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James Stirling


1692 - 1770

Mathematician and surveyor. Born in Garden (Stirling), son of a Jacobite, who had been accused of treason and arrested when James was 17. In 1710, Stirling went to Balliol College (Oxford) possibly after studies in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Following the Jacobite Rising of 1715, Stirling refused to swear allegiance to the Hanoverian throne and thus could not graduate. He continued his research for a brief period in Oxford, before moving to Venice (1717) and then Padua (1721). In 1722, he hurriedly left Italy, to return to Glasgow, because the Italian glass-makers tried to assassinate him as he has discovered their secrets, which he later published as A Description of a Machine to Blow Fire by Fall of Water (1745).

In 1724, Stirling took a teaching post in London, growing his friendship with Sir Isaac Newton. He corresponded with many other mathematicians, including Euler. In 1726, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Stirling's main contribution was in the field of calculus, through his treatise Methodus Differentialis (1730).

Mathematics was clearly not a lucrative occupation because, in 1735, Stirling took the post of manager of a mining company in Leadhills. In 1746, Stirling was considered as the successor to Colin Maclaurin (1698 - 1746) in Edinburgh, but his support for the Jacobites, who had occupied the city the previous year, meant this was politically impossible.

Stirling's other interests were gravity and the shape of the earth, supporting Newton's view that it is an oblate spheroid. He also surveyed the River Clyde with a view to improving navigation and allowing Glasgow to become the commercial capital of Scotland.

Stirling died in Edinburgh.


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