James Bowman Lindsay

James Bowman Lindsay

James Bowman Lindsay was born 200 years ago in the parish of Carmyllie near Arbroath. He came from a family of four children and being in somewhat delicate health, he was spared the hard farming life of the day and began work as a linen weaver. He often read books on his long journey to work and his bookishness eventually helped him gain at the University of St. Andrews. A distinguished student, he soon made a name for himself in the fields of mathematics and physics before returning to Dundee in 1829 as Science and Mathematics Lecturer at the Watt Institution.

In 19th century Dundee, later to be dubbed the City of Discovery, Lindsay's talents flourished. In 1835, 40 years before Thomas Edison announced the invention of the lightblub, he demonstrated constant electric light, whereby he could read a book at a distance of one and a half foot. His concern with electric light was mainly prompted by the need to provide a safe method of lighting the jute mills, where severe fires had devastated the lives of the workers.

Lyndsay was heavily involved in the debates and ideas which were not to see widespread practical application for many years to come. In 1854 Lindsay took out a patent for his system of wireless telegraphy through water. This was the culmination of many years' painstaking experimentation in various parts of the country. The device, however, had an unfortunate flaw - it needed as many miles on land as in the water for the device to work. Lindsay was an accomplished astronomer and philologist, skills which he used to investigate scientifically the historical accuracy of the Bible. The great love of his life was his Pentacontaglossal Dictionary of fifty languages through which he hoped to shed light on mans origins and prove the Bibles accuracy.

In 1858, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Lord Derby, Queen Victoria granted Lindsay a pension of £100 a year. He died on June 29th 1862, having never married, and still engaged in his various researches.

Like Preston Watson, the Dundee pioneer of flight, Lindsay possessed neither the will nor the sheer ruthlessness to promote his innovations as effectively as he might. A deeply religious and humane person, he refused the offer of a post at the British Museum so that he could care for his aged mother.

Lindsay's chief glory lay in his vision, which helped to propel scientific advancement through the 19th and 20th centuries. His Lecture on Electricity effectively foretold the development of the information society and he confidently predicted cities lit by electricity. 140 year after his death, James Bowman Lindsay is finally achieving a certain recognition.

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