J. Norman Collie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
J. Norman Collie
J. Norman Collie.jpg
Born (1859-09-10)September 10, 1859
Alderley Edge, Cheshire, England
Died November 1, 1942(1942-11-01) (aged 83)
Storr Loch, Invernessshire, Scotland
Notable awards Fellow of the Royal Society[1]

John Norman Collie FRS[1] (10 September 1859 – 1 November 1942), commonly referred to as J. Norman Collie, was a British scientist, mountaineer, and explorer.[2][3][4]

Life and work[edit]

He was born in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, the second of four sons. In 1870 the family moved to Clifton, near Bristol, and John was educated initially at Windlesham in Surrey and then in 1873 at Charterhouse School. The family money had been made in the cotton trade, but in 1875 the American Civil War resulted in their financial ruin when their American stock was burnt. Collie had to leave Charterhouse and transfer to Clifton College, Bristol where he realised he was completely unsuited for the classics. He attended University College in Bristol and developed an interest in chemistry.

He earned a PhD in chemistry under Johannes Wislicenus at Würzburg in 1884. Returning to England, he taught three years at Cheltenham Ladies College where, according to his niece, "he was far from being a ladies' man and probably found that schoolgirls in bulk were rather more than he could stomach".[5] He left to join University College London (UCL) as an assistant to William Ramsay. His early work was the study of phosphonium and phosphine derivatives and allied ammonium compounds. Later he made important contributions to the knowledge of dehydracetic acid, describing a number of very remarkable 'condensations,' whereby it is converted into pyridine, orcinol and naphthalene derivatives.

Collie served as Professor of Organic Chemistry at UCL from 1896 to 1913, and headed its chemistry department from 1913 to 1928.[6] He performed important research that led to the taking of the first x-ray for diagnosing medical conditions. According to Bentley, Collie "worked with Ramsay on the inert gases, constructed the first neon lamp, proposed a dynamic structure for benzene, and discovered the first oxonium salt."[1]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June, 1896.[1][7]


Collie's professional career was spent as a scientist but his avocation was mountaineering.[8] Among mountaineers, he is perhaps best remembered for his pioneering climbs on the Cuillin in the Isle of Skye, but he also climbed in the English Lake District and in the Alps with William Cecil Slingsby and Albert F. Mummery.

In 1895, Collie, Mummery, and fellow climber Geoffrey Hastings went to the Himalaya Range for the world's first attempt at a Himalayan 8000-metre peak, Nanga Parbat. They were years ahead of their time, and the mountain claimed the first of its many victims: Mummery and two Gurkhas, Ragobir and Goman Singh were killed by an avalanche and never seen again. The story of this disastrous expedition is told in Collie's book, From the Himalaya to Skye.[9]

After gaining climbing experience on the Alps, the Caucasus, and the Himalaya, in 1897 Collie joined the Appalachian Club upon the invitation of Charles Fay, and spent the summer climbing in the Canadian Rockies. From 1898 to 1911, Collie visited the Canadian Rockies five more times, accomplishing twenty-one first ascents and naming more than thirty peaks. He was particularly interested in locating and climbing the mythical giants of Hooker and Brown which had bordered the forgotten fur trade route through the Rockies and were reputed to be over 16,000 feet high. In 1903, Collie and Hugh Stutfield published an authoritative book on the region, Climbs and Explorations in the Canadian Rockies.

Collie's grave on the Isle of Skye

Collie died in 1942 from pneumonia after falling into Storr Loch on a day of fishing. He is interred in an old graveyard at Struan by Bracadale.

In a book published in 2013 it is suggested that Collie may have inspired Conan Doyle with some characteristics for Holmes. Apart from his mountaineering skills Collie was a confirmed bachelor sharing his house with a solicitor. With an analytical mind honed by chemical research he had wide interests ranging from Chinese porcelain to fishing and from claret to horse racing. In addition he was incessant pipe smoker only lighting a cigarette when refilling his pipe. [10]

Honours and affiliations[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Baly, E. C. C. (1943). "John Norman Collie. 1859-1942". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 4 (12): 329–326. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1943.0007.  edit
  2. ^ Bentley, R. (1999). "John Norman Collie: Chemist and Mountaineer". Journal of Chemical Education 76: 41–34. doi:10.1021/ed076p41.  edit
  3. ^ Mill, Christine (1987). Norman Collie, a life in two worlds: mountain explorer and scientist, 1859-1942. [Aberdeen]: Aberdeen University Press. ISBN 0-08-032456-8. 
  4. ^ Taylor, William J. (1973). The snows of yesteryear: J. Norman Collie, mountaineer. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada. ISBN 0-03-929953-8. 
  5. ^ Thompson, Simon (2010). Unjustifiable risk? : The Story of British climbing. Milnthorpe: Cicerone. p. 71. ISBN 9781852846275.  quoting Mill, Christine (1987). Norman Collie : a life in two worlds : mountain explorer and scientist 1859-1942. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0080324562. 
  6. ^ See the UCL Department of Chemistry page on Collie
  7. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 23 December 2010. 
  8. ^ Collie, Norman (2007). Climbing On The Himalaya And Other Mountain Ranges. Kessinger Publishing, LLC. ISBN 0-548-22421-8. 
  9. ^ Collie, Norman (2003). From the Himalaya to Skye. Rockbuy Limited. ISBN 1-904466-08-7. 
  10. ^ Davies & Garrett, A.G. & P.J. (2013). UCL Chemistry Department 1828-1974. Science Reviews 2000 Ltd. ISBN 978-1-900814-46-1. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]