and the rambles over the Ochills and the strolls long the banks of the winding Devon of which Burns sang so sweetly.” At the time of his death in 1923 appropriate tributes were paid to his memory in The Dollar Magazine and at a meeting of The Committee of Management of the school by Mr Malcolm the chairman. In reply to a letter of sympathy Lady Dewar wrote: “He always retained great affection for his old school and all its happy memories and it was ever a joy to him to hear of the continued success of Dollar Academy.”
“His bright and brief career” at the school over, James, now 17, matriculated as a student in 1859 at Edinburgh University which he attended until 1862 when he stood high in the list of those who gained First Class Honours in chemistry and also won the prize for written answers to questions on the professor’s lectures in a competition open to the whole class. With justifiable pride the rector reported at the prize giving ceremonies at The Dollar Institution in 1860 and 1861 the prizes which had been awarded at the university to James Dewar and in 1862 his achievement as a first class honours graduate. From the evidence of books in his library we know what some of these awards were. In mathematics under Professor Kelland he gained, in 1860, the first prize in the second class, a success which he repeated in the following year. In 1861 he took also the first prize in the second division of the natural philosophy class and along with it an award for “Eminent Success” in the same subject under Professor P. Guthrie Tait who had succeeded Professor J. D. Forbes in 1860 and in whose laboratory James had worked in 1859 and “whom he always held in reverent memory”. “In these days” wrote Dr J. Y. Buchanan, one of his student contemporaries, “James Dewar could master any subject he had a will to master.” He also attended the chemistry class under Professor Lyon Playfair who had succeeded William Gregory in 1858. Unlike his predecessors Playfair appreciated the importance of students being provided with adequate instruction through practical experiments as well as by lectures. So, he founded a laboratory in the Chemistry Department and as the number of students attending his classes made it impossible for him to give practical instruction to them all, he introduced a tutorial system using some of his ablest students to pass on to small groups the instruction which he had given to them. One of the tutors was James Dewar. This brought him into close contact with Playfair who soon realised his exceptional skill as an experimenter and who, we are told, urged James to enter the dyestuffs industry where his talents would earn him the status and income he deserved. But in this matter the student did not follow his professor’s advice. On 4th February 1867, Professor Playfair read to the Royal Society of Edinburgh a paper by James Dewar Esq. on the “oxidation of Phenyl Alcohol and a mechanical arrangement adapted to illustrate structure in the non-saturated Hydrocarbons”, Dewar himself being not yet a member of the Society; to which he was elected on 15th February 1869. The printing of this paper in The Proceedings of the Royal Society marks the first publication from the pen of James Dewar in the field of scientific research and is the forerunner of a multitude of such papers, whose name is legion, published over the next half century. Between professor and student a close friendship developed and Playfair was one of the guests at James’s wedding in 1871. In his autobiography the professor wrote: “I may claim with some pride that many eminent chemists have been evolved from my teaching, among whom Professor Dewar of Cambridge is conspicuous.” Many years later, on 9th June 1896, a reception was held by The Chemical Society, of which James Dewar was that year’s president, to honour the seven past presidents who had attained their jubilee as members of the Society. In his letter of invitation to Lord Playfair, as the professor had now become, James wrote, “All the foreign members have been invited as well as a number of distinguished guests who are interested in the progress of chemistry and anxious to do honour to the past presidents”. Sadly, Lord Playfair died in May, a month before the dinner took place and in a letter of sympathy to his widow James Dewar wrote of his “lifelong veneration for the departed. He was my master in everything. I owe all to him. His memory will ever remain with me as one of the abiding treasures of my life.”
Fortunately for James and his brother Alexander, who had become a student at Edinburgh University and with whom, when he followed to the university, James shared lodgings as paying guests in the home of two elderly ladies, with whom James continued to stay until his marriage in 1871, their father had left sufficient money to provide for their education. In his Will, made on 21st May 1857, Mr Dewar’s assets in cash exceeded £1,657, quite a substantial sum in these days. To this there fell to be added the value of The Unicorn Inn, several house properties in Kincardine, some shares in The Kincardine Light and Gas Company along with the grain crops in several fields. By the terms of his Will, his six sons shared equally in their father’s estate. Those who had reached their majority were paid their shares outright. Those who were still in their minority were to receive their portion as soon as they became twenty- one, with the proviso that in the meantime the trustees were empowered “to use what they deemed requisite towards their maintenance and education, so long as they were minors”. The three trustees were Rev. Andrew Gardiner, minister of the United Presbyterian Church in Kincardine; Alexander Dewar, brother of the deceased, wine and spirit merchant in Leith and Ebenezer Mill, S.S.C.
On the completion of his course at the university James Dewar became assistant, with special responsibility for practical demonstrations to the medical students to Professor Crum Brown who had succeeded Playfair in the Chair of Chemistry. Once again the senior discerned the outstanding ability of his junior. Dr Crum Brown believed that chemistry would eventually become as exact a science as mathematics and he was very interested in the application of mathematics to chemistry. He suggested a more convenient scheme for the representation of the structure of compounds than the one invented by the Belgian chemist Kekulé. In 1867 James Dewar invented a mechanical device to represent Crum Brown’s new graphic notation for organic compounds and this, having fallen into Playfair’s hands, was transmitted by him to Kekulé, who in turn invited Dewar to spend a summer semester at his laboratory in Ghent. So it became the young scientist’s great good fortune to make the acquaintance of one of the most brilliant chemists in Europe. Many years later James Dewar was one of the signatories to a letter to his fellow scientists soliciting contributions for the erection of a memorial to Kekulé which resulted in the fine statue in bronze at the Chemical Institute where he had lived and worked for thirty years.
In 1820 William Dick, by delivering a course of lectures on veterinary science in the Freemason’s Hall, Niddry Street, planted the seed which in later years has become The Royal Dick Veterinary College. Moving in 1833 into new purpose built premises, for whose erection he himself provided almost the entire £2,500 which they cost. Dick was able to provide not only more comfortable accommodation for the increasing number of students from home and overseas but also better facilities for teaching and especially for practical demonstrations. Situated in Clyde Street and built around a rectangular courtyard the new college had a dissecting room, accommodation for sick animals, a lecture room towards whose furnishing The Highland Society donated £50, and a chemical laboratory to which was added, over the archway entrance, living quarters for himself and his sister, Mary, who kept the college accounts and supervised the behaviour of the students. William Dick died in 1866 and by his Will bequeathed the college, along with a considerable endowment, in trust to the Lord Provost and the magistrates of Edinburgh, who now became responsible for the management of its affairs (Note 9). That there should be teething troubles was to be anticipated. A new office of Principal of the College was introduced and in the short space of two years there were two holders of the office – Professors Hallen and Williams. In the autumn of 1869 two new professors joined the staff, Branford to teach anatomy and Dewar to teach chemistry. Before taking up his duties, James Dewar had several improvements made to the chemistry laboratory which he described as “being deficient in many respects”. The account was £44 14s. 10d. and when it was queried by some of the trustees he wrote in reply that he was absolutely convinced that what had been done would be to the benefit of the students, adding in his forthright manner, “It seems ridiculous for anyone possessed of average knowledge to imagine that getting a table along with gas and water could have nothing to do with analysis or investigation”. The twenty- seven-year-old professor knew his mind and was not going to be trifled with. The appointment of Branford to the chair of anatomy was an unmitigated disaster. Quite early in the session the senior students detected how deficient was his knowledge of the subject. Not only did he make many mistakes indeed howlers, in his lectures, but he was also incompetent in the dissecting room, where his attendance was much less frequent than it was supposed to be. Sometimes his lecture, which ought to have lasted an hour, was over in thirty minutes and on occasion it was read verbatim from printed books to which the students had access. When questions were put to him he had often to consult a manual in order to obtain the answer. The upshot was that his dissatisfied students presented a petition to the authorities demanding his removal and when this was not forthcoming they resorted to disruptive tactics in the lecture room; stamping their feet, singing, kicking the boards in front of their benches and even shooting swan shot at the lecturer. Professor Dewar’s laboratory boy picked up several pipes and a lot of shot from the floor of Branford’s lecture room. As Secretary of the college young Professor Dewar was drawn into the dispute. Student insubordination, like all hooliganism, is never completely self- contained. There is an overspill which affects the innocent. Of the students who attended his lectures Professor Dewar said that until after Christmas, when their opposition to Branford became vehement, “they behaved extremely well and paid attention to the lectures, so much so, that I said to them” – with a touch of humour, one imagines – “that I was agreeably disappointed at their conduct.” After Christmas he did have one spot of bother. It was his custom, as he had agreed with the students, to appear on the lecture platform seven minutes after the appointed hour, when he expected them all to be in the room and seated. During the weeks of unsettlement in the college when he passed in through the gateway he often found them standing at the en- trance, “listening to a hurdy gurdy or organ grinder or a bagpipe player”, which he told them was quite ungentlemanly conduct. One day some students were very late having been engaged, as one of them confessed, “in kicking an old hat about in Clyde Street’. When the latecomers reached the classroom door they found that the professor had locked it and had commenced his lecture. The outsiders had indulged in noise and shouting hoping thereby, but unsuccessfully as it turned out, to cause the lecturer to cease. Next day when Professor Dewar arrived he found that he was locked; so he went back to the laboratory and resumed his work there. On the next day, when things had returned to normal, he reprimanded them sternly for their misconduct and one student had the decency to apologise which “I regarded as a gentlemanly thing to do”. Young though he was, James Dewar was a firm disciplinarian who regarded it as his duty to rebuke in the plainest terms any misbehaviour inside or outside the college. “When I heard them swearing in St Andrew’s Square as I passed along or saw them drunk standing in the college yard I interfered, as I felt I was morally bound to do as a professor.” He was quite sure, and experience proved him right, that firm dealing with miscreants earned the proper response and that to treat serious misbehaviour as a joke was only to invite worse misconduct. Possessing a thorough mastery of his subject James Dewar was an effective teacher. One of his pupils, an elderly gentleman still alive in 1923, remembered his late teacher “as brimful of energy and enthusiasm which he communicated to his class”. As Principal Williams said, “Professor Dewar is a first rate chemist and when he tones down, with a little more experience, he will be a first rate teacher.” But it was to research that he was devoted heart and soul, working in the chemical laboratory until usually one or two o’clock in the morning.
