Ramsay Papers

Scope and Content

The collection contains correspondence and papers of Sir William Ramsay and of Morris W Travers. The bound volumes contain letters to Ramsay, chronologically arranged by Travers, and copies of related printed papers. The remaining Ramsay papers are grouped according to their contents: laboratory notebooks, lecture notes, miscellaneous papers and published works. Professor Travers grouped Ramsay's published scientific papers into ten 'volumes'. Travers's own papers are divided into two main sections: firstly papers relating to his work on Ramsay, including various papers having some bearing on Ramsay's work and material concerning his arrangement of the Ramsay papers; and secondly papers relating to Travers' own career, including papers on awards and distrinctions, scrapbooks, and miscellaneous material.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Ramsay studied at Glasgow University from 1866 to 1869. In 1870 he went to Heidelberg intending to study under R W von Bunsen, but early in 1871 moved to Rudolf Fittig's laboratory in Tübingen, where he was awarded a PhD for research on toluic and nitro-toluic acids. In 1872 Ramsay returned to Glasgow as an assistant in Young's laboratory of technical chemistry. In 1880 he became Professor of Chemistry at University College Bristol and in the following year he was made Principal of the University. He married Margaret Buchanan in 1881. In 1887 Ramsay succeeded Alexander William Williamson in the Chair of General Chemistry, University College London, which he held until his retirement in 1912. Ramsay discovered argon in 1894, helium in 1895 and krypton, neon and xenon (with Morris W Travers) in 1898.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904 'in recognition of his services in the discovery of the inert gaseous elements in air' (along with his collaborator, John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics that same year for their discovery of argon). He worked with Dr Frederick Soddy on radium in 1903 and with Robert Whytlaw-Gray on radon in 1909-1912. He was also an advisor to the Indian Institute of Science.

Morris W Travers was a demonstrator at University College London from 1894 (Assistant Professor from 1898). He assisted Ramsay in experiments on argon, and collaborated with him in work on krypton, neon and xenon. In 1904 Travers was appointed Professor of Chemistry at University College Bristol. From 1907 to 1914 he was Director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. In 1927 he became Honorary Professor, Fellow and Nash lecturer in chemistry at Bristol. He became President of the Faraday Society in 1936, and in 1937 he retired from Bristol University. Morris W Travers was Ramsay's biographer, whose 'Life of Sir William Ramsay' was published in London in 1956.


The collection has been catalogued from a handlist, which arranges the papers as a simple list of items and files.

Access Information


This collection is currently closed. Please contact Special Collections for further information.

Acquisition Information

Presented to University College London by Lady Tidy and Professor M W Travers 1957 and by Mrs Travers in 1964. Additional papers were purchased from Sotheby's in 1978.

Other Finding Aids

A detailed catalogue is available on the online catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

Normal copyright restrictions apply.

Custodial History

On the death of Lady Ramsay in 1937, Ramsay's daughter, Lady Tidy, asked Professor M W Travers to sort out the large collection of papers relating to her father which her mother had left. Travers added to these papers others which he had collected himself, and had them all bound up into 24 volumes, adding introductions and explanatory notes.

Related Material

University College London Special Collections also holds photocopies of 22 letters from Sir William Ramsay to Emil Fischer, 1899-1914 (Ref: MS ADD 229); 21 items of correspondence with Sir Oliver Lodge, 1885-1912 (Ref: MS ADD 89); letters concerning University College London business, 1887-1903, 1916 (Ref: COLLEGE CORRESPONDENCE); two letters to Lt F W Smith, 1915 (Ref: MS ADD 135); a letter to Silvanus Phillips Thompson, 1901, and one to Miss Williams, 1906 (Ref: MS MISC 4R); a letter to [Sir Henry?] Thompson asking for the loan of a quartz prism, 1899 (Ref: MS MISC 3R); a typescript song by Sir William [1928] (Ref: MS MISC 4C); a Swedish postage stamp, 1964, commemorating Ramsay and Pavlov as Nobel prizewinners in 1904 (Ref: COLLEGE EPHEMERA).

For Morris Travers, University College London Special Collections also holds a five-volume typescript autobiography, c1960 (Ref: MS ADD 228); a letter from Lady Margaret Ramsay to Travers, 1928 (Ref: MS MISC 4R); correspondence of Travers with Herbert Dingle, 1951 (Ref: MS ADD 236); a testimonial for Travers by Sir Victor Horsley, 1903, on his application for the Professorship of Chemistry at University College Bristol (Ref: MS MISC 4H); a memorandum on Travers submitted to the Chemical Engineering selection committee, 1923 (Ref: COLLEGE CORRESPONDENCE APPLICATIONS).

Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, holds eleven letters of Sir William Ramsay to Lord Kelvin, 1885-1893 (Ref: Add 7342, 7656); letters to Sir George Stokes, 1880-1899 (Ref: Add 7342, 7656); 14 items of correspondence with Lord Rutherford, 1905-1909.

Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories holds 100 items of correspondence with Lord Rayleigh, 1887-1907.

The Science Museum Library, London, holds correspondence with Oswald John Silberrad, 1895-1916 (Ref: MSS A.151; A.173; B.118-628; B.1099-2428 passim).

Leeds University, Brotherton Library, holds 16 letters to Arthur Smithells, 1890-1914.

Strathclyde University Archives hold reports on the waters of Bath, 1912 (Ref: OM223).

Cornell University Libraries, Ithaca, New York, USA, hold 15 items of correspondence relating to the Journal of Physical Chemistry, 1906.