John Francis Campbell

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

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. 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 owned Islay for 120 years until his father was forced to sell the island, leaving him heir to a diminishing family fortune.[1] 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 he was known as Campbell of Islay, even though the isle was no longer in the family's possession.

Education and early career[edit]

Campbell was educated at Eton and the University of Edinburgh.

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.[2]

Celtic studies[edit]

His most well-known published works are the bilingual Popular Tales of the West Highlands (4 vols., 1860–62) [3] and The Celtic Dragon Myth, published posthumously in 1911.[4]

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 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.

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.


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

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.[5]

Campbell never married.


  1. ^ "Campbells of Cawdor and Campbells of Shawfield on Islay".
  2. ^ 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 ..." R. Hardwicke – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "Popular Tales of the West Highlands, by J.F. Campbell".
  4. ^ "The Celtic Dragon Myth Index".
  5. ^ Mendelsohn, Zach. "Family History at Le Grand Jas Cemetery". Cannes Tourist Information.


External links[edit]

Media related to John Francis Campbell at Wikimedia Commons