In his autobiography John Gray McKenrick, later to become Professor of Physiology in Glasgow University, tells how, when he was one day in the office of the Principal of the Veterinary College, a young man entered and “introducing himself he said, ‘you and I should know each other Dr McKenrick’. The young man was James Dewar whose scientific contributions to The Royal Society of Edinburgh I had read. That introduction not only influenced my future career but produced a warm personal friendship that will last till the end of our lives.” A few days later they met again in the quadrangle of the university and Dewar suggested that together they should begin researches on the effect of light on the eye. This led not only to an academically fruitful partnership between the chemist and the physiologist but to the important discovery that when light falls on the living retina an electrical current is produced which can be recognised with a sensitive galvanometer. Dr McKenrick provides an interesting account of the weeks and months of eager experimentation which resulted in their joint authorship of four papers read in 1874 to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. “I shall never forget” he writes “the evening when, in a little room upstairs above the chemical laboratory in Clyde Street we made the discovery by noticing a movement of the spot of light on the scale of the galvanometer when the light of a taper fell on the isolated eyeball of a frog. This led to a prolonged investigation which attracted the attention of scientific men in Edinburgh and London and elsewhere. Without our knowledge and about the same time a similar discovery had been made by Holmgren, a physiologist in Upsala. As the investigation had to be conducted in the dark and quiet hours, the time we worked was during the night. Dewar usually came to my house in Castle Terrace soon after 10pm and we then went to the laboratory and worked till two or even three in the morning. This went on for many weeks. In these midnight vigils we were frequently accompanied by friends who came to witness the experiments. On one occasion we had the company of Thomas Huxley who was spending the winter in Edinburgh in charge of the Natural History class during the absence of Wyville Thomson as Director of The Challenger Expedition. Probably the night watchman often wondered what was going on in the laboratory in the hours of early morning – the ‘wee short ‘oor ayont the twal’. On one occasion one clear night we took part of the apparatus into the street, the galvanometer being in the little room above the laboratory. We had a frog’s eye staring at the full moon, to the light of which there was an electrical response. Our joint researches were such as could be most efficiently carried out by a combination of a physicist with a physiologist. In a way it marked an epoch in the lives of both of us. Our investigations followed more of a chemical and physiological nature; Dewar made the chemical substance to be examined and I tested it on animal life. In particular, we examined the physiological action of chinaline and pyridene bases and we laid the foundation which led to the invention by the Germans of not a few artificial chemical compounds, now used in medicine, such as antipyrin, etc. Following the researches of Thomas Fraser and Crum Brown we were on the lines of establishing a relation between chemical composition and physiological action, a view now of great importance in medicine.” Dewar and McKendrick made the results of these novel and interesting experiments known to a wider public by the papers which they communicated to The Royal Society of Edinburgh (Note 10). On 21st April 1873 they submitted the first of four instalments on “The Physiological Action of Light”. As these papers provide the earliest example of the pattern which Dewar followed in all his researches an analysis of their content is not without interest and value to the student of his many varied activities. The opening paragraphs reveal a wide knowledge of what had been written by earlier thinkers on the topic under consideration and indicated what he considered to be the flaws in their arguments. “Numerous hypotheses have been made by physicists and physiologists but up to the present date our knowledge of the subject is without any experimental foundation.” Then the several hypotheses by Newton, Vielloni, Seebeck, Young, Du Bois-Reynaud, Draper and Mosier are quoted, none of which had been supported by experiment. Having exposed this deficiency he concludes that there is “obvious need for careful and refined experiment” and in this the two young scientists saw an uncultivated field for research. Their enquiry is to be in two parts, “(1) to ascertain the electro motive force of the retina and (optic) nerve and (2) to observe whether this was altered in amount by the action of light”. Using the method devised by Du Bois-Reynaud they had no difficulty in obtaining a strong deflection from the eyes of various rabbits, a cat, a dog, a pigeon, a tortoise, numerous frogs and a goldfish. “The deflection was often so much as to drive the spot of light off the galvanometer scale. In regard to (2) they found Du Bois-Reynaud’s galvanometer inadequate so they used Sir William Thomson’s “exceedingly sensitive reflecting galvanometer kindly lent to us by Professor Tait”. Difficulties, such as the dying of the nerve had to be overcome but the experimenters succeeded in this and they record that “up to this date about five hundred observations were made . . . and we took every occasion to obtain accurate results”. As always with Dewar nothing was left to chance. No pains were spared in the thoroughness with which research was planned, the carefulness with which preparations were made and the meticulous care with which the observations were made and recorded before conclusions were drawn. In this case, his conclusions with his usual love of clarity are recorded in nine paragraphs. (1) The action of light on the retina is to alter the amount of the electro- motive force to the extent of from three to seven per cent of the total amount of the natural current. (2) A flash of light lasting a fraction of a second produces a marked effect. (3) A lighted match held at a distance of four or five feet is sufficient to produce an effect. (4) The light of a small gas flame enclosed in a lantern and cased to pass through a globular glass jar (12 inches in diameter) filled with a solution of ammoniacal sulphate of copper or biocromath of potash has also produced a change in the amount of the electro-motive power. (5) The action of light on the eye of the frog is as follows: when a diffuse light is allowed to impinge on the eye of the frog, after it has arrived at a tolerably stable condition, the natural electro-motive power is in the first place increased; then diminished; during the continuation of light it is still slowly diminished to a point where it remains constant: and on the removal of light, there is a sudden increase of the electro-motive power nearly up to its original position. The alterations above referred to are variables, depending on the quality and intensity of the light employed, the position of the eyeball on the cushions and modifications in the vitality of the tissues. (6) Similar experiments with the eye of warm-blooded animals placed on the cushions as rapidly as possible after the death of the animal, and under the same conditions, have never given us an initial positive variation as we have above detailed in the case of the frog but always a negative variation. The after indirective effect on the withdrawal of light occurs in the same way. (7) Many experiments have been made as to the effect of light from different positions of the spectrum. . . . All these observations tend to show that the greatest effect is produced by those parts of the spectrum that appear to consciousness to be the most luminous, namely the yellow and green. (8) Similarly, experiments were made with light of varying intensity and show that the physical effects we have observed vary in such a manner as to correspond closely with the values that would result if the well-known law of Fechner was approximately true. (9) The method followed in these enquiries is a new method in physiological research and by the employment of proper appliances, it may be greatly extended not only with regard to vision but also to the other senses. In the last paragraph the experimenters are – characteristically of James Dewar – mapping out more virgin land to plough or, to change the metaphor, fresh worlds to conquer. In a progress report given on 5th May 1873, they recorded several improvements in method which they had made and which they followed up with a series of ten tabulated results three of which deserve mention – “(1) We have proved, using a frog, that the pigment cells of the skin in the vicinity of the cornea have nothing to do with the results obtained.” (2) As to the effects produced by lights of different intensities; “If a candle is placed at a distance of one foot from the eye, and then is removed ten feet, the amount of light received by the eye is exactly one hundredth part of what it got at a distance of one foot, whereas the electromagnetic force, instead of being altered in the same proportion, is reduced by one third. (3) It was apparent to us that these experiments would ultimately bear upon the theory of sense perception as connected with vision.” Again on 2nd July, they reported on their experiments carried out by moonlight with the following results; “(1) The light from a beam of uncondensed moonlight, though of weak intensity and almost entirely free from heat rays is still sufficient to alter the electro motive power of the nerve and retina. (2) We have examined the phenomenon in the eyes of the following animals: the common newt, the goldfish, the rockling, the stickleback, the common edible crab, the lobster. The eye of the goldfish and rockling, both sluggish fishes, were found to resemble each other inasmuch as the vibrations in the electro motive force were slow – a marked contrast to those of the active and alert stickleback the eye of which was very sensitive to light. The experiments on the eyes of crustacea are of importance because they show that the action of light on the compound eye is the same as on the simple eye. (3) The action of light on the electro motive force of the living eye in cats and birds – pigeon and owl – has been observed by putting the cat or bird under the influence of chloroform. The eye of a snake was examined and its action resembled that of the frog. (4) Now we can state that the law of the variation in the electro motive force of the retina and optic nerve holds good in the following groups of the animal kingdom: – mammalia – aves – reptilla – amphibia – pisces and crustacea.” With boldness – but with a legitimate boldness – they go on to say that the law of Fechner is not “as has been hitherto supposed a function of the brain alone but is really a function of the terminal organ – the retina”. A further brief paper concluded their account of their physiological enquiries. A few months later the duo sent in a paper. “On the physiological action of ozone” – 1st December 1873. This also was, they noted, a hitherto unexplored area for investigation. After detailing a method for producing ozone they recounted how they watched “the action of ozone on the living animal imprisoned in an atmosphere containing a large proportion of the gas and the action it exerted on the individual living tissues of the body.” In these experiments they used frogs, birds, mice, rabbits – and ourselves!” Of the last instance they wrote, “On breathing an atmosphere of ozonised oxygen the chief effects observed were a suffocating feeling in the chest, a tendency to breathe slowly, an irritation of the back of the throat and of the glottis and a tingling sensation, referred to the skin of the face and conjunctivae. The pulse became feebler. After breathing it as long as it was judicious to do so, for five or eight minutes, the suffocating feeling became stronger and we were obliged to desist. The experiment was followed by violent, irritating cough and sneezing and for five or six hours thereafter by a sensation of rawness in the throat and air passages”. They went on to detail the action of ozone on the circulation, the reflex action of the spinal cord, muscular contractibility, the blood, the ciliary motion. Among the conclusions they reached were these: the inhalation of an atmosphere highly charged with ozone exercises a destructive action on the living animal tissues if brought into immediate contact with them. On 2nd March 1874 along with Professor Guthrie Tait, James Dewar read a paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh which is significant in that it indicates the shape of things to come so far as his fruitful interest in vacua goes. It was entitled “On a new method of obtaining very perfect vacua”. After outlining the methods devised by earlier explorers in that field, such as Davy, Andrews and Gassiot they go on, “the method we have devised to absorb traces of gases is based on the remarkable power of absorption of cocoa nut charcoal for gaseous bodies generally. . . . We need hardly say that this easy method of obtaining vacua will be of importance in spectroscopic observations and we intend shortly to communicate observations in this direction”. In a paper on cystine he concluded with this plea, “The author’s stock of cystine being now exhausted he will feel extremely indebted to anyone who would spare him a small quantity for experimental purposes”. An active member of the Society, of which he had been elected a councillor on 24th November 1873, James Dewar contributed more than twenty articles to their proceedings dealing with experiments which he had carried out alone or with colleagues during the short period of his membership; a remarkable output in quantity as it was also in originality for one so young and a harbinger of the amazing number of scientific papers which were to come from his pen in future years. By 1873 such was his established, and growing, reputation that he was invited to deliver a lecture at The Royal Institution in London for which he chose as his subject, “The temperature of the sun and the work of sunlight.”
In 1870, his brother Alexander, now a doctor in Melrose (Note 11), sent him a sample of water for analysis taken from a well which had been dug recently and “whose water is perfectly different from all those in its vicinity”. In his reply James wrote, “should it maintain its present character I have no doubt that, judging from its own qualities as well as from its favourable climatic situation along with the general interest attached to the locality this chalybeate is certain to recommend itself to the medical profession.”
The Directors of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (Note 12), which had for many years been ably served by Dr Thomas Anderson as its chemist, resolved at their meeting on 8th January 1873 to engage an assistant chemist, who in addition to sharing Dr Anderson’s analytical work; would “give lectures in different districts and superintend the carrying out of field experiments at a salary of £100 to £150 per annum”. On 5th March they approved “the appointment of Mr James Dewar, F.R.S.E., who at present holds the professorship of chemistry at Edinburgh Veterinary College and is assistant to the professor of chemistry in the University”. One advantage to the Society’s East of Scotland members was that James Dewar was based in Edinburgh and so was more readily accessible to them than was Dr Anderson who was domiciled in Glasgow. Among the duties of the assistant chemist was to reply to letters craving advice and to analyse samples of manure sent to him by individual farmers. On 21st January 1874 Dr Anderson resigned owing to ill health and he concluded his half yearly report in these terms: “I shall leave it to Mr James Dewar, of whom I have a very high opinion to report on the work which he has done.” During the previous six months James Dewar had received only five samples of manure for analysis and “during the whole of that period no application had been received from any agricultural association requesting lectures on the application of chemistry to agriculture or the execution of the field experiments proposed by the Society”. This part of the Directors’ plan had fallen flat, much to the disappointment of the keen and innovative as well as outstandingly able young chemist whom they had chosen. Six months later he reported that the work of his department had increased and that he had found no grave adulteration of manures, as the supplying firms were now buying the ingredients and mixing them according to soil and crops (Note 13).
He added a note about training well educated young men “who might be induced by the quality of the instruction training they received to become, after some time, useful assistants in the discharge of the Society’s work”. True to form James Dewar was looking ahead and envisaging beneficial developments. At the General Meeting of the Society on 20th January 1875 he remarked that the number of requests for analyses of guanos, manures, feeding stuffs and other substances had exceeded that of any previous year. The farming community was beginning to realise the worth of the service he was offering. He had noticed no grave cases of adulteration but several samples of oilcake which contained “large proportions of nutritive substances were rendered dangerous and inferior from the presence of a large proportion of sand”. As oilcake was sold by weight and as sand is heavy, farmers were being seriously cheated by some unscrupulous suppliers. Thorough in everything he did, James Dewar appended to the analysis what he considered to be the real value of the product, manure or oilcake, which had been sent to him in order that his clients could appreciate the margin by which they were swindled by the supplier. Not content with examining only the samples of guano sent to him James Dewar obtained others from Berry Barclay and Co. of Leith, one of the principal importers of Peruvian guano. This raw guano was found to be of good quality and of the dissolved guano, he wrote, “it continues to contain the amount of ammonia and phosphates guaranteed by Ohlendorf and Co. who hold the special con- cession of manufacture from the Peruvian Government”. This comment indicated clearly to farmers a reliable source from which they could obtain good quality guano – a very useful service indeed! In scientific investigation he was ever ready to go the second mile. He was always looking for uncultivated fields which he could till for the benefit of the community he served. In his role as chemist to those who were almost wholly dependent on wells for potable water, he began to analyse the water used for domestic purposes by some members of the Society. He found that it was often “contaminated with sewage matter generating on exposure to light numerous infusoria. Confirmation of the unhealthy state of people using such waters has been derived from their medical attendant and the attention of all members of the Society ought to be directed to the danger of using waters in any way liable to get surface or sewage drainage, as often occurs in wells sunk near farms”. This report, issued nationwide to the members of the Agricultural Society, alerted the farming community to the urgent need to examine the location of the sources of potable water and to the advisability of stinking deep wells at appropriate places.
In April 1875 the Secretary of the Society received from James Dewar a letter addressed from St Peter’s College, Cambridge, submitting his resignation as assistant chemist in consequence of his having been elected to the Jacksonian Chair of Chemistry in the University of Cambridge. In his letter he indicated that he had “intended prosecuting investigations in vegetable physiology”. Ever an investigator, had he remained in the employment of the Society he would not have confined his energies to analysis but would have broadened his activities, as a real agricultural chemist should, by relating the knowledge he gained through research to every aspect of farming and thus leading the farmers, whom he was engaged to serve, on towards maximising both quality and output from the soil. In his letter he could not refrain from talking a swipe at the dullards on the committee who failed to understand the difference between a mere analyser and an agricultural chemist (Note 14). In accepting his resignation the Directors of the Society adopted unanimously the following resolution: “The Directors cannot accept Professor Dewar’s resignation of the office of assistant chemist without recording in their minutes their sense of the value of his services and their regret at the loss to the Society of such a distinguished chemist. At the same time they congratulated him on having been appointed to such an honourable position.” At the Society’s general meeting on 16th June 1875, the final report by Professor Dewar referred to the steadily increasing work load which he had had. “During the past three weeks alone I have analysed twenty samples of manures and feeding stuffs”. Only one serious instance of adulteration had come to his notice. A sample of penguin guano contained 32% sand and clay. The market price was £10 per ton and he estimated the worth of the sample to be about £5 per ton. One case of suspected poisoning had occurred recently and the stomach was found to contain lead. There is a nigger in every wood pile and at this meeting it was in the form of a ‘gentleman’ farmer, Milne Home from Wedderburn, who complained that “Dr Anderson had got into bad health and for two years drew his salary without doing anything for the Society and his assistant, Mr Dewar, had told them that he was not so much an agricultural as a scientific chemist. . . . They had therefore been paying for two years £1,000 to these two gentlemen and they had not had a bit of work done for the benefit of the Society.” When Mr Dewar asked leave to reply to these stupid remarks, as he no doubt would have done most effectively, for he had a sharp tongue, the chairman ruled that it would be out of order – and the ‘gentleman farmer’ should have been grateful! At the next meeting on January 19th 1876, with Dr Anderson now dead and Professor Dewar safely away in Cambridge the ‘gentleman farmer’, now uninhibited, returned to his abuse of these two loyal and distinguished servants of the Society. One, however, cannot leave this phase of James Dewar’s career without the comment that had he continued as chemist to The Highland Society and been given the unstinted support of its members, which his ability and enthusiasm undoubtedly merited, he would have become the most distinguished chemist in its history whose work as a pioneer of good husbandry, in all its aspects, would have been of inestimable benefit to Scottish farming. But it was not to be. His departure for Cambridge and eventually London was, if to Scottish farming a great loss, an immense gain to other branches of chemical research and for himself the first step on the road which was to lead to an international reputation and enduring fame.
Engrossed as he was to be all his life in chemistry as a teacher and researcher James Dewar did not neglect the humanities. Sir James Crichton Brown who knew him intimately spoke of him as “being deeply read in general literature and a great lover of poetry as he was of her sister music, as well as a connoisseur of painting and objets d’art”. We may be sure that these cultural interests were not neglected during his busy youthful years in Edinburgh and that the strains of the Tulliallan fiddle would be often heard in his lodgings. In his Edinburgh years he was also a frequenter of the theatre, as a witness a letter which he wrote to Lady Martin on 25th February 1893 in which, after thanking her for a copy of her book, he says, “I regard the gift as a very great honour. The personal interest to me is beyond all expression, seeing that your embodiment of Shakespeare’s heroines were the means of instilling into my youthful mind love and appreciation of truth and beauty. Without this spiritual impulse life would have indeed been poorer”.
