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Farquharson, James (DNB00)

FARQUHARSON, JAMES (1781–1843), scientific writer, son of John Farquharson, excise officer at Coull, Aberdeenshire, was born in that parish in 1781. After attending the parochial school at Coull he proceeded to King's College, Aberdeen, where he graduated M.A. in 1798, and in the same year was appointed schoolmaster of Alford, Aberdeenshire. He soon afterwards commenced his courses as a student of theology, and received license as a preacher. On 17 Sept. 1813 he was ordained minister of Alford. His leisure was devoted to theological and scientific study. As a meteorologist his attainments were of a high order. He was also well skilled in botany, chemistry, zoology, and the kindred branches. Living in a rural parish, he was enabled to give special attention to agriculture. In 1831 he published a learned and ingenious essay, ‘On the Form of the Ark of Noah.’ This was followed by another treatise in which he gave an account of the animals designated in the Old Testament by the names of Leviathan and Behemoth. In 1838 he published at London ‘A New Illustration of the Latter Part of Daniel's Last Vision and Prophecy,’ 4to. He also communicated several valuable papers to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ of the Royal Society. Of these some are on the aurora borealis, the appearances of which he studied closely for many years. In 1823 he published in the ‘Edinburgh Philosophical Journal’ a far more accurate description of the aurora than had previously appeared; and in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1829 he confirmed his views by new observations—showing that the arrangement and progress of its arches and streamers are exactly definite in relation to the lines of the earth's magnetism, and that there exist such close relations between the streamers and arches as to prove that they are in fact the same phenomenon. He also inferred, from his own observations, that the elevation of the aurora is far less than had been generally supposed, being confined to altitudes not extending far beyond the region of the clouds; and in a paper in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1830, besides detailing new proofs of its intimate connection with the magnetic needle, he showed that it was produced by the development of electricity by the condensation of watery vapour. In the volume for 1839 he gave a geometrical measurement of an aurora, one of the first attempted, which made its height less than a mile, and showed its dependency upon the altitude of the clouds. In the volume for 1842 he described an aurora which was situated between himself and lofty ‘stratus’ clouds. He wrote an elaborate paper on the formation of ice at the bottom of running water in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1836. Farquharson explained this phenomenon, already discussed by Arago and others, by the radiation of heat from the bottom of the stream cooling its bed, under certain conditions, more quickly than the water which is flowing over it. To the Royal Society Farquharson also communicated the results of the registers of temperature which he kept for a long period of years. This led him to investigate the origin and progress of currents of colder and warmer air moving over the face of a flat country surrounded by hills, and their effects upon vegetation. One of his papers on this head is that ‘On the Nature and Localities of Hoar Frost,’ which was published in the ‘Transactions’ of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland for 1840. These disquisitions recommended their author to the notice of many of the foremost philosophers of the day. On 28 Jan. 1830 he was elected F.R.S. The university of King's College, Aberdeen, conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. on 25 Feb. 1837. The following year he became an honorary member of the Société Française de Statistique Universelle. Among his correspondents were Davies Gilbert, P.R.S., Sir Edward Sabine, Sir William Hooker, Sir David Brewster, and many others. Farquharson also furnished the account of the parish of Alford for the ‘New Statistical Account of Scotland’ (xii. 485–524). He died on 3 Dec. 1843. By his marriage, on 19 Oct. 1826, to Helen, daughter of Alexander Taylor, he had a family of five sons and a daughter.

[Hew Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scot. vol. iii. pt. ii. pp. 547–8; Aberdeen Journal, 13 Dec. 1843; Gent. Mag. new ser. xxi. 94–5.]

G. G.