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From Annandale to Africa

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By Fiona Reid
From Annandale to Africa

BORN in the sleepy village of Waterbeck in November 1866, John Carruthers Beattie ended up on the other side of the world after a fascinating career and life.

He was the son of Thomas Beattie, a grocer hailing from Half Morton, and Elspeth Beattie, born in St Mungo in about 1834.

It’s unclear where the young John went to primary school but he attended St John’s Boarding School in Workington for seven years, then spent a year at Moray House in Edinburgh. He passed English, history, geography, Latin, arithmetic, algebra, Euclid, mechanics, logic and natural philosophy.

Then it was on to Edinburgh University where he studied chemistry, botany, natural philosophy and maths. Further studies in physics took place in Munich, Vienna, Berlin and Glasgow, where the renowned Lord Kelvin was his advisor.

Edinburgh made him a Doctor of Science in 1896 for thesis The Behaviour of Bismuth Plates in a Steady Magnetic Field.

A year later he was travelling again, after he was appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics and Experimental Physics at what was to become the University of Cape Town.

John married Elizabeth Paton and they settled in South Africa and had three children.

The rest of his career was spent at the University of Cape Town, being made its first vice-chancellor and principal in 1917. He held the role until his retirement in 1937.

Meanwhile, he given a knighthood in 1920 for his contributions to education.

He’s also recognised for his magnetic survey of South Africa, carried out with Prof John Todd Morrison, was a member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and was a member of the South African Philosophical Society.

In 1910 he was awarded by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science the South Africa Medal and Grant; later becoming their president.

In addition, honorary degrees were conferred on him by the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Edinburgh, and Cape Town.

Sir John died in September 1946 in his adopted country.

Thanks to reader Charlie Stewart from Waterbeck for highlighting his links to this area.


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