Papers and correspondence of SirHarold Jeffreys, 1891-1989

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Although the papers date predominantly from the decades after Jeffreys's formalretirement there is significant earlier material, especially papers ofbiographical interest and photographs.

Biographical material is substantial. It includes obituaries and tributes,biographical notes by Jeffreys himself and transcriptions of interviewsconducted by colleagues. There is career, honours and awards material spanninghis whole life from birth certificate to his death including letters ofcondolence received by Lady Jeffreys. There is significant early material, forexample, correspondence with St John's College tutors, 1909-1910, Jeffreys'snotes of lectures by H.F. Baker, Ebenezer Cunningham and A.S. Eddington,1911-1914, 'Letters from Johnians 1917', including M.H.A. Newman, records ofJeffreys's period with the Meteorological Office, 1917-1922, including copy ofa reference from its director Sir Napier Shaw, and Jeffreys's memorandum on theconstitution of the Senate at Cambridge, 1921, addressed to the Royal Commissionon the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. His appointment as PlumianProfessor in 1946 and later honours, including 70th and 90th birthdaycelebrations, are documented. There is a little material relating toJeffreys's father, 1886-1947, and a sequence of family and personalcorrespondence, 1917-1992, which reflects his continuing interest andconnections with the North East of England where he was born. Miscellaneousbiographical items include a sketch book, possibly dating from Jeffreys'sschool days, a few letters relating to Jeffreys's early interests inphotography and botany, including a letter from William Bateson, 1915, acollection of old railway tickets, Jeffreys's passports and a significantaccumulation of travel literature.

Research papers are presented alphabetically by topic or container title from'Artificial Moon Craters' to 'Variation of Latitude' (with R.O. Vicente) andcover the period 1902-1996. The documentation may comprise notebooks,manuscript working, data, drafts, correspondence and off-prints. The earliestmaterial is a group of nine small notebooks used by Jeffreys for naturalhistory notes, 1902-1915. There are also significant components relating toprobability and statistics, and seismology, especially the later work incollaboration with R.S. Sidhu, M. Gogna and M. Shimshoni. Additionally, at theend of the alphabetical sequence, there is a small group of miscellaneouspapers, including manuscripts by C.G. Darwin, and drafts relating to thesessupervised by Jeffreys: V.S. Huzubazar in respect of statistics (1949) and E.P.Arnold in respect of the revision of seismological tables (1965).

Lectures material, which is not extensive, covers the period 1945-1982 includinga number of undated drafts. It is chiefly the contents of two folders of'Occasional lectures' and 'Various addresses'. Topics include probabilitytheory, seismology, continental drift, Cambridge mathematics and thepsychological significance of death duties. By contrast publications materialforms the largest component in the collection. Jeffreys's major books arerepresented including The Earth (1924), especially the sixth edition (1976),Methods of Mathematical Physics (1946) (with Bertha Swirles Jeffreys) and theCollected Works (1971-1977) edited by Jeffreys and Lady Jeffreys. There may bedrafts, manuscript working, agreements and correspondence with publishers,correspondence with colleagues, proofs, reviews and royalty statements. LadyJeffreys may appear as a correspondent, especially in respect of the CollectedWorks. There is a separate sequence of material relating to shorterpublications which includes, in addition to a number of Jeffreys's scientificpapers, his Royal Society memoir of Robert Stoneley and his obituaries ofEbenezer Cunningham for St John's College Cambridge and Nature. Also presentedin this section is a chronological sequence (not complete) of Jeffreys'soff-prints, 1910-1988.

Societies and organisations papers are not extensive. Only five British andinternational bodies are represented. Of considerable biographical interestare the correspondence and papers relating to the founding in 1918 of theNational Union of Scientific Workers (Association of Scientific Workers from1927). Jeffreys was a member of the original executive committee. Also ofsome significance are papers relating to the British National Committee forGeodesy and Geophysics, especially its Seismology SubCommittee, 1956-1973. Likewise, there is little documentation of visits made and conferences attended(except photographically). Represented, however scantily, are visits to the USAin 1950-1951, 1964, 1967 and 1972 and Singapore and Japan in 1971. Bestdocumented, though still very sparsely, is the world trip which Jeffreys andLady Jeffreys made in 1959 including New Zealand, Australia, Singapore andIndia.

