Maxwell around Aberdeen

Click on images for a larger version; a few captions have embedded links. Images by John S. Reid or from originals in his possession unless otherwise noted.

Marishcal College in the 1850s Marischal College motto Marischal College student of 1850s Snowball fight in Broad Street
Marischal College in the 1850s. The quadrangle as Maxwell knew it. The entire college had been demolished in the 1830s to be replaced by this new building in dressed granite, designed by Archibald Simpson. The present highly ornate College building facade and the extended tower almost 80 m tall, and numerous internal changes were a product of the 1890s by architect A. Marshall Mackenzie. Marsichal College was again rebuilt internally on three sides of the quadrangle in 2009 - 2011 upon these parts of the building being leased to Aberdeen City Council. Marischal College motto within the main entrance to the tower: "They have said; what say they; let them say". The motto had been inscribed on earlier incarnations of the Marischal College buildings. It was inherited from George Keith, Scotland's 5th Earl Marischal, who founded Marischal College in 1593 as a university he intended to be more progressive than neighbouring King's College. By and large, history vindicated his plan. Marischal College student in Maxwell's time posed for a portrait in the College's red toga. The toga was an everyday garment worn by enrolled Arts students, though undoubtedly most were not usually as well turned-out as in the portrait. Snowball fight in Broad Street in December 1856 drawn by one of Maxwell's 3rd year class. Marischal College was on the east side of Broad Street. Opposite were 3-storey tenement houses. Image courtesy Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Special Collections Ms 3911.


Maxwell's residence Maxwell residence stairwell Abeerdeen Blue Plaque Castlegate circa 1850s
Maxwell's residence at 129 Union Street. The entrance is between the two shops. Maxwell rented accommodation on one of the floors above. Union Street was laid out in the early 1800s as part of a major city renovation and expansion project. 129 is about 5 minutes walk from Marischal College. Maxwell residence stairwell, undoubtedly much as Maxwell would have experienced it daily, still in traditional Victorian brown paint. Blue plaque sponsored by the Institute of Physics unveiled on 15th March 2017 with a short tribute to James Clerk Maxwell. Castlegate, the centre of Aberdeen, circa 1850s. Union Street fades into the distance in the centre of the picture. Marischal College is out-of-shot about 100 m on the right. Image courtesy Aberdeen City Libraries.
Music Hall Principal Dewar's house Marischal College staff Maxwell's bust
Prince Albert addressing a gathering of some 2000 at the opening of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) meeting in Aberdeen in 1859. The venue was the Music Hall in Union Street, completed just prior to the meeting for the purpose of inviting the BAAS to Aberdeen. At this meeting, apart from contributing to the organisation, Maxwell announced his law giving the distribution of velocities of molecules in a gas - the 'Maxwell distribution'. Principal Dewar's house, 13 Victoria Street. This is the likely place where Maxwell met his future wife, Katherine Mary, 2nd daughter of Marischal College Principal Daniel Dewar. Maxwell was invited to Dewar's house on many occasions and indeed accompanied them on a family holiday to Dunoon in the autumn of 1857. Katherine and James were married on 2nd June 1858 in Dewar's local Church of Scotland parish church. Maxwell's mother-in-law was a cousin of George Hamilton-Gordon, Prime Minister from 1852-1855. The contemporary professors at Marischal College with responsibility for teaching the 4 years of all Arts students. Maxwell taught all Arts students Natural Philosophy for much of their 3rd year. In this year students also attended a Mathematics class of John Cruickshank who had taught them introductory mathematics in their second year. The main subject in the second year was Natural History, taught by James Nicol FRSE, FGS. Years 1 and 4 were devoted to the classics and humanities. Maxwell's bust at Marischal College by Pilkington Jackson. The bust was commissioned to mark the centenary of Maxwell's appointment as Professor at Marischal College. The wooden surround includes the crest of the University of Aberdeen and Maxwell's humorous signature dp/dt. Painted plaster copies of this bust exist at the University of Aberdeen, in the James Clerk Maxwell building of the University of Edinburgh and at the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation.


Design & content John S. Reid 
Last updated March 2017