He and his brother, Alexander, were members of Bristo United Presbyterian Church whose junior minister, the Rev. Thomas Dunlop, inducted on 13th June 1871, assisted at his marriage. The intimation of the event in The Scotsman is as follows: “At 19 Grange Loan on the 8th August 1871, by the Rev. Dr Wallace, Old Greyfriars, assisted by the Rev. Thomas Dunlop, Bristo United Presbyterian Church, James Dewar F.R.S.E. to Helen Ross, eldest surviving daughter of the late William Banks, Engraver and Printer, Edinburgh”. Theirs was to prove a singularly happy marriage, as those who knew them longest and most intimately, were to testify on the occasion of their golden wedding celebrations. “His wife’s influence over him was absolute,” wrote Professor Armstrong, ‘and his devotion to her was increasing and measureless.” (Note 15)
During his Edinburgh years James Dewar became known to an increasingly wide circle of scientists through his articles in Nature and his participation in the proceedings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. At their meetings in Liverpool in 1870 he communicated two papers to the Chemical Section, entitled Notes on Thermal Equivalents: a) Fermentation and b) Oxide of Chlorine. This was followed in June 1871 with a report on “The Thermal Equivalents of the Oxides of Chlorine”. The results, he said, were merely preliminary and he demonstrated “in a remarkable manner the difficulties attending this class of investigation”. Two months later the British Association awarded him a grant of £15 to enable him to continue his studies. In November 1872 he was delivering Friday evening lectures at the Royal Institution in London and in 1873 he contributed to Nature an article dealing with “Recent Researches on the Physiological Action of Light” and in collaboration with his friend Dr McKenrick a paper entitled “Physiological Action of Ozone”. In March 1873 we find him lecturing to the Chemical Society on “Dissociation” and at The British Association for Advancement of Science on “Latent Heat of Liquified Gases”, the author, we are told, having “deduced a formula for calculating the latent heat of a gas from the known tension of that gas”, the results of his investigation having already been communicated to the Chemical Section of which his friend and colleague, Professor Crum Brown, was that year’s chairman. Thus the name of James Dewar had become, very early in his career, familiar in the world of science and his reputation as a careful investigator and a pioneer in several fields of enquiry was being established. Early in 1875 Robert Willis the Jacksonian Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge University died. His salary had been £300 per annum which the Senate decided to raise to £500 for his successor who was to be obliged “to reside in the precincts of the University for eighteen weeks in every academical year and give no fewer than forty lectures in every academic year”. There were five applicants for the office: Rev. J.
C. Ellis, who had been Professor Willis’s deputy for two years; James Stuart, a Fellow of Trinity College; Professor H.E. Arm- strong of the London Institution; W. N. Hartly, Demonstrator of Chemistry in King’s College and E, J. Mills, D.Sc., Examiner in Chemistry at London University – all eminent men. But when it became known that James Dewar was being considered they all withdrew. Though not an applicant he was appointed, in April, after an interview and on the strong recommendation of Professors T. Guthrie Tait and Humphrey. The Senate’s choice evoked universal approval. The contingent in Nature is typical: “As our readers know, Mr Dewar has already done excellent work and is so widely known as a gifted investigator as well as a first rate teacher that his presence at Cambridge will be a great gain not only to that university but to English science.” A strange and unusual condition was attached to the tenure of the Jackonian Chair. By the will of the founder, the professor was charged “to have an eye more particularly to that opprobrium medicorum – the gout”. The new holder of the office took this request seriously and carried out a number of experiments, some of which were on himself, with a view to discovering a cure for the malady. “ But, “as his friend Henry Armstrong informs us, “the only outcome unfortunately was that he spoiled his own digestion and so, in later years, he had to become an extraordinary careful liver”. The thirty-four-year-old professor took up his duties in January 1876 and the subject of his first course of lectures was “Organic and Animal Chemistry”. In the following year, out of a total of fifty-seven candidates for the Fellowship of the Royal Society – F.R.S. – who had offered themselves for election, James Dewar was one of the successful fifteen. In the circumscribed but enthusiastic and hospitable society of Edinburgh the young professor had co-operated eagerly with some of the leading scientists in Britain both in research at the university and in discussions at meetings of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. He found the atmosphere in Cambridge less congenial. Cambridge University had been devoted to the humanities for centuries. Conditions for scientific research were primitive. The authorities were as yet reluctant to equate the physical sciences with the other entrenched subjects in the curriculum. James Dewar found that he had to work in a small room in a two-storied building. But there were compensations. He had Clerk Maxwell for a colleague and Professor George Liveing who, though much his senior in age, offered him warm friendship and together, over a period of twenty years, they conducted a large number of experiments in spectroscopy, the results of which were communicated to the world of science in seventy-eight papers in a volume entitled Collected Papers in Spectroscopy by George Liveing and James Dewar. Of his skill as a lecturer The Scottish Leader had this to say: “Professor Dewar is one of the clearest and most interesting lecturers of the day and delivers the most elaborate and difficult discourses without the assistance of even the briefest notes.” Fortunate indeed were the students who had such an instructor.
Two years after coming to Cambridge he was chosen to be the Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at The Royal Institution, London (Note 16). Prior to his appointment he had delivered two Friday evening lectures at The Royal Institution in which he described the work which he and Dr J. G. McKenrick had done on the effect of light on the retina and optic nerve. The latter of the two lectures, says a distinguished scientist who was present, was “a remarkable tour de force exhibiting the facility of experimental resource and brilliance of demonstration which have been ever characteristic of Professor Dewar’s lectures and rendered them so peculiarly attractive and instructive”. His ability to communicate easily and lucidly not only with his compeers but with those less well versed in scientific matters allied to his brilliance as an experimental chemist fitted him admirably for the duties of his new appointment (Note 17). He retained both chairs, spending part of the academic year in Cambridge and part in London. But it was to The Royal Institution that he devoted the lion’s share of his time and it was there that he carried out the experiments which brought him world-wide fame. Working conditions at The Royal Institution were vastly superior to the cramped accommodation in Cambridge and when through the munificence of Dr Ludwig Mond, who purchased the adjoining house, No. 20 Albemarle Street, and had it altered to form the Davy-Faraday Laboratory James Dewar, who was appointed its first Director, was provided with superb facilities and ample scope for the exercise of his talents. The new laboratory was opened by The Prince of Wales on 22nd December 1896. Dr Ludwig Mond who was a close and admiring friend of Dewar provided also a lift to the Director’s flat to which he himself was a frequent visitor. In 1887 James Dewar had been appointed Superintendent of the House and took up residence on the top floor in the rooms which had been occupied by Faraday,
“Great Faraday, who made the world so wise
And loved the labour better than the wage.”
To a man of Dewar’s sensitivity and who held Faraday in great reverence it must have been a thrilling and inspiring experience to have become the occupant of what was once Faraday’s home. With a connoisseur’s love of beauty he and his wife furnished their flat with fine tapestries, lovely Persian carpets, attractive paintings and engravings to which were being constantly added many objets d’art all of which reflected their exquisite taste. Here for thirty years they had their home which was a centre of generous hospitality to their large circle of friends and a salon where men of science and lovers of literature and the arts were always made welcome. As Superintendent of The Royal Institution he was responsible for directing and advising on research. Of a generous disposition, he was always ready to assist his colleagues and students, though he could be brusquely intolerant of shoddy work which he sometimes “damned with not too faint praise”. If he had any fault it lay in his irascibility to which he occasionally gave expression too plainly and which was not helped by his proneness to insomnia. As is the case with most great men James Dewar was extremely modest. As a colleague remarked, “he was a man of incorrigible modesty”. He never boasted of his achievements or rated his attainments highly and was anxious that others should not do so. “Every morning,” we are told by one of his assistants, “James Dewar appeared in the laboratory at 10.30 prompt and kept his finger on all that happened day by day. He had a habit of humming more or less tunefully as he went about the building which gave the staff ample warning of his approach. Methodical in everything he did, he drew up a detailed code of rules for the guidance of those whom he called his working staff which all had to sign.” Though an exacting master he had a magnetic personality and, says Ralph Cory, who served him for twenty-five years, and who became eventually the librarian of The Royal Institution, “there was something about him that far outweighed his occasional petulant outbursts and won the unqualified loyalty of his sub- ordinates. When he was knighted I was given a crisp £5 note, enormous largesse in these days, with which to celebrate the honour in a fitting manner” (Note 18). His principal assistant in the laboratory was a ‘brither Scot’, Robert Lennox and junior to him was Mr Heath, each of whom tragically lost an eye as the result of explosions during experiments at The Royal Institution. James Dewar’s work there was marked by amazing productivity not in one department of scientific research alone but in several. Few scientists have equalled him either in the volume or in the wide ranging variety of his investigations.
The Royal Institution, founded by Count Rumford in 1799, was one of the earliest scientific research centres in Great Britain. As its Charter makes clear, although it was meant to encourage research it was also intended to be a vehicle for communicating these results to the general public. This dual aim has continued to be its principal objective throughout its long history. To discharge the latter purpose two parallel courses of lectures have been organised each year – the Friday night lectures geared to the small group of professional, well informed scientists whose advanced knowledge enabled them to understand the niceties of the current advances in research; and a series of popular lectures pitched in a key more suitable to the requirements of the intelligentsia who had the layman’s interest in science. The average number of Friday evening lectures ran to about twenty per annum and the number of popular lectures was considerably more. There was also a series of Christmas lectures inaugurated by Faraday for senior school children who had a special interest in science. Besides having to arrange for the participation of suitable lecturers for each series James Dewar undertook a generous share in lecturing. Referring to this in 1921, on the occasion of the professor’s golden wedding, the President of The Royal Institution, The Duke of Northumberland, said: “In the last forty-four years he has delivered more than fifty Friday evening lectures, thirty-six sets of lectures covering the whole range of chemistry and chemico-physics, nine sets of Christmas lectures to juveniles firmly establishing in the minds of the rising generation a foundation of scientific study.” His lectures were eagerly awaited and they always ensured a full house, the audience being attracted not only by the substance of the lecture itself but even more by the truly astonishing experiments he made during its course. Each lecture, to which he gave intense thought, was a meticulously prepared work of art. He took immense pains with his experiments to ensure that every detail was right. Nothing was ever left to chance. His lecture was like a Paris model sometimes appearing very simple but let anyone less skilful try to copy it and he would quickly find himself in trouble. Like Turner, James Dewar ‘painted’ for the sheer joy of doing it. “He set a standard” says Professor Armstrong, “which made The Royal Institution lectures famous, especially on account of his daring experiments. I can never forget the impression I received when I first saw him burn diamond under liquid air – the gradual accretion of the carbon dioxide snow shower and the blueing of the fluid by ozone, also demonstrated by the iodine test: then the rapid uprush of the mercury in a barometer tube full of air when the tube was cooled by liquid hydrogen: it all but knocked the top off: or again the production of ozone at the surface of solid oxygen by the impact of ultra violet radiations. At such moments – and there were many such – the heart beat with joy at the significance of his feats of inspiration.” Such was the impact of one of James Dewar’s Friday evening lectures on an eminent contemporary man of science. Professor McKendrick, who, on several occasions, lectured at the Friday sessions during his tenure of the Chair of Physiology in Glasgow University has this to say about them: “They were for men who had done original work on their subject which they brought before the audience. The lecture hour was nine to ten p.m. and punctuality at both ends was a firm condition. On the stroke of the hour – after a time for conversazione – the Director and Lecturer who took his place at the horse shoe table where Faraday and other great men have stood, entered. The chairman made no remarks by way of introduction or vote of thanks. And before the stroke of the bell in the entrance hall I felt like the man who had taken his place on the drop.” The lecture concluded, the lecturer and others adjourned to enjoy the generous hospitality of the lady of the house and to continue their learned discussion in the comfort of the Director’s flat. Ralph Cory who was in the service of The Royal Institution for fifty years recalls an amusing incident, of which there were few at the Friday evening lectures. In 1904 Korea was much in the news. On one occasion the lecture was given by a distinguished ecclesiastical dignitary The Rt. Hon. And Rt. Rev. the Count Vay de Vaya and Luskod who created a sensation by appearing in all the splendour of his gorgeous Episcopal robes of scarlet and purple. “I can still remember,” writes Cory, “Dewar’s face when he first beheld the vision splendid and for once – and once only – James Dewar was at a loss for words.” In the other lectures the net was cast to attract a wider audience. They were intended for the intelligent layman and such was the skill of the guest lecturers and of James Dewar himself that abstruse subjects were expounded, by the spoken word and appropriate illustrations, in such a manner that those whose knowledge of science was little more than rudimentary could understand in general terms the import of the lecture. The result was that these lectures always commanded a full house. Only very rarely did the good seed fall on such poor soil as that of the mind of a lady who reported that the lecture she attended was about maggots and that the lecturer showed creepy crawly things on a sheet. For maggots read magnets and for creeping things read shadows of iron filings! In most cases the audience came away considerably enlightened and, like Oliver Twist, asking for more and some there were in whom was kindled the desire to undertake serous study. Not every man of great scholarship can adapt himself and his learning to the juvenile mind. But once again the versatility of James Dewar and the lecturers associated with him is vindicated. The titles of the lectures which he himself gave were such as to arouse the curiosity of intelligent youth, as the following half dozen culled at random from a very large number will show: Atoms – Alchemy related to modern science – The story of a meteorite, with experimental illustrations – Frost and Fire – Clouds and Cloudland – Air, gaseous and liquid. James Dewar had for long been interested in photography not only as forming a means of investigation but as a method of permanently recording observations which could be studied at leisure and had made use of it in the research which he conducted with Professor Liveing. To young people, who were becoming increasingly interested in photography – and there were many such – his lectures in 1888 when his subject was, The chemistry of light and photography, must have been particularly interesting. Arrangements were made for the introduction of a powerful beam of electric light equal in intensity to a sunbeam, into the theatre for the photographic experiments he was to make. If the juvenile audience were interested in what he had to say they were invariably enthralled as they watched the magician wave his magic wand in the experiments which accompanied the spoken word. Other lecturers sometimes resorted to more flamboyant means to interest their audience. Once a theatrical production was staged in which a group of children carefully chosen and trained illustrated the discovery of the planet Neptune by de Berrier. On another occasion, Professor James Kendall, speaking about young chemists and great discoveries, delivered his lecture on Faraday dressed up to impersonate the celebrated scientist. On still another occasion the lecturer brought in a young pet jaguar who was given a dish of milk on the lecture table, which he lapped up very quietly, in marked contrast to the growls and snarls with which he tackled a piece of raw meat, illustrating how the taste of blood aroused his more savage instincts. The same lecturer, on another occasion, introduced a lion cub which allowed himself to be petted. The lecturers in their turn were frequently surprised – and very pleasantly so – by the intelligent questions asked by members of their youthful audience and the knowledge which lay behind these questions. Sir Ambrose Fleming, who was a frequent and popular speaker on these occasions (Note 19), often recalled a conversation which he overheard between a father and his schoolboy son. As they retired, the gentleman said to his small son – “I heard everything the lecturer said but I must confess I did not understand all of it.” To which they boy replied – “Never mind, dad, I understood it all right, and when we get home I’ll explain it to you.”
