The Madras College Archive


Former Pupil Biographies

Professor James Stuart (1843 - 1913)

James Stuart of Balgonie came to St Andrews to stay with his grandmother at 23 South Street and to attend Madras College. He had led a very sheltered sort of existence and was perhaps just a little bit snobbish because he says 'When I went to St Andrews and to school, I found myself amongst a host of boys and girls, for both went to the same school, who had been bred up in no such surroundings or, at any rate, brought with them no aroma of them.' It is not quite clear just what he means by aroma. Stuart encountered Dr. Adamson, the  pioneer of photography, and was delighted to be included in one of his pictures, standing in front of the Castle. Stuart graduated from St Andrews with a first in Classics and Mathematics went on to Cambridge where he was again successful academically.

The first true professor of Engineering at Cambridge, appointed in 1875 was a great reformer. James Stuart, a graduate in mathematics at Trinity, played a leading role in establishing inter-collegiate lectures at Cambridge and was also a great proponent of higher education for women and for the working classes. To this end he established a system of extra-mural lectures which led directly to the establishment of the present, hugely popular, university extension courses. The success of these two projects, as well as his reputation as a scientist and engineer, made him an obvious candidate for a university chair. The demand to teach engineering at Cambridge as a subject in its own right had become pressing, especially as the result of the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1850 which had been asked to review the teaching of the university. As a result, it was decided to set up a new Professorship of Mechanism and Applied Mechanics (the word 'Engineering' had been rejected in the title).

One of the students who attended Stuart's early lectures was Sir Charles Parsons, who invented the steam turbine. Later he designed the turbines that powered the s.s. Turbinia, a naval sensation in its day, and the forerunner of modern motive power for ships.

When James Stuart was appointed to the Chair of Mechanism and Applied Mechanics, he was allocated a half share in a lecture room with two small rooms behind, in the New Museums building on Free School Lane. Recognising the importance of a practical training for engineers, he then persuaded the University to give him a wooden hut to serve as a workshop for his twenty-five students. This was done on the condition that he furnish and equip it at his own expense. Charles Darwin and Gladstone were among the early visitors to admire the new facility in 1878. After running the workshop single-handedly for two years, the University eventually agreed to provide him with assistance. As the student numbers rose, Stuart begged for more space, and in 1882 the University allotted him two cottages in Free School Lane, with a foundry in the garden of one of them. This was a cause of great concern to the Professor of Botany over whose plants the foundry tended to smoke!

In the summer of 1884, approval was given to add a third storey to the building of what was then the Department of Mineralogy, to provide more space for the engineers. Stuart and his Demonstrator, Lyon, evolved a scheme for jacking up the existing roof (110ft long, weighing 50 tons) and inserting new walls beneath it. With the help of the students, the whole thing was accomplished in seventeen days during the Long Vacation, and such was the accuracy of the calculations that 'not a single slate or nail in the roof was broken or strained'. Not only did Professor Stuart have to fight for new buildings and facilities; he had also to establish Engineering as a Tripos exam. This he failed to do, having become rather unpopular through his involvement with politics (he was elected Member of Parliament for Hackney in 1884). General disagreements with the University, particularly with regard to the value of the Workshop in the teaching of engineering eventually led to Stuart's resignation in 1890. He went on to become the Rector of St Andrew's University (1892-1901), where his views on the education of women were more sympathetically received. Soon after Stuart resigned from the Chair at Cambridge, he married Laura Colman, (a graduate of Newnham College) and on the death of her father, took over as Director of the well-known mustard firm in Norwich.

The Girl's High School, Dundee, was designed by Mr. Alex McCulloch and was built in two sections at different periods. The first part which fronts Euclid Crescent was begun in 1884, and opened by Professor James Stuart, M.P., in September, 1886. The second section was finished in 1890.

Further information can be found here

The 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for Summer 1912 printed an article entitled 'Reminiscences,' by James Stuart, with a photogravure and nineteen half tone plates

His death is recorded here in the 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for New Year 1914.

In 'The Madras College' Dr Thompson wrote:

"The most eminent of those who taught was certainly that James Stuart whose "Reminiscences" have been mentioned. Not only was he the creator of the engineering science school in Cambridge university; he was a pioneer of higher education for women; he played a large part in the university extension movement in England and, as a member of parliament for many years, was a very influential man in education throughout England."