Correspondence is presented in a number of sequences including scientificcorrespondence arranged alphabetically by correspondent and covering the period1922-1995 and a chronological sequence of shorter correspondence, 1914-1995. There is significant correspondence and related material with colleagues andcollaborators such as R.A. Lyttleton and M. Shimshoni and individual items orbrief exchanges with major figures of an earlier generation such as A.S.Eddington and Ernest Rutherford. Correspondence after Jeffreys's death in 1989is with Lady Jeffreys who may also appear as a correspondent before that date. Lady Jeffreys actively sought to assemble Jeffreys's correspondence from avariety of sources including colleagues and their families. For example,Desmond King-Hele passed to Lady Jeffreys his correspondence with Jeffreys,1961-1989, and Dorothy Stoneley gave to her Jeffreys's letters to RobertStoneley, including undated letters, probably from the 1920s and 1930s. Almostall the K.E. Bullen and R.A. Fisher correspondence with Jeffreys presented hereis photocopied material made available by academic archives in Australia, theUniversities of Sydney and Adelaide, respectively.

Non-textual material is of major importance both for documenting in photographsJeffreys's life and career and his interest in photography which developed atan early age. There are photographs of 'Harold's Youth', portrait photographs,photographs at various award ceremonies and with Lady Jeffreys, colleagues andfriends and photographs taken on visits and at conferences. Jeffreys's role asa photographer is represented, for example, by a number of photograph albumsmade up of photographs taken by him in the first decades of the twentiethcentury. A wide variety of persons and places are depicted. Fellow scientistsinclude F.C. Bartlett, Arthur Holmes, F.G. Hopkins, R. Stoneley, G.I. Taylor andD.M. Wrinch and places include many in the North East of England and in andaround Cambridge including St John's College. An album is devoted to a visitto Canada in 1924 in connection with a British Association for the Advancementof Science meeting. Jeffreys's later photography is represented by anextensive collection of transparencies, many depicting the round the world tourmade by Sir Harold and Lady Jeffreys in 1959. Additionally there are recordingsof Jeffreys in conversation with colleagues, a sound recording with G.A. Barnardand a video recording with D.V. Lindley.

Lady Jeffreys retained her husband's papers at the family home, 160 HuntingtonRoad, Cambridge until her death on 18 December 1999. In the period followingSir Harold's death (and probably for a period before) she played anindispensable role in assembling and preserving papers and identifyingmaterials such as research notes, correspondence and photographs. This workhas resulted in an archive of Sir Harold of significantly enhanced value forthe scholarly community and significantly easier to process.

Lady Jeffreys's own papers (currently in process) contain a sizeable componentof material relating to Sir Harold reflecting the many tributes, memorials,conferences in his honour and the like which followed in the ten years afterhis death and with which Lady Jeffreys was very much involved.

It is evident from the archival record that Lady Jeffreys took very seriously inrelation to her husband's papers the establishment of a Contemporary ScientificArchives Centre in Oxford in 1973 (the predecessor organisation of the NCUACS)and she was in regular contact with the NCUACS in the decade following SirHarold's death.

Administrative / Biographical History

Harold Jeffreys was born on 22 April 1891 at Fatfield, a colliery village inCounty Durham where his father was headmaster of the village school. Hereceived his school education at Fatfield and Rutherford College, Newcastle,proceeding in 1907 to Armstrong College, Newcastle, the forerunner of NewcastleUniversity but then part of Durham University. Here he took courses inmathematics, physics, chemistry and geology, graduating in June 1910 with firstclass marks and a distinction in mathematics. Encouraged by his mathematicsteacher C.M. Jessop he applied for a Cambridge award and in December 1909 hewas elected to an entrance scholarship at St John's College as one of fourmathematics scholars. Although there were financial difficulties and theproblem of adjusting to a standard of mathematics much harder than that ofArmstrong College, his performance in the third year of the Mathematical Tripos(1913) was a distinguished one. He was awarded one of the two Hughes Prizes forundergraduates who had done best in the college in any subject, his collegescholarship was extended for a fourth year, and he began research.