In November 1889 James Dewar who was as ardent a student of the history of chemistry as he was of the science in general be- came one of the founder members of The Gilbert Club whose aim was to do justice to the memory of William Gilbert, President of the Royal College of Physicians and who, when Francis Bacon was talking about the experimental method of scientific enquiry had begun it and was practising it. In 1600 Gilbert published his De Magnete which marks the starting point of the science of electricity and magnetism. Gilbert, who was born in Colchester and is buried in Holy Trinity Church, may well be regarded as the father of these two subjects. The purpose of the Gilbert Club was to perpetuate his memory, arrange for an English translation of his seminal work, De Magnete and plan for a suitable celebration of the tercentenary in 1900 of its publication.
High piled books in charactry would be needed even to catalogue the products of Professor Dewar’s teeming brain far less discuss them. Thanks to the diligence of Lady Dewar, assisted by a few scientific friends, a small harvest has been gleaned and preserved from the multitude of his papers. Within the scope of a brief record of his life and work it is possible to mention only high points in his busy and crowded career of research and lecturing as a scientist.
Although in the eighteenth century Lavoisier remarked that if the earth were removed to very cold regions such as those of Jupiter or Saturn it atmosphere, or at least a part of it, would re- turn to a liquid condition; the history of the liquefaction of gases does not begin until the following century. John Dalton in one of his essays in 1801 surmised that at a sufficiently low temperature all gases could be reduced to liquids. But it was not until 1823 that, at the instigation of Michael Faraday, Sir Humphrey Davy put that theory to the test of experiment, with some success. He failed with the three gases – oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen. The first breakthrough was made by Cailletet and Pictet, who, though working independently, obtained a ‘dynamic’ through not a ‘static’ liquid as, say, the steam from a kettle bears to a cup of water. Other scientists, notably Wroblewski and Olszewski in Cracow, continued experiments in the liquefaction of oxygen and 1883 Olszewski announced to the French Academy that he had obtained oxygen in a completely liquid state, and that a few days later he had seen nitrogen as a liquid but that it had disappeared in a few seconds (Note 20). James Dewar who always kept himself informed as to the work of leading scientists at home and overseas gave, shortly thereafter, a fascinating lecture at The Royal Institution using the apparatus of Cailletet and Pictet. Here were new worlds for him to conquer and like Wilfred Thesiger the traveller “he always felt a compulsion to go where others have not been”. No doubt he was inspired also by the thought that his predecessors Faraday and Davy had been two of the earliest experimentalists in the liquefaction of gases. James Dewar took up the work which had fallen from their hands and working in hyper-arctic regions he pioneered a path where never foot of man had trod. With the same heroic courage and dogged determination as Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton had shown in their explorations he pursued his investigations as he continued his journey towards the absolute zero – K degrees, which was his South Pole. In pursuit of his goal he turned the chemical laboratory in The Royal Institution into a virtual machine shop. True to form he sensed a further fresh field of enquiry waiting to be investigated, viz. the properties of matter under hitherto unattainable conditions of cold which the liquefaction of gases had rendered possible. The next period in his career may be called The Low Temperature Years, for the liquefaction of gas now became his chief, though by no means his only, concern. His interest in this subject goes back to the very early 1870s. In 1874 he read to The British Association for the Advancement of Science a paper on The Latent Heat of Liquid Gases the author having deduced a formula for calculating the latent heat of a gas from the known tension of that gas. In 1878, using Cailletet’s apparatus he demonstrated, for the first time in Britain, the liquefaction of oxygen at one of The Royal Institution’s Friday evening lectures and six years later on a similar occasion he notched up another first, by showing on an apparatus which he had constructed for optical projection the liquefaction of oxygen so that, to their delighted wonder, the audience could watch the process taking place. Later he devised and constructed a machine, weighing over two tons, from which liquefied oxygen could be drawn off in quantity by means of a valve to act as a cooling agent, by which time he was also producing liquid air at twenty litres per hour, occasioning the remark that Professor Dewar was supplying liquid air as if it were water.
On December 17th 1891 the President of the Royal Society at the commencement of their meeting, read to the Fellows a letter from Professor Dewar which had just come into his hand, stating that “at 3 p.m. that afternoon he had placed a quantity of liquid oxygen in the state of rapid ebullition in air (and therefore at a temperature of –181 Celsius) between the poles of the historic Faraday magnet in a cup-shaped piece of rock salt (which is not moistened by liquid oxygen, and therefore keeps it in the spheroidal state)” and to his surprise Professor Dewar saw the liquid oxygen, as soon as the magnet was stimulated, “suddenly leap up to the poles and remain there permanently attracted till it was evaporated”. He was to show also that liquid ozone followed the same pattern of behaviour as the liquid oxygen had done. In 1897, working along with Henri Moisson the French scientist who had brought his apparatus to The Royal Institution, James Dewar liquefied fluorine which he was to succeed in solidifying in 1903. Together they also carried out a study of its properties in the liquid state. The boiling point of fluorine is –187 Celsius and there is no sign of solidification at –210 Celsius. A little of the liquid fluorine spilt accidentally set fire to the wooden floor.
By this time almost all the natural gases, apart from hydrogen, had been liquefied and it was in his long and arduous attempt to achieve that goal, in which he was often baffled but never defeated, that when spraying liquid air and oxygen with the hydrogen jet he found that in a few minutes the liquids congealed in hard solids “like snow” – and thus, for the first time solid oxygen was produced. Encouraged by this he continued his endeavours and on 10th May 1898 his long campaign was crowned with success. Hydrogen was liquefied. In the course of his research he had built at The Royal Institution a large refrigerating machine for the purpose. His achievement was welcomed with delight by scientists everywhere in the most laudatory terms, Moisson the French chemist called it “a wonder of modern chemistry”. To James Dewar himself it must have brought a feeling of tremendous satisfaction akin to that of Tensing Sherpa and Edmund Hilary when they stood on the summit of Mount Everest (Note 21). As Sir William Ramsay, a distinguished contemporary scientist put it. “It is only those who have joined in serious attempts to solve the problems presented by Nature who can understand the exultation which fills the heart at the moment of success. Honours or rewards which may follow are not thought of”. On 1st May 1899 Professor Dewar, when speaking about the work of The Royal Institution, said that having now obtained liquid hydrogen in considerable quantity he “had directly determined its temperature and other physical constants finding its boiling point to be much lower than previously supposed, namely 20 degrees above the zero of absolute temperature and attaining by exhaustion a temperature of only 15 degrees absolute”. He added that pending the discovery of some lighter gas there was no way so far of being able to bridge the gap and reaching the zero point. Professor Dewar also took occasion to issue a warning against the exaggerated accounts of the properties of liquid air which, having originated in America, were now appearing in some popular magazines in Britain. Later in this same year by reaching a still lower temperature, 14 degrees absolute, he achieved the solidification of hydrogen when it appeared as “a clear ice like solid”. It took some considerable further experimental work before liquid hydrogen could be obtained in quantity but by 1901 the obstacles had been overcome and on 13th June of that year five litres of liquid hydrogen were conveyed through the streets of London from Dewar’s laboratory to the rooms of The Royal Society. Now, apart from the limiting condition of the expense involved, it was possible to produce any desired quantity of liquid hydrogen. With the solidification of hydrogen, achieved before the close of the century, it could be said that almost all the known gases were now reduced to liquid and solid form and in this remarkable scientific achievement James Dewar had played a notable part, having, after Moisson had obtained fluorine in the free state, working with Moisson had reduced it to liquid form in 1897. In 1868 Sir Norman Lockyer had suggested that the sun contained a hitherto unknown element which he called helium and which, in 1895, was found also to exist on the earth. This discovery was made by Sir William Ramsay. Helium, “a colour- less, odourless and tasteless gas” which was also the lightest of the inert gases was readily obtainable from hot springs. From those at Bath James Dewar obtained supplies but unfortunately they contained neon which froze and blocked the valves. This unfortunate occurrence coupled with the fact that James Dewar suffered a long spell of ill health from 1904 to 1906, resulted in the prize for being the first to solidify helium going to Professor Kammerlingh Onnes of Leyden University who employed a method suggested by James Dewar. On 5th March 1908 Onnes sent a telegram to the British scientist: “Converted helium into solid. Last evaporating parts show considerable vapour pressures as if liquid state is jumped over”. Disappointed though he must have been at being prevented from adding yet another first to his list of successes in the liquefaction and solidification of gases James Dewar, with his customary generosity, telegraphed in reply: “Congratulations! Glad my anticipation of the possibility of the achievement by known methods confirmed. My helium work arrested by ill health but hope to continue later on”. At their meetings that year he described to members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science the apparatus which Onnes had used and pointed out that what he himself had said to them in 1902 with respect to the liquefaction and the solidification of helium had been proved correct. James Dewar had obtained liquid helium boiling at 4.5 degrees absolute and a temperature of 3 degrees absolute had been reached without a sign of solidification. So he had been well on the way to success had circumstances not intervened to hinder him. Now that it was possible to liquefy nearly all the known gases the problem arose as to how they could be preserved in liquid form so that scientists might proceed to further investigation of their properties at liquid temperature and also undertake experiments researching the peculiarities of metals at very low temperatures. Until that problem was solved the labour which had been involved in the liquefaction of gases was of small avail. No scientist could come up with a solution. All were baffled. Dr Morris, who was with Professor Dewar in The Royal Institution at the time, tells how he used all kinds of contraptions to preserve liquid air or oxygen in quantities from day to day. Boxes containing powdered cork, hay or crumpled newspapers were used in vain attempts to reduce the evaporation of these cold liquids. On one occasion Dewar pressed Lady Dewar’s hat box into service. But in spite of all his endeavours nothing was left of the cold liquid next morning. All had evaporated. Then, reflecting on his work with high vacua during his Edinburgh years (Note 22) and on the effectiveness of charcoal in absorbing gases and in particular on how coconut charcoal, if reduced to a very low temperature, was an effective agent for this purpose James Dewar by using a vacuum to jacket the glass vessel containing the cold liquid met with success. The distance between the walls needed to be only two or three millimetres with internal silvering of the vacuum space. Thus the sphinx-like riddle was solved. The use of low temperature charcoal made it possible to use metals such as brass, copper or nickel instead of glass for the construction of double jacketed vessels which contributed greatly to solving the problem of the safe storage and the transportation of liquid air and oxygen for, in the long run, industrial and domestic uses. It was now Professor Onnes’s turn to offer congratulations to James Dewar, which in the true spirit of science he did handsomely in a speech in 1904 when he spoke of “Dewar’s magnificent invention, which may be called the most important appliance for operating at extremely low temperatures”, adding that “the moment when a vacuum glass containing liquid oxygen was offered to the Prince of Wales at a meeting of The Royal Institution marks an era in low temperature research”. For James Dewar the production of liquid gases was not an end in itself but a means to opening up further novel methods of research in which he was now to engage vigorously not only on his own but in collaboration with many other scientists in their specific fields of enquiry. Had he patented his invention of the vacuum flask James Dewar would have made an immense fortune but he was no Mr Worldly Wiseman in matters of finance. Like his great master, Faraday, “he loved the labour better than the wage” and it was left to a German firm to cash in on his great discovery and to develop and market that vacuum flask which, like the Waverley pen, “came as a boon and a blessing to men”. At first, the small quantities of liquid gases which were available restricted his range of investigation, confining him to determining the properties of the liquids themselves but by the late nineties when these gases – air, oxygen and hydrogen – became more plentiful in liquid form and later could be preserved for indefinite periods as such, by using his invention of vacuum jacketed vessels, the range for experimentation was greatly widened. Before recounting these and his engagements with other experts in various fields we must now turn back the pages of his life and mention some of the other events in which he participated.
As one would expect James Dewar joined The Chemical Society early in his career, was a regular attender at its meetings and took part frequently in its discussions. He served as a member of its Council from 1884-1886 and was thrice appointed one of its vice-presidents. His nomination to its presidency caused some discussion, a very rare occurrence in that Society. This was due, in part, to the fact that some members though that although he had scrupulously performed the duties incumbent upon him, he had devoted less time than he might have done to the responsibilities of his Chair in Cambridge University and in part also to his rather brusque manner at times which offended some of his fellow members. A rival candidate, in the person of Sir William Ramsay, was nominated. The result of the election was in James Dewar’s favour by 166 votes to 152. Characteristically he showed no resentment at there having been a contest and was as courteous and friendly to his opponents as to his supporters. Indeed, such was the excellent way in which he discharged the duties of his office as President that many who had voted against him said that they regretted having done so. During his presidency a Banquet was given in honour of the past presidents who had completed fifty years membership of The Society (Note 23) at which Professor Friedel of France, one of the many overseas guests, remarked that “there was present the finest phalanx of the Fathers of our Science which exists in this country”. Professor Dewar had but one regret. It was that his beloved teacher Lord Playfair had died shortly before the event. During James Dewar’s period of office the Journal of the Society was overhauled and a collective index, so necessary for those who wished to pinpoint particular items in past numbers was prepared by Mrs Dougal who had been appointed indexer. It was remarked too by the members that for the first time in many years the Journal appeared in print on the due date and not belatedly, even by several months, as had been happening in previous years. This was brought about by the appointment of a new editor – Mr W. P. Wynne.
In his presidential address the lecturer took the opportunity to range over a wider field than that of his own scientific research and allowed his thoughts to travel into the philosophical and cultural aspects of chemistry, which was unusual for him as he was not so much a theorist as a finder out of facts. In speaking about the relation of scientific research to industry he warned the leaders of industry that although Britain had been for long the workshop of the world her industrial supremacy should not be taken for granted. “It was not an inalienable possession which could be handed down automatically from one generation to another.” Its price was eternal vigilance. It was something for which each new generation must strive “and the masters of industry should realise that their greatest ally in the struggle was scientific knowledge”. This was a theme which he had very much in his thoughts and to which he recurred frequently in his public utterances as, for example, at a dinner in The Criterion in October 1912, when he stressed the importance of education “which was designed not merely to give men facts but to make them think. Sooner or later the captains of industry must see that training in science was absolutely essential to the management of great industrial undertakings”.
