John Francis Campbell

(Iain Òg Ìle)

1821 - 1885

Polymath. Born in Edinburgh, a cousin of George, 8th Duke of Argyll, Campbell was brought up on his family's estate on Islay. Known as Iain Òg Ìle (or Young John of Islay), Campbell was educated at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied the sciences and natural history, but graduated in law in 1851. With his father deeply in debt and forced to sell his estates, the young Campbell moved to London to practice as a barrister, but much preferred science. He gained the position of Private Secretary to his cousin the Duke, and was appointed Secretary to a succession of Royal Commissions, on Heating and Ventilation, on Lighthouses and on Coal. He also served Queen Victoria as Groom of the Privy Chamber (1860-74) and Groom in Waiting (1874-80).

Campbell is perhaps best known as a collector of Gaelic folklore, systematically recording the Gaelic oral tradition principally in the West Highlands and Islands. Between 1849 and 1873 he travelled in Scandinavia and Northern Russia, recording the trips in detail in his journals. He also visited North America (1864) and the Far East and India (1874-5). He made contributions in the fields of geology, geomorphology and photography, as well as inventing a practical sunshine recorder (1853), later improved by Sir George Stokes and known as the Campbell-Stokes Sunshine Recorder.

His works include Frost and Fire (1865) explaining the action of volcanoes and glaciers, and Popular Tales of the West Highlands (in four volumes, 1860-62). His journals and manuscripts are lodged in the National Library of Scotland, while many beautiful watercolours and early photographs of the places and peoples he visited are held by the National Gallery of Scotland.

He never married and died in Cannes (France), where he lies buried. There is a memorial near Bridgend on Islay.

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