Ernest, Baron Rutherford of Nelson (1871–1937): Correspondence and Papers

Scope and Content

Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), Baron Rutherford of Nelson, was born in Nelson, New Zealand. In 1895 he came to England to be a research student under J.J. Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. His first professorial appointment was at McGill University in Montreal, 1898-1907, where he and Frederick Soddy advanced the transformation theory, the still-accepted interpretation of the phenomenon of radioactivity. While in Canada Rutherford also made contact with two other outstanding chemists, Bertram Boltwood of Yale University, with whom he collaborated by mail, and Otto Hahn, who came to spend a year under his guidance. Rutherford returned to England to work at the University of Manchester, 1907-1919, where he succeeded Arthur Schuster as director of the physical laboratory. At the university Hans Geiger, a staff member, and Ernest Marsden, a student, performed the alpha particle scattering experiments that led Rutherford to formulate the concept of the nuclear atom in 1911. Other notable research students at Manchester at this time included Kasmir Fajans, George de Hevesy, James Chadwick, and Niels Bohr. Shortly before leaving Manchester in 1919 for Cambridge, where he succeeded his own teacher, J.J. Thomson, Rutherford announced a major discovery, the artificial transformation of one element into another. This work was continued in the Cavendish Laboratory, primarily with Chadwick's aid. From 1925 to 1930 Rutherford was President of the Royal Society.


The first part of the collection, MS Add.7653/I:A1-Z.14 is alphabetically arranged original correspondence whilst a number of copies taken using Xerography are MS Add.7653/I:XA-XT2. At the commencement of this retrospective conversion of the typescript catalogue a note was found at the foot of the Xletter copies stating that there were some other unlisted copies of Rutherford material and it is one of the objects of this new cataloguing to identify any unlisted material and include details in the body of this catalogue.The second main section was identified as Rutherford's manuscript papers in sub-sections, 'Manuscripts of Published Papers' MS Add.7653/PA1-PA34, 'Royal Institution Lecture Notes MS Add.7653/PA35-PA106, 'Notes for Lectures of Learned Societies' MS Add.7653/PA107-PA128, 'Notes for Addresses and Speeches on Public Occasions' MS Add.7653/PA129-PA164, 'Notes and Calculations' MS Add.7653/PA165-PA253, 'Teaching Lecture Notes' MS.Add.7653/PA254-PA263, 'Lecture Notes on Postcards' MS Add.7653/PA264-PA275, 'Miscellaneous Lecture Notes' MS Add.7653/PA276-PA292, 'Biographical Material' MS Add.7653/PA293-PA317, 'Photographs and finally Miscellanea' MS Add.7653/PA318-PA406.The 'Laboratory Notebooks of Lord Rutherford' are MS Add.7653/NB1-NB54 and MS Add.7653/CLM1-CLM14.The notebook formerly at MS Add.7653/NB55 'Notes by J.C. McConnell (ca. 1890) on the properties of ice was transferred to MS Add.8323 at some time after the 1964 accession of these Rutherford Papers to the University Library by transfer from the Cavendish Laboratory.

Access Information

The MS Add.7653 Ernest Rutherford papers are owned by the University of Cambridge and are open for consultation under the normal regulations of the University Library's manuscripts collections; see only limitations to use are in respect of the low-level radioactivity of a small number of items in the collection. Further advice is available from the Manuscripts Reading Room staff.

Acquisition Information

The MS Add.7653 Ernest Rutherford papers were acquired by the University Library by transfer from the Cavendish Laboratory (Department of Physics) of the University of Cambridge in 1964.

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the collection can be found on ArchiveSearch.

Alternative Form Available

A set of gramophone records of a lecture given by Rutherford at the University of Göttingen on 1931 December 14 was record by Professor Robert Wichard Pohl, a physicist in the Department of Physics at Göttingen, 'for issue by the Cavendish Laboratory'. In 1982 November this set was presented for addition to the Rutherford collections of the Library by Mr C.W. Gilbert of the University of Manchester. It is today held as part of the collections of the Music Department of the University Library at classmark Record.A.1300. This set consists of eight of nine numbered discs which were produced by HMV, discs 1-2 and discs 4-9.A complete set of the nine discs including disc 3 produced by Telefunken is today also held as part of the collections of the Music Department of the University Library at classmark Record.A.1363.For a history of the reasons for the creation of the discs see of...See also

Conditions Governing Use

With the proviso that the original material in the MS Add.7653 Ernest Rutherford papers to be the subject of an imaging request will not be damaged by the process, our Digital Content Unit will accept orders for digital images by completion of an on-line form. Reproduction of these images is the subject of a separate on-line application. See

Appraisal Information

There will be no future appraisal, disposition or scheduling.

Custodial History

The papers now identified as these Ernest Rutherford Correspondence and Papers classmark MS.Add.7653 were deposited with the Cavendish Laboratory of the University of Cambridge by Mary, Lady Rutherford, at some time after Rutherford's death in 1937.


No accruals will be made to this collection; any future deposit of Ernest Rutherford's papers to the University's holdings will occupy a separate class in the University Library's collections.

Related Material

An earlier typescript catalogue to MS Add.7653 is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Location of Originals

There are some further Ernest Rutherford papers in the collections of the University Library Department of Manuscripts & University Archives at MS Add.


Lawrence Badash "Rutherford Correspondence Catalog", American Institute of Physics, 1974, (available in the Manuscripts Reading Room).

Arthur Stewart Eve "Rutherford: being the life and letters of the Rt. Hon. Lord Rutherford, O. M.", Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1939 (containing the texts of a number of Rutherford's letters to his fiancée, the location of the originals of which is not known).

John Campbell "Rutherford: scientist supreme", Christchurch, New Zealand, AAS Publications,1999, ISBN: 047305700X.

John Campbell "Rutherford's Ancestors", Christchurch, New Zealand, AAS Publications,1996, ISBN: 0473038587.