An important event in the year 1891 was the celebration of the centenary of the birth of Michael Faraday who, having begun his career as a laboratory assistant in The Royal Institution rose to such eminence as a scientist that he became its chief ornament and pride. For half a century he had served The Royal Institution and among the events commemorating his birth were two public lectures. The first took place on Wednesday 17th June when the Prince of Wales presided. In his remarks as chairman the Prince spoke of Faraday as “a most eminent chemist, a great philosopher and the founder of modern electricity”. Professor Tyndall who had known Faraday personally but who was prevented by age and ill health from being present, wrote that, “as Faraday whom he knew, receded from him in time his character became to his mind more and more beautiful”. The lecturer was Lord Rayleigh who traced Faraday’s career and spoke of his quite outstanding work as a physicist.
The second lecture took place on Friday evening 26th June and was, like the first, attended by a large audience of distinguished scientists. The lecturer was Professor James Dewar. His theme was Faraday’s work as a chemist. In the course of his lecture, The Times correspondent informs us that Professor Dewar carried out several experiments with conspicuous success. His lecture, says the writer, “was of an epoch making character in that it realised in fact and with brilliant success the hopes expressed by Faraday in a memorable lecture delivered on 31 January 1845 when he forecast that one day all the gases would be liquefied. During the evening the audience saw liquid oxygen boiling at –180 degrees or nearly 400 degrees below the freezing point of Fahrenheit and was one which Faraday as far back as 1845 hoped to attain. Professor Dewar added that it had been discovered not by experiment but ratiocivinatively that hydrogen boiled at –250 degrees Celsius and that he had verified this by his experimental work. The audience saw alcohol put into the oxygen and in a moment it became solid. When a piece of phosphorus was put into the oxygen nothing followed so that there would seem to be a complete suspension of the chemical affinity. Thus, it would appear that the Lucretian theory could be verified in fact by the proof that at these abnormal temperatures matter suffered actual death. Thus we should have reached the very fundamentals of science. The lecturer was loudly cheered on resuming his seat. The Lord Chancellor proposed the vote of thanks which was seconded by Sir Lyon Playfair who referred ‘with pride and gratification that Professor Dewar had been his pupil in chemistry’. Acknowledging the vote of thanks the lecturer humorously related the disastrous consequences which happened in 1884 when he was showing solid oxygen and forgot the presence of liquid ethylene, as he attempted to remove the doubts of a sceptical lady who would NOT believe that it was oxygen. “There was a temporary disappearance of himself and the lady and Dr Warren de la Rue was the only person present who was able to go for a surgeon’. As a result of the accident Professor Dewar had been reduced to inactivity for about six months. Which reminds us that the experiments in which he was engaged were not without hazard. One who was closely associated with him for some years avers that there were occasions when there were explosions and fires. The most serious fire took place when a quantity of ethylene stored in the area at the rear or The Royal Institution caught fire one night and the flames extended to the top of the buildings. The laboratory staff assisted by The London Fire Brigade, put the fire out quickly. But the blaze caused considerable anxiety to the shopkeepers in Old Bond Street which was adjacent to the area. The assurance that extra precautions would be taken assuaged their anxieties. On one occasion a piece of flying metal struck the governor of the gas engine violently and the engine started racing. The mechanic was just in time to turn off the gas and so prevent very serious consequences. Dewar was fond of recounting the incident, always adding that the mechanic who had been through the bombardment of Alexandria said that the explosions at The Royal Institution were worse! On another occasion, after a serious explosion, J. T. Morris tells how next morning he and his brother arrived to find the sensitive Oertling balance had been destroyed and all that could be found among the wreckage were some splinters of mahogany and twisted brass wire. But if there were hazards these were great days, for, adds J. T. Morris, “we were aware that history was being made and that great scientific achievements were being recorded”. Experience is a good schoolmaster but sometimes he charges high fees for his instruction.
During the first week of June 1899 celebrations were held to mark the centenary of The Royal Institution which had been gifted to the nation by Count Rumbold. The various events were attended by scientists from all parts of the civilised world who had come to pay science’s debt of honour for the benefits which the pure research and the splendid results achieved by those who had worked in its laboratories had conferred upon mankind. The real history of The Royal Institution is the story of the discoveries made by the distinguished scientists who have worked there and notably those of its Directors of Scientific Research. There was Thomas Young who had been one of the prime founders of the wave theory of light. There was Sir Humphrey Davy, an eminent chemist, whose work in “the philosophy of flame” led to the famous invention of the miner’s safety lamp which bears his name. There was Michael Faraday who began as a laboratory assistant to Davy and who was often described as Davy’s greatest discovery and who during his fifty years of devoted labour in The Institution did a work which was quite unequalled by any scientist both in extent and quality. There was John Tyndall, remembered not only for his contribution to the theory of heat but for the part he played with Darwin and Huxley in the battle which began in the middle of the nineteenth century to make the new standpoint of science acceptable to the layman. And there was now James Dewar who, continuing the work initiated by Faraday on the liquefaction of gases had succeeded by his experiments in proving that, as had been indicated by theory, there is no such thing as a ‘permanent’ gas for “since his liquefaction of fluorine, helium and hydrogen no known gas remains which has not been reduced to the liquid state”; and who also by his invention of the vacuum jacketed flask had opened entirely new fields for scientific research. As part of the celebrations an interesting exhibition of apparatus used by these and other scientists was staged in the upper library; and a magnificent centenary banquet was held in The Merchant Hall at which the Duke of Newcastle, President of the Royal Institution, presided and at which the principal guest was H.R.H. the Prince of Wales who, in his address of congratulation, recalled that as a boy, along with his father Prince Albert and his brother Prince Alfred, he had attended one of Faraday’s lectures forty- five years previously. There was present a large company of eminent scientists from many countries among whom was Sir James Sivewright from South Africa (Note 24) who, a few years later, was to purchase Tulliallan Castle and estate where he spent his retirement years as a loved and highly respected laird. On the evening of 6th June The Lord Mayor of London held a reception for the members of The Royal Institution and their guests. There were also two special lectures where, as on the occasion of the Faraday centenary celebrations the lecturers were Lord Rayleigh and Professor James Dewar. The latter’s lecture was unique in that for the first time liquid hydrogen, at once the lightest and the coldest liquid ever known to exist, was seen outside the laboratory of The Royal Institution and was available in such substantial quantities that vessels full of it were handed round for inspection. The lecture was fascinating. Professor Dewar began by stating that his object was to introduce his audience to a new instrument of research – liquid hydrogen. This he exhibited boiling gently in a vacuum tube immersed in liquid air the access of heat being by this precaution greatly impeded. It was a transparent liquid in which there was a whitish deposit, the latter being sold air. To prove that the liquid which he was handling with such freedom was really liquid hydrogen Professor Dewar put a light to a small quantity. A brilliant burst of flame was the result. Of its exceedingly small density he gave an idea by showing that a light material like cork would not float on its surface but sank like lead. Among the other experiments, of which there were several, he showed that oxygen in a sealed tube when lowered into liquid hydrogen quickly became solid and when lifted out it could be seen to become first a liquid and then a gas. Of the temperature of liquid hydrogen Professor Dewar said it was 21 degrees on the Absolute Scale. It had taken him nearly a year to come to a definite conclusion on that point because he could not get any two thermometers to agree. The last part of the lecture was devoted to a dissertation on the extraordinary low vacua obtainable by the use of liquid hydrogen, so perfect that if one end of a closed tube were immersed in it for a short time and then sealed off in the middle, a vacuum was formed in the upper part so perfect that an electrical charge could not be made to pass. Lord Kelvin proposed the vote of thanks, “for a brilliant, beautiful and splendidly interesting lecture”. He asked his audience to imagine what would Count Rumford, Davy or Faraday have thought if they could have seen it and heard it. They could not have hoped for their scientific dreams and prophecies to be so splendidly verified within the century”. The vote of thanks, we are told, was carried with acclamation. In responding to it Professor Dewar referred in appreciative terms to the part taken in the liquefaction of hydrogen by his assistant Mr Lennox. Speaking on behalf of the overseas visitors Professor Barker said, “how royally they had been entertained listening to lectures such as the world never before had heard and witnessing experiments such as it had never seen”. To mark the centenary year Sir James, at his own expense, had the lecture hall beautifully redecorated, a gesture which was much appreciated by the members.
A member of The British Association for the Advancement of Science for more than a quarter of a century and a regular contributor to the discussions at its annual meetings, Professor Dewar was chosen to preside over their conference in 1902. It was an expected and a popular choice. Indeed, many felt that by conferring the highest honour in the academic world of science on one of their most distinguished practitioners The British Association for the Advancement of Science was only doing what had been waiting to be done. The meetings were held in Belfast. The conditions for the conference, centred in the Queen’s College and in the Presbyterian College in its immediate vicinity, were ideal and the warm-hearted hospitality of the citizens plus the lavish provision for entertainment and recreation planned by the civic authorities ensured that the visitors would have available all the facilities for the work and leisure which they could desire. The opening meeting was held in the spacious Grosvenor Hall where, according to custom, the President delivered the opening address to a plenary assembly of the members. This was a major event in the career of any scientist as well as a valued honour and like his eminent predecessors Professor Dewar would put much thought and care into its preparation. Introducing the new President his predecessor, Sir Arthur Rucker, said that “Professor Dewar had performed tasks which few were competent to perform. He had carried the heat of scientific battle into the intensest cold, he had attempted to show them what matter was when those restless throbbings we call heat were reduced and as far as possible stilled and the gleams of phosphorescent light he had discovered in these regions were but the symbol of the light he had himself thrown on problems the most difficult and the most profound”. Opening his Address with a felicitous reference to the coronation of King Edward VII which had taken place a few weeks previously and which had been postponed from its original date owing to the King’s illness which had necessitated a major operation (Note 25), Professor Dewar said that His Majesty owed his recovery both to the skill of his surgeons and to the equipment placed at their disposal by the investigations of science. No one would be more conscious of this than His Majesty himself who had shown a keen interest in The British Association for the Advancement of Science for the past forty- three years and who had only recently been very forthright in a plea for state support for scientific investigation and research, a plea which the present speaker fully endorsed. Thanking the civic authorities for the courtesy and warmth of their welcome to the members attending the conference Professor Dewar made reference to “the broad strides in industrial development, to the great improvement in its harbour and to the handsome civic and educational buildings which had taken place since The British Association had last met in Belfast twenty-eight years ago. Congratulating Andrew Carnegie and other munificent benefactors on the support which they had given to science and education the speaker referred to the outstanding contribution which, over the past century, The Royal Institution, of which he was the present Director, had made to scientific research. From a careful examination of the ‘books’ he found that the total cost of the maintenance of The Royal Institution was £100,620, and when one recalls the scientific achievements of even four such leaders as Young, Davy, Faraday and Tyndall “you will come to the conclusion that the exceptional man is the cheapest of natural products – the average cost being some £1200 per annum. But the exceptional man is a rare phenomenon. What is needed are more men of the Ph.D. standard who can understand, interpret and use the discoveries made by the men of genius, a field in which the continental nations are outstripping Britain as we shall one day find to our cost industrially and economically.” Having made these preliminary points, Professor Dewar turned to the main theme of his address – “the development of that branch of study with which his own labours were most intimately concerned”. Mentioning that ‘heat and cold’ must have engaged the thinking of men from the dawn of history he went on to discuss the nature of cold recounting in a masterly survey the long story of human investigations into “the problem of cold” and related matters. Touching briefly and modestly on his own magnificent contribution to these studies he concluded his Address with the following sentences: “In a legitimate sense all genuine scientific workers feel that they are the inheritors of unfulfilled renown. The battlefields of science are the centres of perpetual warfare in which there is no hope of final victory. But each generation can push the curtain of man’s ignorance a little bit further back. To serve in the scientific army, to have shown some initiative and to be rewarded by the consciousness that in the eyes of his comrades he bears the accredited accolade of successful endeavour is enough to satisfy the legitimate ambition of every earnest student of nature. The real warranty that the march of progress in the future will be as glorious as in the past lies in the perpetual reinforcement of the scientific ranks by recruits animated by such a spirit and proud to obtain such a reward.” It was a long Address and the reading of it did not end until after 10.30 p.m. but on all sides it was acclaimed as a masterpiece. In seconding the vote of thanks, Professor Sir Frederick Bramwell said that “the only thing that was wanting was any adequate mention of what Professor Dewar himself had done. His innate modesty forbade that.” The conference – or rather the series of group discussion which embrace the entire field of scientific study – lasted for a week and was a period of hectic busyness for the president who, besides paying courtesy visits to each of the groups, participated in the discussions in the chemistry section which was his own particular field of interest. The conference was not all work and no play. Saturday was devoted to recreation when the City Council and local societies hosted special events, the most popular of which was a visit to the Giant’s Causeway. On Sunday there were two Services of Divine Worship in the Ulster Hall, morning and afternoon, which accommodated three thousand five hundred and whose seating on both occasions was taxed to the utmost. In the evening there was a lecture for working men in the Grosvenor Hall where there was an audience of fifteen hundred who listened with wrapt attention to Professor Miall whose theme, illustrated with lantern slides, was ‘Gnats and Mosquitoes’. In moving a vote of thanks to the lecture Professor Dewar, who presided, said that what they had heard would bring home to all how long and how laborious was the work that lay behind scientific achievement. Monday – which alas! was the only day on which rain fell – was the day chosen for a Garden Party at the Botanic Gardens, and in the evening Professor Dewar presided at a public lecture by Professor Weldon whom he described as “one of the most promising of the young school of zoologists”. The title of the lecture was “Inheritance”. The concluding meeting on Wednesday night took place in the library of The Queen’s Hall. It was an historic occasion in that there was read an invitation from their American counterpart, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, to attend their conference at Washington during the Christmas season. Commending acceptance of it and urging as many of his fellow scientists as possible to attend, Professor Dewar gave it as his opinion that “the great blunder that Englishmen have been perpetuating for many years past was thorough ignorance of what was being done on the other side of the Atlantic. He had over and over again urged on manufacturers that if they would only subsidise their chief officials by a donation which would enable them to spend their holidays in the United States and make themselves acquainted with their great international organisation it would repay them a hundred-fold. He did not think that anything had affected him personally so much as a short visit he paid to America. It was an entirely new revelation to him. He hoped therefore that this Association would be efficiently represented in America on this great occasion at Washington.” The Belfast meeting of The British Association for the Advancement of Science had been in every respect most successful. One thousand six hundred and twenty members had attended the meetings. “No town” it was agreed, “can compare with Belfast for hospitality and nowhere is the innate grace and urbanity of the Irish people more widely manifested.” Professor Dewar, whose opening address was characterised as being of “permanent value as a history of the efforts which, up till now, have been made to investigate the effects of extremely low temperatures upon gases” was warmly thanked for his services during the conference period and in acknowledging the enthusiastic applause of the audience he said that he attributed the success of the meetings “to the organisation and not to the president” and revealed in a few comments which he made on eminent scientists who had Irish connections that it was his being a pupil of Professor Andrews and Guthrie Tait that led him to undertake the line of research with which his name was connected.
