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This page: updated 21st February 2022

Calvin Harris Thomas Telford engineering work Jessie M King

James Clerk Maxwell
Dumfries and Galloway

James Clerk Maxwell and Dumfries & Galloway

James Clerk Maxwell of Glenlair was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived.

James Clerk Maxwell was born on the 13th June 1831 and died on 5 November 1879, he was buried at Parton Kirk near Castle Douglas.

Although born in Edinburgh, when Maxwell was young his family moved to Glenlair House, near the village of Corsock in Dumfries and Galloway. The original structure was designed for Maxwell's father by Walter Newall; Maxwell himself oversaw the construction of an extension in the late 1860s when he resigned the chair at King's College London and returned to Glenlair.

James Clerk Maxwell statue unveiled in EdinburghTo James Clerk Maxwell we owe the most significant discovery of our age - the theory of electromagnetism. He is rightly acclaimed as the father of modern physics. He also made fundamental contributions to mathematics, astronomy and engineering.

So much of our technology in the world today stems from his grasp of basic principles of the universe. Wide ranging developments in the field of electricity and electronics, including radio, television, radar and communications, derive from Maxwell's discovery - which was not a synthesis of what was known before, but rather a fundamental change in concept that departed from Newton's view and was to influence greatly the modern scientific and industrial revolution.

Albert Einstein said:

"The special theory of relativity owes its origins to Maxwell's equations of the electromagnetic field."

Einstein also said:

"Since Maxwell's time, physical reality has been thought of as represented by continuous fields, and not capable of any mechanical interpretation. This change in the conception of reality is the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton"

Ivan Tolstoy, in his biography of Maxwell, wrote:

“Maxwell's importance in the history of scientific thought is comparable to Einstein’s (whom he inspired) and to Newton’s (whose influence he curtailed)”

James Clerk Maxwell’s statue in George Street, Edinburgh was unveiled on 25th November 2008
(unveiling pictured above).

James Clerk Maxwell information by Dorothy Thomson

A Sense of Wonder

In 2015 the film, A Sense of Wonder, was released. This 28-minute film celebrates the life of James Clerk Maxwell; his poetry, his creative genius as a mathematician and scientist and his love of Galloway, told through the eyes of poet and writer Rab Wilson and featuring Glenlair, Parton and Dumfries as well as conversations with contemporary scientists, music, poetry and songs. Information from Carolyn Yates


This film was commissioned by Wigtown Festival Company and produced by Carolyn Yates with support from the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation and the Dr David Summers Charitable Trust.