Biography of John Pringle Nichol
John Pringle Nichol (UP1/258/1)
John Pringle Nichol (1804-1859) was Regius Professor of Practical Astronomy from 1836 until his death and was awarded an honorary LLD by the University in 1837. He was a dynamic lecturer and, according to the historian David Murray, he was "in some respects one of the most remarkable men who ever held a Chair at the University." He was the father of John Nichol (1833-1894), who became Regius Professor of English Literature, and in 1903 a stained glass window was installed in the Bute Hall in memory of Nichol, his son and his daughter Mrs Jack.
Born in Huntlyhill near Brechin, Pringle attended classes at King's College, Aberdeen, from 1818 to 1822 and became a teacher, a headmaster and a writer on political economy. After he was appointed to the chair at the University, he became famous not only for his inspiring lectures to students but for those he delivered to huge audiences at public meetings in the city.
Nichol was a leading figure in the Astronomical Institution of Glasgow which was responsible for raising the funds for the erection of a new observatory at Horeslethill in the West End in 1841. He was appointed Observer, and moved with his family to a house attached to the Observatory. The Institution encountered financial difficulties, some of which were apparently caused by Nichol's cavalier approach to financial accounting. The University acquired the Observatory in 1845 and transferred its astronomical instruments to the new facility.
As well as lecturing on astronomy, Nichol taught classes in Natural Philosophy for two years when the professor, William Meikleham, was absent due to illness. His lectures are said to have inspired the young student William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin. He also assisted with teaching in the Department of Natural History.