On his way to Belfast, Professor Dewar paid a visit to his nephew Dr Thomas Dewar in Dunblane and on Friday 5th September they, along with other relatives, drove to Kincardine on what was Professor Dewar’s first visit to his native town in nearly thirty years. The party put up at the Unicorn Hotel where James Dewar had been born sixty years previously. For him it was a house around which clustered many memories of his parents and his brothers and his own earliest years. Few of his boyhood associates were still alive, but one, William Mustard, a blacksmith, was soon made aware of the professor’s arrival by a call at the smithy which used to be a favourite place of resort to all the young Dewars. Scenes and incidents of long ago were recalled and rehearsed with delight. Professor Dewar in the conversation showed that he retained a lively recollection of his early days in Kincardine and notwithstanding his absorbing scientific researches and the fame which his scientific discoveries had brought him it was Willie Mustard’s verdict that “he is still the same genial, humble, sincere friend and is still warmly attached to the place of his birth”.
In his addresses to The Chemical Society, to The British Association for the Advancement of Science and on other public occasions James Dewar made it plain that the discoveries of those engaged in scientific research should be used by industrialists to enable Britain to enlarge, her share in the international markets. Practising what he was preaching Professor Dewar became an active supporter of The Chemical Industry Society of which he was a founder member. Inaugurated in June 1881 with two hundred and ninety seven members, it spread rapidly from the metropolis to the provinces, branches being opened in Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle as well as in other manufacturing centres throughout England. A Scottish section was established in 1884 and later on other sections grew up overseas. The original members were connected with widely different aspects of industrial chemistry and included some of the most eminent chemists in Britain. In 1882 a journal was introduced in order to bring the work of researchers and the needs of industrialists into as close proximity as possible. Efforts were also made to encourage the masters of industry to employ in their factories chemists who were educated up to the level of the science of the day and who thus could understand and apply the discoveries of the purely scientific chemists – such as Dewar himself – to particular industries. Industrialists were also urged to erect laboratories which were in every way adequately equipped for the work in which their scientists would be en- gaged. Such an investment in both manpower and equipment was essential if British industry was to keep abreast with and better still pull ahead of its continental rivals, and besides it would prove in the long run economically a prudent investment. To the monthly journal, of which he served on the publications committee for some years, James Dewar was a frequent contributor usually in joint articles with colleagues who were experts in other scientific disciplines. He was a regular attender at the annual conferences of The Society and a delegate to the International Congress of Applied Chemistry held in London in 1909 and which was opened by The Prince of Wales – later King George V. Having served as one of its vice-presidents James Dewar was elected president for the year 1887-88. During his year of office he submitted to the London section a paper on “The Process for the manufacture of chlorine from chlorine of magnesium” which was described by Professor David Howard as “a most beautiful exemplification of the fact that the highest science may find its application in technical chemistry”. On 4th July 1888, at the close of his twelve months’ chairmanship Professor Dewar delivered, as was customary, the inaugural address at the annual conference held on this occasion for the first time in Scotland. The venue was Glasgow. Speaking to the assembled members in the university’s Bute Hall he began by commenting on the appropriateness of the choice of Glasgow for the conference for “within a very short radius of the city, the industrial metropolis of Scotland, we have the most varied chemical manufacturers probably that can be met within the United Kingdom – not the largest but for variety, for interest and for the ingenuity with which it has been exhibited in connection with their progress during recent years does great credit to Scotland”. Stressing, as he was wont to do in his public speeches, the importance of impressing on the community as a whole the fact that our present industrial supremacy is not an inalienable possession which one generation can hand down to another with perfect security, he went on to say that “it is, on the contrary, an unstable possession which can only be maintained and held through scientific intelligence and cultivated industry”. Scotland had a great deal to do with the development of chemistry and taking that as his main theme he outlined the contributions of Black, Hutton, James Hall, Dalton, Thomson and Dr Anderson of Glasgow. Referring to the paraffin industry in Scotland and the work of Young he spoke also of the closer attention which was being paid to the utilisation of waste products and nowhere more than in Glasgow. “More and more,” he concluded, “we are struck with the idea of this becoming either the petroleum age or the natural gas age, as we can see from the vast petroleum regions in America; and sooner or later we must realise that the supply of energy will be the most telling agents as regards the successful conduct of all our manufactures.” Spoken in 1888 these were prophetic words indeed. “Our Society’s success is clear from the fact that we have now more than two thousand four hundred members and that it is the largest scientific society in the United Kingdom, omnipresent in most manufacturing areas – a testimony that it is wanted.” The speaker was thanked by Professor Dittmar and Sir John N. Cuthbertson and the vote of thanks was carried by acclamation. For the entertainment of the visitors conducted tours of the Art Galleries, of many firms in the area and of The Glasgow International Exhibition were arranged. The Annual Dinner was held in the banqueting hall of the Grand Hotel. Professor Dewar was in the Chair with the Lord Provost seated on his right hand and on his left Professor McKendrick, with whom he had collaborated so happily and fruitfully when James Dewar was a professor in the Veterinary College, Clyde Street, Edinburgh. Lord Provost Sir James King was a director of George McIntosh and Co. which was the oldest chemical firm in Glasgow being founded in 1784 for the manufacture of cudbear (Note 26), which was then a novelty in Glasgow. The toast to the President was proposed by Professor Stanford who described James Dewar as “one of the most distinguished of living chemists, who wherever he might be was a Scotchman first and everything else afterwards”. Replying to the toast, Professor Dewar recalled that “many years ago he, as a small boy clad in a kilt had stood admiring Dr Stanford stepping off a steamer – at Kincardine”. That he was held in high esteem for his scientific achievements is evident from the fact that The Society presented him with their silver medal in 1918 and when he died the president, Dr E. F. Armstrong, spoke of James Dewar as “perhaps the most brilliant experimentalist of this or any time. … He was an artist in himself, a connoisseur with a love for the good, the beautiful, the uncommon, the interesting and above all for the genuine. As my father – Dr H. E. Armstrong, a colleague and contemporary of James Dewar – wrote me on the news of his death, ‘How much our atmosphere has lost of its charm and colour will only be gradually noticed’. Dewar’s incursions into industry were many, probably all of the fruitful: ‘If we had more Dewars our chemical industry would, today, stand on a different footing’.”
The question of water supply to large communities was one which, during the latter decades of the nineteenth century, exercised the minds not only of the civic authorities but of scientists also. The latter were concerned not with quantity and means of distribution but with quality. The discovery of germ life in water and its connection with epidemic disease were matters requiring careful scientific investigation. Experiments on the subject of bacteria and the means of their elimination from water were taking place in America and in Britain. In London much work had been done by Frankland, Crookes and Tidy on all aspects of water supply problems to towns and cities; such as the effect of lead piping, the softening of hard water, the causes for and the elimination of corrosion in boilers, the prevalence of household wells and the need for properly organised communal supplies, harmful micro-organisms in potable water and their removal not only by filtering but by chemical additives and, of course, taste. James Dewar had for many years been interested in these matters and on the death of Dr Tidy he became associated with Sir William Crookes in the daily analysis of the water supplied by The Associated Water Companies of London whose premises were at 14 Colville Road. As London’s population grew the need for a reorganisation of the structure of the eight separate Water Boards became apparent. Rationalisation was required. The Water Act of December 1902 made The Metropolitan Water Board responsible for providing the chemical and bacteriological examination of the water supplied to its customers. At the ‘appointed day’ the water supplied by all the companies was subjected to scrutiny by Sir William Crookes and Professor Dewar. This increased greatly the volume of their work. In 1900 the number of examinations was six thousand seven hundred and thirty one. By 1904 it had risen to nine thousand one hundred and forty six. Requested to report on how to place the examination on a more uniform basis Sire William Crookes and Professor Dewar came to the conclusion, presented to The Metropolitan Water Board in May 1905, that a central laboratory adequately equipped where samples of raw and of filtered water would be thoroughly examined should be erected and that it should be staffed by a full-time officer and assistants. Their recommendation was accepted. New purpose built laboratories were constructed and in July Dr A. C. Houston was appointed as the officer in charge and from 31st October 1905 Sir William Crookes and Professor Dewar were relieved of their responsibilities. By their own report they had made themselves redundant from what had been a very remunerative part-time appointment (Note 27).
To James Dewar the liquefaction of gases was not an end in itself. He always had in view the utilisation of liquid gases in furthering research in different fields of enquiry and so he applied the liquid gases to a wide range of pioneer explorations of the properties of matter at very low temperatures – chemical and photographic action – phosphorescence – and the cohesion and strength of materials. The liquid gases were new tools which science could use and no one was more enthusiastic in using them than Dewar himself. To do so efficiently he had to call in scientists who were authorities in other disciplines and so there began a long and fruitful association with many co-workers in widely different areas of research. Only very lightly can one, in a brief study such as this, touch on this aspect of James Dewar’s many activities. One fellow scientist with whom he had a long and profitable partnership was Sir J. Ambrose Fleming with whom he studied electric and magnetic effects such as conduction, thermo- electricity, dielectric constants and magnetic permeability. Like Dewar, Fleming, who is remembered for his invention of the Fleming valve, concerned himself not only with theory, in his case the theory of electricity, but with the practical application of his discoveries. Their collaboration began in the late 1890s and one of the staff recalls how familiar they became with Dewar’s loud and hearty greeting to his colleague – “Marnin Fleming” – in his strong Scottish accent. One of Fleming’s assistants tells how, with Dewar, Fleming studied the electric resistance of metals and alloys at very low temperatures. The actual resistance coils were made at Fleming’s laboratory in University College and brought to The Royal Institution where the resistance of these coils at –78 degrees Celsius and –182 degrees Celsius was measured when liquid air or liquid oxygen were available in quantity. The remarkable drop in resistance was such as to suggest that if the material could be cooled down to the absolute zero of heat, -273 degrees Celsius, all resistance would disappear and the particular metal would achieve perfect conductivity (Note 28). Dewar was very much ‘in’ on all these and on kindred experiments and together he and Fleming wrote some twenty papers recording their findings in this and in other kindred fields.
With Sir William Crookes, James Dewar made several researches on radium investigating the effects of extreme cold on its emanations (Note 29). Professor Crookes was intensely interested in radioactivity and had it not been for a prolonged stay in South Africa in 1895 he might have anticipated Rontgen in his discovery of X-rays. Dewar’s collaboration with Crookes was, naturally, followed up by joint work with Pierre Curie in which they examined the gases occluded or given off by radium and in 1908 Dewar determined the rate at which it evolves helium. In partnership with Professor H. O. Jones of Cambridge James Dewar did some work on iron carbonyls and at a meeting of the Chemistry Section of The British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1907 Professor Jones gave an account of their experiments mentioning that new interesting observations were made and that a new compound of iron and carbon monoxide had been discovered. Professor R. A. Hadfield who, in connection with his father’s business, had been concerned with alloys of iron with silicon and manganese and who had prepared a material which came to be used for steel helmets in the Great War collaborated with Professor Dewar on the properties of metals at low temperatures and in problems concerning steel for armour plating and for armour piercing shells. In a lecture to The Royal Society Professor Allan Macfadyan (Note 30) showed that the temperature of liquid air has no appreciable effect upon the vitality of micro-organisms even when they were exposed to a temperature of –190 degrees Celsius for a week. In a subsequent lecture he explained that by the kindness of Sir James Dewar bacteria of many kinds had been subjected to the temperature of liquid hydrogen, -252 degrees Celsius for ten hours. They were sealed in thin glass tubes and introduced directly into liquid hydrogen contained in vacuum jacketed flasks immersed in liquid air. The tubes were then opened and the contents examined microscopically and by culture. The results were completely negative so far as alteration in appearance or in vigour of growth of the micro-organisms went. So, an exposure, he added, of ten hours to a temperature of almost –252 degrees Celsius has no effect on the vitality of micro- organisms. He went on to speak of further similar experiments and Sir James Dewar appears to have conducted them, for, in a lecture on “Inter-planetary bacteria”, Professors Shattock and Dudgeon remarked that Sir James Dewar’s experiments have demonstrated that while micro-organisms are unharmed by the frozen conditions of liquid air, “the ultra violet rays will kill undried bacteria”. At a meeting of the Botany Section of The British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1901 Sir William Thistleton-Dyer described some experiments of far reaching importance by Professor Dewar on the influence of the temperature of liquid hydrogen on the germinative power of seeds (Note 31). The most important one was that in which five kinds of seeds varying in size and composition were immersed for six hours in liquid hydrogen. “The temperature at which they were cooled was –435 degrees Fahrenheit below melting ice.” They were subsequently sown at Kew and germinated readily without exception. In assessing the effect of low temperatures upon metals Professor Dewar showed that lead, tin, iron and also ivory balls when refrigerated gained in elasticity and bounced higher when dropped on an iron anvil than they did before refrigeration. He also demonstrated that the breaking stress of metallic wires was considerably increased as a result of reduction in temperature. Using wires of approximately half an inch in thickness he drew up the following table:
The increase in strength is due entirely to the lower temperature for when the wires were restored to their original temperature the increase disappeared. Thus, he argued, the inhabitant of a world where the temperature approximated absolute zero would have much stronger iron and steel with which to build his bridges just as his electric cables would have more perfect conductivity.
Low temperature research brought James Dewar into collaboration once more with his earliest research colleague, with whom he had worked when he was at The Edinburgh Veterinary College, Dr J. G. McKendrick now Professor of Physiology at Glasgow University and also a member of the family circle through his marriage with Mrs Dewar’s sister. Dr McKendrick had been engaged in studying the action of cold on microphytes and had found that at the temperature of liquid air though in some cases putrescence was delayed in none was it completely destroyed. Liquid hydrogen provided now the lowest temperature available. In co-operation with James Dewar he froze for an hour, at a temperature of –120 degrees Celsius samples of meat, milk, etc., in sealed tubes. When these were opened after being kept at blood heat for a few days their contents were found to be putrid, thus showing that no matter how low the temperature living organisms are indestructible. Heat can do what cold cannot achieve.
