John Francis Campbell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

John F. Campbell of Islay, famous folktale collector
Monument near Bridgend, Islay
Grave of John Francis Campbell, far left

John Francis Campbell (Scottish Gaelic: Iain Frangan Caimbeul; Islay, 29 December 1821 – Cannes, 17 February 1885), also known as Young John of Islay (Scottish Gaelic: Iain Òg Ìle) was a renowned Scottish author and scholar who specialised in Celtic studies, considered an authority on the subject.

Early life[edit]

John Francis Campbell was born on Islay on 29 December 1821 to Lady Eleanor Charteris (1796–1832), eldest daughter of Francis Wemyss Charteris Douglas, and Walter Frederick Campbell of Islay (1798–1855), MP for Argyll.[1][2] Campbell was a descendant (great-great-great-grandson) of Daniel Campbell of Shawfield who had bought Islay from the Campells of Cawdor, for £12,000 in 1726.[3][4] Campbell would have succeeded the Shawfield Campbells estate as the laird of Islay, if not for the enormous debt of £800,000 incurred by his father on "improvements" to the island.[5] Creditors forced the sale of the island and the family left in 1847. After his father's death he was known as Campbell of Islay, even though the isle was no longer in the family's possession.[6][5]

Education and early career[edit]

Campbell was educated at Eton and the University of Edinburgh.[2]

He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple 1851, and appointed private secretary to the Lord Privy Seal in 1853. He was assistant secretary to the General Board of Health in 1854, he became secretary to the Trinity House Royal Commission of Lighthouses in London 1859. In 1861 he was Groom of the Privy Chamber.[1][2]

Celtic studies[edit]

Campbell was known as an authority on Celtic folklore[7] and of the Gaelic peoples.

His most well-known published work is the bilingual Popular Tales of the West Highlands (4 vols., 1860–62)[2][8]

He dedicated Popular Tales of the West Highlands to the son of my Chief, the Marquess of Lorne.

In 1872 he self-published Leabhar na Feinne, a collection of heroic ballads culled from manuscripts held by libraries, but to his chagrin this endeavor failed to meet with success.[9]

He travelled extensively throughout the Scottish Highlands and Islands with his scribes, scrupulously recording West Highland tales, Fenian ballads, songs, charms and anecdotes.

He was proficient in Gaelic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Lapp, Italian, Spanish and German.[citation needed] He travelled extensively, especially in Europe and Scandinavia.[10] In 1874 he embarked on a year-long world tour that took him to America, Japan, China, Java, Ceylon and India.[2]

The Celtic Dragon Myth was published posthumously in 1911.[11] Campbell had started preliminary work on The Celtic Dragon Myth in 1862, and work intensified on it from 1870 till 1884. After Campbell's death in 1885 the noted Gaelic scholar George Henderson contributed some translation work, provided an introduction, and completed the editing of the manuscript for its eventual publication in 1911.


Campbell held a lifelong interest in the sciences, especially geology and meteorology. He invented the meteorological sunshine recorder or thermograph that bears his name as the Campbell–Stokes recorder.[10][2]

Visit to Japan[edit]

As Campbell was acquainted with Colin Alexander McVean, Scottish engineer hired by Japan's Public Works as chief surveyor, he travelled several famous places around Tokyo together with McVean in the end of 1874 including Nikko. In the event of observation of Venus Transit by the Meiji government on 9 December 1874, He superintended one theodolite on Gotenyama Hill site at Tokyo. He walked through central part of Japan for Kyoto, then left Japan from Kobe in February 1875.[12] He bought a lot of Japanese antiques and showed them at London to his friends including Frank Dillion.

Later life[edit]

He is buried under a replica of Islay's treasured Kildalton Cross in the Grand Jas Cemetery (le cimetière "du Grand Jas") at Cannes.[13]

Campbell never married.


  1. ^ a b Walford, Edward (18 June 1869). The County Families of the United Kingdom Or, Royal Manual of the Titled and Untitled Aristocracy of Great Britain and Ireland ... (5 ed.). Robert Hardwicke – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Anon. (1885), "Death of John F. Campbell of Islay", The Celtic Magazine, 10: 249–250
  3. ^ Bennett (2002), p. 11.
  4. ^ "Campbells of Cawdor and Campbells of Shawfield on Islay".
  5. ^ a b Bennett (2002), p. 12.
  6. ^ Thompson (1990), p. 89.
  7. ^ Cousin, John William (1910), "Campbell, John Francis", A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, London: J. M. Dent & Sons – via Wikisource
  8. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Campbell, John Francis". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  9. ^ Thompson (1990), p. 90.
  10. ^ a b Thompson (1990), pp. 89–90.
  11. ^ "The Celtic Dragon Myth Index".
  12. ^ 1874–1875 McVean Diary, McVean Archives at the National Library of Scotland.
  13. ^ Mendelsohn, Zach. "Family History at Le Grand Jas Cemetery". Cannes Tourist Information.

External links[edit]

Media related to John Francis Campbell at Wikimedia Commons