Jeffreys was elected a fellow of St John's College in November 1914 and remainedone for the rest of his life. He held the Isaac Newton Studentship, 1914-1917,worked part-time at the Cavendish Laboratory on war-time problems 1915-1917,moving to the Meteorological Office in London in 1917 where he first employedhis mathematical skills to 'certain difficult questions in gunnery which cameto us from the services' and then to 'problems of the atmosphere'. In 1922 hereturned to Cambridge as College lecturer in mathematics and was appointed to auniversity lectureship in 1926. He was Reader in Geophysics in 1931 and PlumianProfessor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy in 1946, retiring in1958.

Jeffreys was one of the small international group of scientists who foundedmodern geophysics. He applied classical mechanics to investigate the interiorof the earth, showing that the core of the Earth was liquid and that there is asubstantial difference between the upper and lower mantle. His analyses oftravel times of seismic waves with K.E. Bullen became standards of reference. Generations of students learned their geophysics from his book The Earth (firstpublished 1924, sixth edition 1976). Jeffreys was also distinguished as astatistician, developing a theory of probability on Bayesian principles and ina form suitable for use in the physical sciences. His key books in statisticswere Scientific Inference (1931) and Theory of Probability (1939). He alsomade significant contributions early in his career in fluid dynamics anddynamical meteorology and, although primarily an applied mathematician, in puremathematics. His use and development of mathematical techniques led him towrite, jointly with his wife, Bertha Swirles Jeffreys, the treatise Methods ofMathematical Physics (1946), which went through several editions. His firstpublished paper (1910) was on photography and his early interest in naturalhistory is reflected in papers on plant ecology.

Amongst his professional affiliations were the Royal Astronomical Society wherehe was active in supporting and developing geophysics over many years(President, 1955-1957), the British Association for the Advancement of Science,the National Committee for Geodesy and Geophysics (chairman of the SeismologySubCommittee), the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (President ofthe International Association of Seismology 1957-1960) and the InternationalAstronomical Union.

His scientific distinction was recognised by many honours. He was elected FRSin 1925 (Royal Medal 1948, Copley Medal 1960; Bakerian Lecture, 1952); at thetime of his death he was Senior Fellow. Other scientific awards included theGold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society 1937, the Vetlesen Prize ofColumbia University 1962 and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society1964. He was made a knight bachelor in 1953.

He married Bertha Swirles in 1940. She was a student at Girton College,Cambridge where she took a Ph.D in atomic physics under the supervision of R.H.Fowler and D.R. Hartree. After periods at Manchester, Bristol and ImperialCollege London she returned to Girton in 1938 as Fellow and Lecturer inMathematics. She was Director of Studies in Mathematics, 1949-1969 andVice-Mistress, 1966-1969. Her great support for Jeffreys, especially in hislast decades, is very evident in his archives. Her role in preserving andidentifying materials is acknowledged below.

Jeffreys died on 18 March 1989.

For a fuller account of Jeffreys's life and work see the memoir by Sir Alan Cookfor the Royal Society, Biographical memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 36(1990), 303-333.


By section as follows:Biographical, Research, Lectures, Publications, Societies and organisations,Correspondence, Non-textual material. Index ofcorrespondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Access: All readers wishingto consult material from the Old Library should arrange an appointment inadvance by contacting the Special Collections Librarian, indicating thematerial they wish to consult. All readers should supply some form of ID,showing both name and permanent address, on arrival.

Acquisition Information

Received for cataloguing from StJohn's College, Cambridge in May 2002


This description compiled by Dr Tim Powell, NCUACS, March 2005

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papersand correspondence of Sir Harold Jeffreys: NCUACS catalogue no. 133/6/04, 140pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath