Papers of Professor Peter Guthrie Tait (1831-1901)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers of Professor Peter Guthrie Tait include, at Gen. 2169: manuscript notes by Tait about the Tay Rail Bridge disaster; correspondence with Michael Faraday; notes and correspondence with Lord Kelvin; correspondence with Sir Archibald Geikie and, correspondence with other individuals. Contained within Dc.5.98-99 are lectures by Tait, 1881-82.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peter Guthrie Tait was born in Dalkeith on 28 April 1831. He was educated at Dalkeith Grammar School and Edinburgh Academy, and then studied at Edinburgh University and at Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1852 and became a Fellow the same year. He was appointed Professor of Mathematics at Queen's College, Belfast, 1854, and held the post there until 1860 when he became Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University. Tait became acquainted with Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) around this time and they both worked on the Treatise on natural philosophy (1867). His other publications include An elementary treatise on quaternions (1867), On the history of thermo-dynamics (1868), Lectures on some recent advances in physical science (1876), Heat (1884), and Dynamics (1895). Tait investigated the properties of ozone and verified Kelvin's discovery of the latent heat of electricity. He also researched into the flight of the golf ball. Tait resigned his Chair at Edinburgh in 1901. Professor Peter Guthrie Tait died on 4 July 1901.

Conditions Governing Access

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

Acquisition Information

Correspondence and photograph(s) were received from Miss Margaret Tait, St. Andrews, in May 1983, Accession no. E83.32.


The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Who was who. A companion [...] 1897-1916. London: A. and C. Black, 1920. (2) The dictionary of national bibliography. The concise dictionary. Part 2. 1901-1970. Oxford: OUP, 1982. (3) Rice, D. Talbot (comp.). The university portraits. Edinburgh: University Press, 1957.

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.

Related Material

The local Indexes show other references to Tait material (check the Indexes for more details): lectures, 1879-80, 1885-86 at Gen. 2065-2066 and Gen. 1821; lectures at Gen. 1404-1408; lectures on natural philosophy in five volumes; examinations taken by Tait; miscellaneous notes; two photographs of Tait as a young man at Phot.Ill.190; and, other miscellaneous correspondence. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives notes: treatise on the dynamics of a particle, at Cambridge University, Peterhouse Library; correspondence with James Clerk-Maxwell, at Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives; letters at Trinity College, Dublin; correspondence with Lord Kelvin at Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, and at Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department; correspondence with Sir George Stokes at Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives; and, letters at Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories.