John Francis Campbell

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Monument near Bridgend, Islay

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. Campbell was known as an authority on Celtic folklore and of the Gaelic peoples in particular.

His most well-known published works are the bilingual Popular Tales of the West Highlands (4 vols., 1860–62) [1] and The Celtic Dragon Myth, published posthumously in 1911.[2]

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

Campbell had started preliminary work on the The Celtic Dragon Myth in 1862, and work intensified on it from 1870 till 1884. After Campbells' 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 was a descendent (great great great grandson) of Daniel Campbell of Shawfield who had bought Islay for £12,000 in 1726. The Shawfield Campbells held Islay for 120 years until John's father was forced to sell, leaving John Francis heir to a diminishing family fortune.[3] His father Walter Frederick Campbell of Islay (1798–1855), MP for Argyll, and his mother, Lady Eleanor Charteris (1796–1832), eldest daughter of Francis Wemyss Charteris Douglas, 8th Earl of Wemyss, 4th Earl of March. Campbell would have succeeded as the laird of Islay if not for the enormous debt of £800,000 incurred by his father on "improvements" to the island. Creditors forced the sale of the island and the family left in 1847. After his father's death John Francis became known as Campbell of Islay, even though the isle was no longer in the family's possession.

Illustration from a "Popular tales of the West Highlands"

Educated at Eton and Edinburgh University, called to the bar at the Inner Temple 1851, appointed private secretary to the Lord Privy Seal 1853, assistant secretary to the General Board of Health 1854, he became secretary to the Trinity House Royal Commission of Lighthouses in London 1859, groom of the Privy Chamber 1861.[4]

Grave of John Francis Campbell, far left

Campbell also invented the meteorological sunshine recorder or thermograph that bears his name as the Campbell–Stokes recorder.

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. In 1874 he embarked on a year-long world tour that took him to America, Japan, China, Java, Ceylon and India.

He is buried under a replica of Islay’s treasured Kildalton Cross in the Grand Jas Cemetery (le cimetière "du Grand Jas") at Cannes.[5]

Campbell never married.

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