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Prof. (John) Norman Collie


1859 - 1942

Scientist and pioneering mountaineer. Born in Alderley Edge (Cheshire), Collie was raised in Clifton (Bristol) and educated at University College, Bristol, and the University of Würzburg in Germany, where he was awarded a doctorate in chemistry in 1884. He taught at Cheltenham Ladies College before joining University College London in 1887, rising to become Professor of Organic Chemistry in 1896 and Dean of Chemistry in 1913. He made several notable contributions to science, including involvement in the construction of the first neon lamp and the first use of X-rays in medical diagnosis in the UK.

However, it is perhaps as a mountaineer that Collie is best remembered. He climbed in the English Lake District and established new routes in the Cuillin of Skye, showing that British mountains offered exhilarating climbs, without the need to travel to the Continent or beyond. Collie was involved in the world's first attempt at an 8000m peak in the Himalayas in 1895, which ended in disaster, and numerous seasons in the Canadian Rockies - with 21 first ascents and giving names to more than thirty peaks. His books include From the Himalaya to Skye (1902) and Climbing on the Himalaya and other Mountain Ranges (1902). Collie joined the Scottish Mountaineering Club in 1891, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896 and served as President of the Alpine Club (1920-22).

He returned to Skye again and again, climbing and fishing with his friend John Mackenzie of Sconser (1856 - 1933). He set himself the task of accurately measuring every summit of the Cuillin Hills. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Collie closed his London home and retired to Sligachan. When Mackenzie died, Collie made one last climb in his memory; a solo ascent of Am Basteir and wrote a moving obituary of his friend for the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal. He continued to fish and was blown into the Storr Lochs on one of these outings, suffering a chill which developed into pneumonia. He died at the Sligachan Hotel and was buried next to Mackenzie, in the old cemetery at Struan on the west coast of Skye. Collie is remembered as one of the finest mountaineers Britain has ever produced.


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