Work of Professor Balfour Stewart (1828-1887)

Scope and Content

The material consists of an abridgement of the lectures of Professor James David Forbes on natural history.

Administrative / Biographical History

Balfour Stewart was born in Edinburgh on 1 November 1828. He was educated in Dundee, at St. Andrews University and then at Edinburgh University. At the latter, he attended the lectures of Professor James David Forbes (1809-1868). For a time he worked in the office of a Leith merchant and went to Australia on business in 1855. There he acquired a taste for physical science and contributed a couple of articles to the Philosophical Society in Victoria, Australia. When he returned to Britain in 1856 he became an assistant observer at the Kew Observatory, and later on that year an assistant to Forbes in Edinburgh where he conducted research on radiant heat under Forbes' influence. In 1859 he was appointed Director at Kew and devoted himself to the study of meteorology and terrestrial magnetism. During a great magnetic disturbance in 1859, Stewart put forward the view that aurorae, magnetic storms, and earth-currents were due to 'variations in a primary electric current in the sun'. Stewart also investigated the pressure of a given volume of air, a re-determination of the density of mercury, and sun spots. In July 1870 he was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at the then Owens College, Manchester (University of Manchester). Professor Balfour Stewart died at Ballymagarvey, near Drogheda on 19 December 1887.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney. (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 18, Shearman-Stovin. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various references to material related to Professor James David Forbes (check the Indexes for more details): letters to Macedonio Melloni, at Gen. 1733/58, 81; letters to Professor R. Jameson, at Gen. 1999/1/63 and Gen. 1996/14/1; letters to Sir Charles Lyell, at Gen. 108 etc; letters to T. J. Torrie at Gen. 1996/14/2-19; and letters to P. G. Tait, at Gen. 2169/58-62. There are also letters to Forbes from Rev. T. Chalmers, at Gen. 1429/10/22, a note from John Phillips at Gen. 1999/1/131, mention in letters of J. Murray and of Professor R. Jameson at Gen. 1996/7/32, 34, 35, and in Gen. 1730 etc, and a report of a Forbes lecture on university reform among the Lyell material at Gen. 108 etc. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes several locations of both Stewart and Forbes material.