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Maxwell, James Clerk

1831-1879

James Clerk Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, where he went to school at Edinburgh Academy and later studied natural and moral philosophy at Edinburgh University. In 1850 he moved to Cambridge University, where he graduated in 1854 in mathematics. From 1856 he held the chair of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen, but his appointment was not continued when the two university colleges merged in 1860. In that year he became a professor at King's College, London, and in 1861 he was elected to the Royal Society. In 1871 he returned to Cambridge as Cavendish Professor of Physics, and it was there that he died in 1879 at the age of 48.
His work on kinetic theory and electromagnetism made him arguably the greatest scientist of the 19th century.

James Clerk Maxwell left a moveable estate valued at 9269 pounds sterling, which equals 474,735 pounds sterling at today's values.
This sum included the rents of the estate in Kirkcudbrightshire and the contents of the family mansion of Glenlair, the rents from his farm of Prospect Hill near Newcastle upon Tyne and the contents of his house in Cambridge.
His first will was made on 17 August 1866 and was succeeded by two codicils on 1 July 1873 and 28 October 1879. In the last will he added two Cambridge colleagues and an Edinburgh lawyer as executors to assist his wife, Catherine Mary Dewar, formerly sole executrix. She was the chief legatee of her husband's moveable estate, with the rents from Prospect Hill farm going to any surviving next-of-kin of his late mother, Frances Cay. He also left annuities of 40 pounds sterling (worth about 2,050 pounds sterling today) to his coachman John Rae and 20 pounds sterling to another servant, Mary Gibson. In the absence of children of his own his heritable estate in Kirkcudbrightshire passed to Andrew Wedderburn esq., late of Her Majesty's Indian Civil Service. He asks his heir to allow John Rae to live out his days rent free in his house on the estate and 'to care kindly for my old pony Charlie and the dogs.'
Two items in the inventory are particularly worth noting. Firstly, the 'Balance of compensation allowance due to deceased by HM Exchequer as formerly Professor of Natural Philosophy in Marischal College, Aberdeen.' This refers to the merging of the two universities of Aberdeen and Marischal College, when Clerk Maxwell lost his post to his opposite number in the university of Aberdeen. Secondly, the 'Balance due to the deceased by the Delegates of the Clarendon Press for his share of the profit on account of ninety five copies of 'Electricity and Magnetism' sold'. This book sets out the theories for which Clerk Maxwell is remembered as one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century.


Further reading
Lewis Campbell, The life of James Clerk Maxwell (London, 1884)

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