What can be termed an extra mural activity of Professor Dewar was that of being an expert witness in court cases. Such was the calibre of his witness that litigants, especially large companies, were prepared to pay large sums to secure his services which provided him with a very considerable bonus to his somewhat meagre salary. Both he and his friend Sir William Crookes, an equally coveted expert witness, defended their demand for high fees on the ground that, as Sir William expressed it to a firm of law agents, “We who may be looked upon as leaders in the profession owe it to our fellows to charge high and so do our best to counteract the lowering of prices which is so prevalent to the lower branches.” (Note 32) Never did he enter a witness box, as Horace says, stans pede in uno. He always did his homework thoroughly. Meticulously prepared and with a thorough mastery of his subject James Dewar was a priceless asset to any litigant and with his alert and brilliant mind he was a formidable witness when it came to cross examination by opposing learned counsel. He was engaged in a very large number of cases, one of the most difficult being the Edison Electric case, in which the Edison Swan Company sought to restrain several others from infringement of their patents in which the evidence was a highly technical and scientific nature and which went on for more than a fortnight. One of the most amusing was the whisky appeal by James Davidge and Thomas Samuel Wells against their conviction for unlawfully selling Scotch and Irish whisky “not of the nature, substance and quality demanded”. James Dewar’s evidence based both on scientific analysis and on his personal experience of having “tasted all varieties of whisky from the days of my youth” and his ripostes to the Q.C.s who were questioning him makes highly entertaining reading, and reveals a witness who is at least a match for his questioners. From these two cases alone one can well see why a litigant was eager to have James Dewar espouse his case.
As science is international it is of vital importance that the terms used by scientists in every country should have exactly the same meaning. How else can scientists speak to each other across the dividing walls of nationality and language? How else can they co-operate in research and ensure that their discoveries are made available in the commercial world and on the factory floor. A standard nomenclature when terms are fixed in meaning, where they are permanent, universal and acceptable to all is essential. In the latter half of the nineteenth century when electricity and telegraphy were leaping across all national barriers, when electrical measurements were of daily occurrence not only in scientific laboratories but in factories and workshops in which the manufacturer of electrical and telegraphic apparatus was carried out, it became a matter of grave and urgent importance that a standard vocabulary of measurement should be established. Thus ohms, volts, amperes, coulombs – to name but a few terms – had to mean the same everywhere. It was also important that there should be agreed a standard of light with reference to which various electrical and other lights could be measured. With this in view the first International Electrical Exhibition was held in Paris in the autumn of 1881 (Note 33). It was sponsored by the French government who invited to it the leading scientific and electrical specialists of all countries whose business it was to meet in conference with a view to discussing many important questions connected with electricity and telegraphy and in particular to establish an international system of units for expressing the results of electrical measurements and of their research. Among the British representatives at this the first of several such conferences was Professor James Dewar. In 1908 there was another ‘first’ in Paris, this time the first International Congress of the Cold Storage Industries held in the Grand Palais. One of the sections concerned itself with questions relating to low temperatures and their general effects, at which the principal speaker was Sir James Dewar. Although he had received many honours from learned societies, including an honorary Ll.D. from all four Scottish Universities – the only person to have done so – and though he was in future years to be the recipient of still further honours there came to him in 1904 the honour of a knighthood. While this signal mark of Royal favour and of national recognition of his unique services to science and through his research to the nation as a whole gave much pleasure to his colleagues, many of them, in later years, expressed their disappointment that it had not been followed by the award of The Order of Merit, the highest honour in the gift of sovereign and one which in their opinion he richly merited. In 1913 Sir James, as he must now be designated, published a notable paper showing that the mean atomic specific heats of the elements between the boiling points of liquid nitrogen and hydrogen exhibited, when plotted in terms of their atomic weights, a definite periodic variation instead of being approximately uniform as they are at ordinary temperatures. This was almost his last piece of freelance research before everything was called to a halt by the outbreak of The Great War in August 1914, after which all the nation’s resources, material and human, were mobilised for war work. The Royal Institution had from its inception been dedicated to disinterested scientific research with sufficient funds, obtained principally through donations, (Note 34) to finance its work. Now funds dried up. Members of the staff were conscripted for national service. All the resources of The Royal Institution were directed towards serving the immediate national emergency and no longer was Sir James able to follow his own sweet will in matters of research. For him, the war years became a trying time. Not only – like Othello – was his occupation gone but he shared the anxieties common to all thoughtful men during those fateful and dangerous years and suffered, as was to be expected of a man of his sensitive nature, bouts of depression at the contemplation of the awful carnage and especially the slaughter of young life which the war entailed. Though now seventy-two years of age he was mentally as fit as ever he was. So it was surprising that the government did not make more use of his unique abilities particularly in view of the fact that as long ago as 1888 he had been associated with Sir Frederick Abel (Note 35) in the invention of cordite, a smokeless fuel, which had been of immense benefit to both the army and the navy. Appointed by Earl Stanhope, the Secretary for War, along with Sir Frederick Abel and Professor Dupré, the latter of whom took little or no part in the affair, to examine the use of high explosives, Abel and Dewar quickly came to the conclusion that a better material than gun cotton was necessary and that none of the substitutes submitted by manufacturers were suitable. Accordingly, they devised, and in 1890 patented in favour of the Secretary of War, a new explosive compounded of gun cotton and nitroglycerine in cords or thread – hence the name cordite – which after exhaustive tests by the Director of Artillery, was found to be superior to anything so far possessed by the military authorities. All the tests resulted in its favour. Sent out to the northern regions of Canada and to India where it was tested under conditions of extreme cold and heat, and subjected to conditions of humidity in damp climates it was pronounced to possess better qualities than any other explosive. In announcing its acceptance by the government Mr Campbell Bannerman, who had succeeded Earl Stanhope, paid tribute to the two inventors in these words: “You may search not only this country but the world and not find two men more qualified to decide any question such as was submitted to them.” It is indeed surprising then that Sir James was not enlisted into full-time war service but bureaucracy probably thought, not knowing their man, that at the age of seventy-two he was too old to be useful for regular employment. In 1915 he was, however, called in by Lord Haldane, to advise on a particular problem about cordite and also to bring his exceptional knowledge to bear on the development of metal-jacketed containers for liquid oxygen to enable pilots to fly at very high altitudes. It also must have been a consolation to him to have known that his work with charcoal as an absorbent for gases was of great value in the designing of the gas masks which enabled our soldiers to withstand the gas attacks of the Germans which were launched during the second battle of Ypres.
In order to employ his days profitably he turned to one of his first loves and one on which he had delivered his first series of Christmas lectures to juveniles – Soap Bubbles and Soap Films. On March 17th, 1916, The Times carried an article entitled. “A Long Lived Soap Bubble”, in reference to a soap bubble which Sir James had exhibited on the previous afternoon during a lecture and which he had blown on 17th February. It was as perfect as it had been on the day on which it was made. It was a glowing sphere of iridescent colours without the slightest trace of blackness, which is the prelude to disintegration. Its longevity was due to the fact that it was blown in and filled with clean air which was completely free from the motes and small particles which, with soap bubbles, are the seed of decay. Unfortunately it came to an untimely end about ten days later due to the vibration occasioned when the equipment for producing liquid air for Sir J. J. Thomson’s Saturday afternoon lecture was being set up. Other bubbles of Sir James’s creation withstood the vibration, one of them being completely black and showing no colour at all. Four days later being blown with hydrogen it lost all colour. It was five-and-a-quarter inches in diameter and the thickness – or thinness – of its skin was about a ten-millionth of an inch. Yet it was strong enough to support a drop of soap solution hanging from its lowest point. Another bubble blown with air and three- and-a-half inches in diameter took longer than the one blown with hydrogen to become black. In his experiments with soap bubbles, and they were many, Sir James was not just engaging in self-amusement or trying, for the fun of it, to see what would happen under various conditions. There was a serious side to his experimentation. From his observations he noticed that in a sealed exhausted tube the upper portion became black leaving a lower coloured section with a sharply defined horizontal edge. When he tilted the tube the coloured section responded at once. The film then could be used as a level and it was his hope that an instrument could be devised along these lines to enable air pilots to keep their ‘planes on an even keel. Though it did not work out as he had hoped the possibilities were there where such a level, responding instantaneously and free from unsteadiness could be invented and become a valuable instrument at the disposal of air pilots.
After Sir James had concluded his Friday evening lecture on 21st June 1921 the Duke of Newcastle, who was in the Chair, spoke of the pleasing duty he had now to perform in view of the approaching Golden Wedding of Sir James and Lady Dewar. “Sir James’s name,” said the Duke, “was not only a household name with all of us but it is no great exaggeration to say that every one of us utilises in some way or other the results of the great discoveries which he has made during the last forty or fifty years.” Speaking of Sir James’s early investigations in the physiology of the eye and the long series of spectroscopic researches which he had carried out with Professor Living at Cambridge, which had made both their names famous, and of his collaboration with Sir Frederick Abel in the invention of cordite which the army and navy have used ever since, he said it was to that that “our victory in the war was largely due”. Referring to Sir James’s immense contribution to the liquefaction of the gases the Duke reminded his audience that liquid air was “now a commercial article, and to prove its value we have only to look at the attempt which is now being made to ascend Mount Everest, an attempt which would have been absolutely impossible if it were not for that invention. If that attempt succeeds it will be due not only to the skill, experience and intrepidity of the explorers but to the inventive genius of Sir James Dewar. In the last forty-four years Sir James has delivered more than fifty Friday evening lectures, more than thirty-six sets of lectures covering the whole range of chemistry and chemico-physics – nine sets of Christmas lectures to juveniles, firmly establishing in the minds of the rising generation a foundation of scientific study.” Expressing his thanks to Lady Dewar for the support she had given to Sir James, without which his achievements would not have been possible, the Duke mentioned particularly the hospitality which she dispensed to those who attended the Friday evening discourses. On behalf of the members of The Royal Institution the Duke then presented Sir James and Lady Dewar with a beautiful Golden Loving Cup. On rising to reply Sir James was received with rousing cheers. Having thanked the members of The Royal Institution for their beautiful and generous gift and having acknowledged gratefully his indebtedness to his wife for “All she had been and done through their harmonious life of togetherness for fifty years”, he mentioned his love of music “and the early vanity which impelled me to make my own music, which was a little insane”. He had available the fiddle he made and signed in 1854, “my first authentic signature”, and which would be played that evening by two young ladies. Reminiscing on his years at The Royal Institution he felt that he had been overburdened with honours. “My work has been an absolute pleasure and delight to me. It has never engendered in me a though of anticipating any reward. The crown of science is the joy of its cultivation, as Shakespeare has it, from whom, through the mouth of Cerimon in Pericles, the qualities of the physician, in these days the only scientist, are delineated:
I held it ever,
Virtue and cunning were endowments greater (Note 36)
Than nobleness and riches: careless heirs
May the two latter darken and expend;
But immortality attends the former
Making a man a god. ‘Tis known I ever
Having studied physick, through which secret art
By turning o’er authorities, I have
(Together with my practice) made familiar
To me and to my aid, the blest infusions
That dwell in vegetives, in metals, stones:
And I can speak of the disturbances
That nature works, and of her cures, which give me
A more content in course of true delight
Than to be thirsty after tottering honour,
Or tie my treasure up in silken bags
To please the fool – and death.”
Act III. Sc. II
He had served under three Dukes of Newcastle, as Presidents of The Royal Institution to whose unflagging support both The Royal Institution and he himself owed so much. His own devotion to The Royal Institution was matched by that of his wife. During the war she was plagued with poor health and “I was anxious” he said “to get her to move to Cambridge because, as I told her, the Germans would never bomb Cambridge. But nothing would induce her to leave The Institution.” At the conclusion of his speech Sir James invited the audience to partake of Lady Dewar’s and his hospitality “and to hear my fiddle played”.
As early as 1872 James Dewar had become interested in the calculation of solar temperature, an interest which was resurrected in the closing years of his life. He now began to apply an ingeniously designed charcoal thermoscope – a modification of the one he had made more than forty years previously – to discover the radiation from the sky by both day and night: from the sun at all seasons of the year and during an eclipse, as well as from the moon, the clouds and the stars. This thermoscope was erected immediately below a sliding panel in the roof of one of the laboratories of The Royal Institution. There, in his small private observatory, even when beyond his eightieth birthday, Sir James kept solitary vigil watching the heavens at all hours, and recording the varying radiation through the changing sequences of weather conditions. It was thus that his friend of many years, Professor Armstrong, saw him for the last time late on a March evening of 1923. That night Sir James fell suddenly ill and on March 20th he passed away. This last meeting was the picture, says Professor Armstrong, which “was the one above all others he liked to cherish of his old dear friend, as a silent watcher of the skies and a life-long seeker after truth”. The scene reminds us of what was said of another celebrated explorer, Mallory, who kept pushing his way upwards on the slopes of the as yet unconquered Mount Everest, “Last seen, making for the top”.
The tidings of Sir James Dewar’s death, though at the advanced age of eighty-one, evoked many expressions of sorrow and a multitude of tributes to his genius and character. The first message of sympathy received by Lady Dewar came, through Lord Stamfordham, from King George V and Queen Mary. It read: “The King and Queen have heard with much regret of the death of Sir James Dewar and desire me to express their true sympathy with you in your loss – a loss which will be shared by the whole world of science.” All the national newspapers contained extensive obituaries in which were outlined his distinguished career and his unique contributions to numerous aspects of scientific research and in particular to chemistry. The Times, after referring to him as “one of the most brilliant experimentalists of his time” proceeded to have a detailed account of his principal scientific achievements and concluded with a list of the many honours conferred upon him by universities at home and abroad and by scientific societies in his native land and overseas. In a Third Leader – and to be made the subject of this is rare distinction – the editor wrote that for The Royal Institution “to have found one man with a combination of gifts so well fitted for its objects was great good fortune”. Commenting on how, for more than forty years, the Londoners who were interested in science had enjoyed “the resonant voice, the logical statement and the technical wizardry of the plump and bearded high priest of Albermarle Street”, the writer added that “all who within that period themselves had to address the exacting audiences of The Royal Institution must cherish a warm memory of the crisp and kindly encouragement Dewar used to give them in the trying few minutes before their lecture began. In pure science Dewar was best known by the methods he devised for approaching the absolute zero of temperature and for his study of the behaviour of elements and compounds under conditions so far removed from their normal state in the familiar world… In private life he was a genial host and an interesting companion. He was a fine musician and his collection of objets d’art was noted with admiration even by professional experts. His skill as an expert witness became almost a legend of the courts. He was a great man, vigorous, kindly and combative.” The two national news- papers in his native Scotland – The Scotsman and The Glasgow Herald – also had long and laudatory obituaries. The one in The Glasgow Herald was written by his old friend Professor Andrew Gray. In the course of a detailed account of the splendour of Sir James’s achievements Nature, the science magazine, had this to say: “Our scientific edifice is by his death deprived of one of its main pillars. We shall not easily appraise the loss. The immensity and sustained originality of his genius, the service he rendered to our civilisation can be but insufficiently appreciated outside the small circle of intimates who witnessed his work and who penetrated through the thick mask of modesty and reticence which he habitually wore… At heart he was full of human sympathy, a most gentle and loveable nature.” Cambridge University ended its generous tribute with this sentence: “As an experimentalist Dewar stood alone: there has never been a greater; probably none so great.”
