Former Pupil Biographies
James Macdonald (1851 - 1941)
William James Macdonald was the son of James Macdonald, a
merchant from Huntly, and Catherine Macdonald. The family moved to St
Andrews when William was young and he was educated at Madras College. The
school had grown rapidly after its foundation and when Macdonald attended
the number of pupils there was many times the number of students at the
University in St Andrews. Macdonald was dux of Madras College in 1868.
After completing his school education, Macdonald entered the University of
St Andrews, giving the Latin version of his name "Gulielmus Jacobus
Macdonald" when he matriculated. In his first year 1868-9 he studied
English Literature, Greek 1, Latin 1, and Mathematics 1; in 1869-70 he
studied Logic, Greek 2, Latin 2, and Mathematics 2; in 1870-71 he studied
Moral Philosophy, Political Economy and Mathematics 3; in 1871-72 he
studied Natural Philosophy and Chemistry; finally in 1872-73 he studied
Natural Philosophy and Mathematics 3. He graduated M.A. on 30 April 1873.
Macdonald showed his outstanding abilities by gaining prizes in almost all
the classes he took. He was awarded the Miller prize, which was awarded
for the best work by a student in their year, in 1870, 1871 and 1872. He
was also awarded the Gray Prize in 1872 for his essay on Spectrum Analysis
and in the same year he was awarded the Arnott prize.
After graduating, Macdonald was appointed as an assistant in the
Mathematics Department in Madras College. He only taught there for a short
time before accepting an appointment as Mathematics Master at Merchiston
Castle School in Edinburgh. In 1880 he moved schools, but remained in
Edinburgh, when he went to Daniel Stewart's College. He spent the rest of
his career at this College.
He was a pioneer in the introduction of modern geometry into the
mathematical curriculum, and his book A Higher Geometry was widely used in
schools and colleges. Macdonald also acted as an external examiner in
mathematics for the University of St Andrews for two periods of three
In June 1914 the Senatus Academicus of the University of St Andrews
resolved to confer the degree of LL.D. to William James MacDonald, M.A.,
F.R.S.E. However, Macdonald respectfully declined the honour. He did
accept a fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, becoming a fellow
on 1 February 1886. He was proposed by William Swan, John Sturgeon Mackay,
George Chrystal, and Sir Thomas Muir.
Macdonald was a founder member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society,
joining at the first meeting of the Society in February 1883. He was
honoured by the Society when elected president for session 1887-88.
Examples of papers Macdonald read to the Society are: An account of
Pascal's "Essais pour les Coniques" (Friday 14 March 1884); A proof of a
geometrical theorem (Friday 11 February 1887); and A Suggestion for
Improvement of Mathematical Tables (Friday 8 March 1895). He also acted as
editor of the Proceedings of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society in
Macdonald died on Wednesday 31 December 1941.
Further information can be found
'Old Boys Chronicle' in the
Madras College Magazine for
Christmas 1912 printed an article entitled Reminiscences of a pupil of the
Sixties 1858-68 by W. J. MacDonald, M.A., F.R.S.E.