James Clerk Maxwell: Papers

Scope and Content

1-4. Executorship papers of Mrs Maxwell

1. Memorandum, signed by Maxwell's executors Colin Mackenzie, G.G. Stokes and G.E. Paget, in the hand of Mackenzie, respecting the valuation of Maxwell's estate and the sorting of his papers, 10 Nov. 1879.

2. Rough list by Mackenzie of 'articles at Glenair claimed by Mrs Clerk Maxwell', 3 May 1880.

3. Memorandum, in the hand of Mackenzie, signed by Mrs Maxwell, as to the biography of Maxwell to be prepared by Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, 14 Feb. 1881.

4. Inventory of furniture, etc., of the late Mrs Maxwell at 11 Scroope Terrace, Cambridge, December 1886.

5-10. Correspondence and speech

5-9. Letters from James Clerk Maxwell to William Garnett, 8 Aug. 1879, 29 Aug. 1879, and 3 Oct. 1879; Colin Mackenzie to Garnett, 3 Jan. 1880; and J.J. Thomson to Garnett, 17 Feb. 1904.

10. Speech by William Garnett at the Maxwell Centennial meeting, 1931 (typescript, 9 pages).

Administrative / Biographical History

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) was born in Edinburgh. He attended the Edinburgh Academy from 1841, and entered the University of Edinburgh in 1847. In 1850 he joined Peterhouse, Cambridge, but transferred to Trinity College in December of that year. He graduated in 1854, and became a fellow in 1855. In 1856 he was appointed professor of natural philosophy in Marischal College, Aberdeen, and in 1858 married Katherine Mary Dewar, the daughter of the principal. In 1860 he became professor of natural philosophy in King's College, London. He resigned in 1865, and retired to Glenlair until 1871, when he took the new chair of experimental physics at Cambridge. He died on 5 November 1879, following an illness.

Maxwell carried out research into the effects of combinations of colours by using a system of rotating coloured discs, which became known as his colour-top. His research led him to draw conclusions about primary colours and colour-blindness. He also examined the question of the distribution of velocity in a gas, and was involved in research and experiments concerning electricity and magnetism, on which he wrote a number of important papers.

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Nos. 1-4 were received from Messrs Mackenzie and Black, Edinburgh, by Dr Thomas K. Simpson of St John's College, Mayland, U.S.A., who presented them to Library in 1968.

Nos. 5-10 were received from John Garnett by Dr Thomas K. Simpson, who presented them to the Library in 1971.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The biographical history was compiled with reference to Sidney Lee, ed., Dictionary of national biography, vol. XIII (London, 1909), pp. 118-121.

Other Finding Aids

Additional Manuscripts Catalogue.

Related Material

Cambridge University Library holds other correspondence and papers of Maxwell, MSS.Add.7655 and 8375.