In his will, he stated that “being a member of The Cremation Society he desired his body to be cremated, the funeral arrangements to be of a simple character and kept entirely private and confined to members of his family”. The cremation, we are told in The Times of 2nd April, took place at Golders Green. “There was no service, no congregation, no ceremony of any kind. Before the cremation a service was held in his home at The Royal Institution at which the Bishop of Worcester officiated. And meanwhile the staff paid their last tribute to him at a simple service in his study at The Royal Institution conducted by his old friend Canon Carnegie. The members of the family alone attended at Golders Green.” The Maharaj Rama of Ihalawar, a friend and great admirer of Sir James “paid him a last tribute of regard by a call of condolence at The Royal Institution on Saturday morning. His Highness is recovering from a severe illness and is hardly able to walk”. The net value of his estate was £128,828. He bequeathed to Cambridge University all his scientific equipment in the laboratory there and made a similar bequest to The Royal Institution. He left a sum of £500 to be distributed in cash or gifts to his assistants who had been with him since 1900 and a similar sum to three of his colleagues who were asked to publish, as advisers to Lady Dewar, such of his scientific papers as might be considered worthy of publication. He desired that “no Bursary, Fellowship, Scholarship, Annual Lecture or any other memorial be founded or connected with his name by public subscription and that no biography of his life should be published as a separate book”. Though aware of his wish that no public memorial should be erected to his memory the members of The Royal Institution felt that they would in no way contravene that desire by placing a memorial plaque on the staircase wall of The Institution. So on 12th November 1925 a plaque designed by Sir Bertram MacKinnal was unveiled. It is in itself an attractive work of art worthy of a man whose love for the arts came only second to his devotion to science. In accepting the plaque the Duke of Newcastle referred to Sir James Dewar as one of the greatest men of science of this epoch, a man whose life and example were a priceless legacy to The Royal Institution and would be an inspiration to all who came within its walls. Sir J. J. Thomson, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, spoke of how Sir James had ever delighted them with the amazing beauty of his experiments. “He was an artist to his fingertips. He was essentially an investigator and a pioneer. Three of his discoveries could not be passed over in any tribute.
(1) To Dewar they owed the use of liquefied gases as a physical agent, (2) the vacuum flask was not only an important scientific instrument but had largely added to the amenities of life who were unaware to whom they owed it. (3) Of special importance was his discovery of the method of producing high vacua by means of charcoal cooled by liquid gas to which the advance of modern physics was in no small measure due.” If Sir James’s devotion to The Royal Institution was total it was emulated by that of Lady Dewar whose home it had been for most of their married life. On vacating their flat, after her husband’s death, she left as a parting gift the beautiful and expensive fittings which she and Sir James had installed.
“He who writes of men of science,” says Thomas Martin in his biography of Michael Faraday, “must recognise that their lives are uneventful in the general estimation. Their discoveries seldom excite any immediate popular interest. Great scientific achievements pass unremarked at the time and the truths the scientist states are usually above the comprehension of the man in the street. Scientific research is the least dramatic of human occupations; patience and perseverance are the qualities it calls for. Its moments of triumph come in the seclusion of the laboratory.” But it is not the passing moment, it is the page of history that is the test of greatness and the greatness of Michael Faraday as of his admirer and successor at The Royal Institution, James Dewar, the verdict of history leaves us in no doubt.
1. A daughter of Hugh Eadie, Shipowner, Kincardine, she died on 18th March 1852 – Clackmannan Advertiser, 27/03/1852.
2. The first recorded meeting of the managers of the U.P. congregation took place on 1st March 1852. Arrangements were made to provide a library for the minister and on 5th April Thomas Dewar and William Norrie were appointed to catalogue the books which were to be the property of the congregation. When on 4th February 1855 the “Body of managers was reconstituted to consist of thirteen member” among those elected were Thomas Dewar and Robert Maule. – Minutes, 1852f.
3. The report of a complimentary dinner to Mr Adam, M.P., on November 15th , 1851, is typical of the references made to the catering in the Unicorn Hotel. “The large room was tastefully decorated. The viands, wines and fruits for the occasion did great credit to Mr Dewar by whom the dinner was served.” This comment is typical of those which followed an account of similar occasions held at The Unicorn Inn.
4. Mr Thomas Dewar had a private gas works for the lighting of the Inn long before the Gas Works – i.e. the plant of the Kincardine Gas Company – were in operation. – Alloa Advertiser, September 10th 1898.
5. The Subscription School was non-denominational and was attended by the children of parents, many of whom were not members of the Established Church and who wished to opt out of the Parish Church School. Subscription Schools were fairly common in nineteenth century Scotland. There were 450 in 1857. Some were provided by enlightened employers for the children of their employees, though not exclusively so; and others, as in Clackmannan, by the workers where at each of the three pits there was a Subscription School. The academic success of the school depended entirely on the teacher, and among teachers at that time there was a great range of knowledge and ability from those who were little more than literate to those who were quite scholarly. Mr Hogg was the teacher in 1852. By 1855 Alexander Dewar had become the teacher. In August of that year when the pupils were examined by the Presbytery “in the presence of the directors and many parents, the pupils acquitted themselves so well that it was clear that in Mr Dewar the directors had secured an intelligent, energetic and efficient teacher. Mr Dewar has only been one session in charge of the school but the way in which he performed his duties augurs well for the future prosperity of the institution.” – Clackmannan Advertiser, August 18th, 1855. On November 6th, 1858, the Alloa Advertiser intimated that “Mr Dow of Culross has entered upon his duties of teacher in The Subscription School in consequence of Mr Dewar, the former teacher, intending to follow the medical profession.” Was Mr Dow ill equipped to teach mathematics and less knowledgeable than young James Dewar – which led naturally to the young lad’s acquiring a distaste for the local school? One recalls how young Thomas Carlyle’s teacher, Sandy Beattie, in Ecclefechan, was unable to teach his pupil Latin and Thomas had to repair to his minister for instruction in that subject; and how Dr Adams of Cambridge said of Samuel Johnson – now a university student – “I was his nominal tutor; but he was above my mark”. All three: Dewar, Carlyle and Johnson were men of genius.
6. On 26th September 1857, The Alloa Advertiser carried a long advertisement giving details of the accommodation furnishings, etc. In addition to the usual business of an inn and hotel to which was added catering for special functions, The Unicorn was also the place where coaches running between Dunfermline and Falkirk changed horses. The new proprietor, Mr Clark, tried to develop the tourist trade, pointing out in his advertisement (q.v. in subsequent copies of the newspaper) the many places of interest which were easily accessible to visitors. Also 1858: May 15th – Sale of Furniture and horses, etc., at Unicorn Inn; July 31st – Sale of growing crop; August 14th – Houses in Kilbagie Street, Police Station; November 27th – Large stock of salt belonging to the late Mr T. Dewar.
7. Dr Kirk taught Hindustani because of the number of pupils who aspired to service – government or mercantile – in the Far East. – The Dollar Magazine.
8. Cf. ‘The Report’ in The Alloa Advertiser.
9. For this section cf. The Edinburgh Veterinary College Council Minutes 1866-1870. J. G. McKenrick. “The Story of My Life” and William Dick (1793-1866) in The Veterinary Review, Vol. IV.
10. The Records of The Royal Society of Edinburgh and J. G. McKendrick, “The Story of My Life”.
11. After graduating M.D. Alexander Dewar became a doctor in Melrose. On the departure of Dr I. G. Smith, the Medical Officer, to London, he was elected at a meeting of The Parochial Board on 10th February 1869, as Medical Officer at Melrose. On May 26th 1875 he resigned in order to become Physician at the Waverley Hydropathic Establishment which in these days was a very popular institution. It was extended in 1876 to meet “the greatly increasing number of visitors”. Socially he continued to cultivate his boyhood interest in curling and was, in 1873, President of the Melrose Curling Club (Border Advertiser). Like his brothers, Ebenezer and Hugh, who emigrated to Australia, to Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Alexander eventually made his home in that continent. He died at Crown Terrace, Sydney on 14th February 1906. Ebenezer, more than any of the others, retained his connection with his native town and during the last thirteen years of his life he remitted annually a sum of money to his friends in Kincardine to provide coals for the most necessitous members of the community. After his death, on 19th July 1898, that benefaction was continued by his widow. Robert Menzies carried on a successful drapery business in Kincardine and it was with him that James made his home after the sale of the Unicorn Hotel. On 17th January 1860 Robert married Eliza Scott the youngest daughter of Mr William Thomson, Charlotte Villa, Sciennes Hill, Edinburgh. Thomas, the oldest brother, went into the wine and spirit trade in Edinburgh.
12. Highland and Agricultural Society – Directors’ Meeting 1873f.
13. In earlier years there had been widespread dishonesty practiced by many suppliers of chemical manures. In an advertisement in 1860 the Kilbagie Chemical Manure Company referred to “the heartless swindle of manure companies selling trash and worse under the name of chemical manures”. The scientists of the Highland and Agricultural Society played a notable part in stamping out such dishonesty and in ensuring that farmers were supplied with a product which would give their soil what it required”.
14. He concluded his letter with this sentence, “I still trust, however, that the Society will ultimately see that this office of Chemist will never be properly filled except by one thoroughly trained in scientific research and this, the making him a real agricultural chemist will depend on the means placed at his disposal for applying his scientific knowledge to agriculture.” – Nature, Vol. XII.
15. Interestingly enough Dr J. G. McKendrick the friend and collaborator of his early years was to marry James Dewar’s sister-in-law in 1867.
16. John Fuller, a wealthy and somewhat eccentric M.P. endowed the Fullerian Chair of Chemistry at The Royal Institution in February 1833. The first occupant of the Chair was Michael Faraday at salary of £100 per annum.
17. The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 by Benjamin Thomson, Count Rumford, not only to provide facilities for scientific research but even more to encourage scientists, by giving popular lectures, to communicate to the reasonably intelligent non-specialist members of society what they, as scientists, were doing.
18. In his book, Fifty Years at The Royal Institution, Mr Ralph Cory records two incidents which are worth mentioning. Sir James, he says, had a very attractive and active personality even on to what we call old age. “Coming into the Library one day he found Dr Forbes reading. ‘Hullo! how are you?’ Dewar exclaimed, ‘Oh, as well as can be expected at my age,’ Forbes replied. ‘At your age,’ said Dewar, ‘how old are you?’ ‘Well, I’ll soon be seventy’ said Forbes. ‘Seventy!’ exclaimed Dewar giving him a slap on the back that nearly made him collapse. ‘You’re only a boy! Look at me – I’m eighty!’ – and out he went humming a tune. ‘Sir James Dewar was a close friend of Sir James Crichtone-Browne. One day, after being upstairs with Dewar, Crichtone-Browne said to me ‘You know, Corry, Sir James is getting old and I have to watch him closely’. A little later, Sir James Dewar came out of his office and said of Crichtone-Browne almost exactly what he had said of Dewar.”
19. Fleming’s book on Ripples and Waves is an interesting example of one lecturer’s course of addresses to a juvenile audience.
20. Nature, Vol. XVII.
21. One recalls the delighted amazement of the explorers on first seeing the Pacific Ocean enshrined in Keats’ sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”:
“Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When some new planet swims into his ken:
Or like stout Cortez – when, with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.”
22. ‘And let it be also remarked that without the means of making high vacua the incandescent lamp, which for long was such a boon to familes on winter nights, would have been impossible.” – Fifty Years of Electricity, Ambrose Fleming.
23. It is interesting to observe that when, in 1921, the past presidents of The Society were invited to the celebration of another anniversary dinner as guests of honour the oldest was Sir James Dewar who had been elected to membership almost fifty-one years previously.
24. Sir James Sivewright purchased the Estate of Tulliallan from the Marquis of Lansdowne in the spring of 1901.
25. King Edward had undergone what was then regarded as a serious operation – for appendicitis.
26. Cudbear – an agent used in dyeing. This purple or violet powder came from various species of lichen and it was valuable in dyeing ruby and maroon shades as well as a variety of browns. In his speech the Lord Provost mentioned that he was a director of George McIntosh and Company which was associated with The Hurlet and Campsie Alum Company. It had been established in 1784 by a Highlander who brought his workforce from the north and as none of them could speak English there was no danger of their betraying trade secrets. He ruled his small squad of workers with military discipline and every man had to be indoors by 8 p.m. or else was fined 1/- for being late. The members of the conference also visited the Nobel Explosives Factory with which Sir James had a twenty-year connection – Glasgow Herald, July 5/6/7, 1888.
27. Biography of Sir William Crookes – E. E. Fournier d’Albe, and The Minutes of the Metropolitan Water Board.
28. This remains a subject for scientific research. As late as October 1987 Dr Alex Mueller, Switzerland, was awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering a new ceramic material which can conduct electricity with no resistance. The new material is based upon oxygen and copper capable of conducting an electric current without resistance at –238 degrees Centigrade, i.e. 12 degrees Centigrade higher than anything previously known.
29. Nature, Vol. LCCIX.
30. Dr Alan McFadyan, who was Director of the Jenner Institute of Preventive Medicine, wrote, “The fact that life can continue to exist under such conditions (-252 degrees Centigrade) affords new ground for reflection as to whether after all life is dependent for its continuance on chemical reactions. We as biologists follow with the keenest interest Professor Dewar’s heroic attempts to reach the absolute zero of temperature… He has already placed in our hands an agent of investigation from the effectiveness of which we who are working on the subject at least hope to gain a little further insight into the great mystery of life itself.” – February 1901.
31. Among the seeds used were: pea, vegetable marrow, mustard, barley.
32. Letter to W. C. Robertson Austen.
33. Speaking at a later conference in 1908, The President of the Board of Trade, Mr Winston Churchill, reiterated that internationally agreed standards were of vital importance and said, “they must be definitely fixed in value, they must be permanent and be a universal system acceptable to all”.
34. A regular and generous donor to the cold temperature research in which Sir James was particularly interested was his nephew, Dr Thomas Dewar, Dunblane.
35. Sir Frederick Abel, ordinance chemist at Woolwich and the Government’s chief authority on all matters dealing with explosives.
36. Cunning means knowledge in this context.
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