Charles Niven

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14 September 1845
Peterhead, Scotland
11 May 1923
Aberdeen, Scotland

Charles Niven was a Scot who became Professor of Mathematics at Cork. He returned to Aberdeen as Professor of Natural Philosophy and held this post for 42 years.


Details of Charles Niven's career and scientific achievements are given in the Royal Society obituary at THIS LINK.

Here we give a few details which are additional to this Royal Society obituary.

Charles Niven's parents were Charles Niven (born around 1802), a ginger beer brewer and spirit dealer, and Barbara Davidson (born 1810 or 1811) of Monquhitter, Aberdeenshire. Charles and Barbara married on 28 November 1833 and had nine children: John Gibb Niven (born 1834); Thomas Niven (born 1836); William Davidson Niven (born 1842); Charles Niven (born 1845); Barbara Niven (born 1848); James Niven (born 1851); Alexander Niven (born 1854); Thomas Niven (born 1855); and George Niven (born 1859). Charles was one of three distinguished mathematical brothers, William and James also being Cambridge Wranglers. William Niven, who became vice-president of the Royal Society and was knighted, has a biography in this archive. James Niven studied at Queens' College, Cambridge and was bracketed eighth wrangler in the mathematical tripos of 1874. He went on to study medicine and became medical officer of health for Manchester. Charles Niven married Mary Stewart, daughter of Sir David Stewart and Mary Irvine; they had one son and two daughters.

Charles Niven was 41 years as Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, being appointed in 1880. On 3 June 1880 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He is best known in Aberdeen for building up Natural Philosophy in Marischal College but we note that Marischal College was only opened in 1906 when Niven had already been Professor for 26 years. On Thursday 27 September 1906 Marischal College was opened by the King and the 400th anniversary of the founding of the University was celebrated. Professor Charles Niven was presented to the King during the ceremony.

Niven's work with the Aberdeen Observatory is mentioned in a report in The Scotsman on Saturday, 21 September 1912:-

The work of a first order station has been continued as heretofore by Mr Clark, under the direction of Professor Charles Niven, F.R.S. The Dines pressure tube anemometer, which was installed some years ago for the purpose of comparison with the Robinson anemometer, was lent for a time during the summer to Mr E M Wedderburn, for use in connection with investigation of seiches in the Scottish lochs. Mr Clarke has presented to the office from time to time numerous photographs and sketches of sounds, and has formed an admirable collection of photos illustrating various cloud forms and phases of cloud formation, from which lantern slides for the illustration of lectures can be prepared. A set of consecutive photos included in this collection, taken within an hour and a half, was selected for reproduction in Geophysical Memoirs No. 2, in illustration of the hypothesis of cloud formation there put forward. By arrangement with Professor Niven, a pair of the odolites have been lent to the Observatory for the observation of pilot balloons. Suitable bases have been selected, and a number of soundings have already been made.
The Edinburgh Mathematical Society was founded in 1883 and at the meeting in June of that year Niven was elected as an honorary member.

Niven's funeral took place on Tuesday 15 May 1923 and The Scotsman reported on the funeral on the following day:-
Funeral of Professor Niven, Aberdeen

The funeral of Emeritus Professor Charles Niven, LL.D., F.R.S., who for 42 years occupied the Chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, took place yesterday from King's College Chapel to Banchory-Devenick United Free Churchyard. At the university chapel a service was conducted by Principal Sir George Adam Smith and the Rev. Charles McGlashan, Oldmachar Cathedral, and Professors Fulton and Cowan. The chief mourners were Mrs Niven (the widow, daughter of the late Sir David Stewart of Banchory-Devenick), Mr Charles D Niven, B.Sc (son), and Miss Niven and Miss M S Niven (daughters). At the graveside a short service was conducted by Professor Fulton and the Rev. Dr J Ironside Still. The pall-bearers were:- Mr Charles D Niven (son), Dr James Niven, late Medical Officer of Health, Manchester (brother); Colonel D B D Stewart; Banchory House; and Dr George L Stewart, Ipswich (brothers-in-law); Professors Harrower and Reid, Aberdeen University; Dr Fyvie and Dr Geddes, of the Natural Philosophy Department, Marischal College. Floral tributes, in addition to family wreaths, were forwarded from the Natural Philosophy Department, the Association of University Teachers, the students and the sacrists of King's and Marischal Colleges, and others.

References (show)

  1. H M Macdonald, Charles Niven, Proc. Roy. Soc. London A (1923), xxvii-xxviii.

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Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update November 2010