James Croll ~ Physicist


James Croll – A Scottish physicist born at Coupar Angus (Little Whitefield) in 1821. Although only educated to elementary level, Croll taught himself science. Amongst his positions were: millwright, insurance agent and keeper of the museum of Anderson’s College, Glasgow. Croll was part of the Scottish Geological Survey of 1867-81 and was made FRS and LLD in 1876. James Croll died at Perth in 1890 and is buried in Cargill Cemetery. His writing includes: Climate and Time (1875); The Philosophical Basis of Evolution (1890); and Autobiography (1896).

From The Courier 16 April 2016

‘The missing gravestone of a humble Perthshire crofter whose scientific insights brought him to the attention of some of the greatest names of the Victorian age has been discovered. James Croll (1821 to 1890), who was born, grew up and was schooled in Perthshire, made major contributions to the modern understanding of geological climate change. As he worked to refine his theories he was also in regular correspondence with more well-known scientists of the age like Charles Darwin. It is thanks to Croll’s theories that today’s scientists have an understanding of how the planet’s ice ages come about and the effects that they have. Adding to local interest in Croll, his grave was recently found in Cargill Cemetery. It had been thought that Croll was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. However, his gravestone, shared with his grandparents, parents, siblings and wife, has been discovered. Royal Scottish Geographical Society writer-in-residence Jo Woolf has written about Croll’s life and work. She recounts how, unlike most deep thinkers of the Victorian age, he was not a well-to-do gentleman. His family was moved off their farm by an uncaring landlord and rehoused on waste ground, from which they had to scratch a living, and his village school education ended when he was 11. There is a garden dedicated to James Croll at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society headquarters (Fair Amid’s House, Perth).

“James Croll is an enigma in many ways: his brilliance was clouded by a catalogue of physical complaints which plagued him throughout his life, and his letters to fellow scientists often open with a regretful update on his latest bout of illness,”

“Croll never travelled the world to see the evidence of glaciation on a global scale, but he journeyed through time and space with the mind of a gifted mathematician.”

Jo Woolf