This Week in History


One Very Scholarly Scot!

For the week of Monday November 17, 2008

On November 23, 1817, in Trailflatt, Scotland, William Jack was born. He later adopted Brydone, his mother’s maiden name, when he moved to New Brunswick. A mathematician, astronomer and educator, William Brydone Jack went on to design and build one of the first astronomical observatories in what was then known as British North America.

Dr. William Brydone Jack
© Archives & Special Collections, Harriet Irving Library, University of New Brunswick. UA PC-13 no.27(4)
Jack was educated in Scotland where he studied Latin, Greek, math, physics and philosophy. In 1840, he graduated from the University of St. Andrews with his MA. He then took up the post of Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at King’s College in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

As an educator, Jack felt that the “art of observing and the art of experimenting” were important, so he and Dr. James Robb, a fellow Scot, scientist and educator, requested funds to purchase scientific equipment for the college. A telescope was bought with part of these funds and installed in a separate building constructed in 1851. This building, now known as the William Brydone Jack Observatory/Museum, became one of the first astronomical observatories in British North America.

One of Jack’s major achievements was his work with a physician named Dr. J. B. Toldervy in determining the precise longitude of Fredericton. Due to the advantageous location of Toldervy’s own observatory near the telegraph office, the two men were able, in 1855, through telegraphic signals with the Harvard College Observatory in Boston, Massachusetts, to determine the precise longitudinal co-ordinates of Fredericton. Upon this discovery he and Toldervy were able, through their location in relation to Fredericton, to determine the co-ordinates of other locations throughout New Brunswick. It was from these co-ordinates that the first precise map of New Brunswick was made.

The Brydone Jack Observatory
© Archives & Special Collections, Harriet Irving Library, University of New Brunswick. Photo from: The University Monthly v.24, no.7-8 (May-June 1905):246
In 1859, King’s College was secularized and transformed into the University of New Brunswick, in 1861, Jack became its president. During the summers he travelled throughout New Brunswick promoting the university and what it could provide not only for the development of young men and women but also for the province. As president he increased the teaching staff and the subjects offered and students graduated with a bachelors degree upon completion of three 40-week sessions. He attempted to attract more students through low tuition and accommodation costs, and he introduced the teaching of pure and applied sciences at the university.

Although William Brydone Jack died on November 23, 1886 his accomplishments live on; and as Canada’s oldest surviving observatory the William Brydone Jack Observatory has been designated one of Canada's National Historic Sites.

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