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John Pringle Nichol FRSE (13 January 1804 – 19 September 1859) was a Scottishmarker educator, astronomer and economist who did much to popularise astronomy in a manner that appealed to nineteenth century tastes.

Early life

Born Huntly-Hill, near Brechinmarker, Angusmarker, he was the son of a gentleman farmer and was educated at the local grammar school and then at King's Collegemarker, University of Aberdeen. He was licensed a preacher and soon proved an effective communicator but a change in his theological views led him to abandon the Church for education.

He held a number of posts in education and journalism and corresponded with many leading thinkers of the times, including John Stuart Mill. He clearly made some impression in economics as James Mill and Nassau Senior nominated him as Jean-Baptiste Say's successor as professor of political economy at the College de Francemarker though he was at the time too ill to take the post.


In 1836 and in competition with Thomas Carlyle, Nichol was appointed regius professor of astronomy at the University of Glasgowmarker. He became an enthusiastic and effective lecturer and made a profound impression on the young William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin with his introduction of the "Continental" approach to mathematical physics of Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier.

Nichol turned to popular lecturing and authored a number of popular and successful books about astronomy, especially championing the nebular hypothesis. In 1841 George Eliot wrote:

William John Macquorn Rankine declared Nichol's Dictionary of the Physical Sciences to be:

Private life

In 1831 he married Jane Tullis who died in 1850. Their eldest son, John Nichol became a literary critic and writer. Nichol married Elizabeth Pease in 1853, a prominent reformer and member of the Darlington Pease family, much against her family's wishes.

During the late 1840s, his health declined and, stemming from his physician's prescription, Nichol became addicted to opiates. He recorded an account of his drug-addiction illness and its cure by hydrotherapy at the Ben Rhyddingmarker Hydro in his book Memorials from Ben Rhydding (1852).

He died in Rothesaymarker on 19 September 1859. His wealth at death was £1935.


  1. MacLehose (1886)
  2. Schaffer (1989)
  3. Nichol (1852)
  4. Burnett (2004)


By Nichol

  • Nichol, J.P. (1837) Views of the Architecture of the Heavens , Edinburgh: William Tait
  • — (1838) The Phenomena and Order of the Solar System, Edinburgh: William Tait
  • — (1844) Contemplations on the Solar System, Edinburgh: William Tait
  • — (1847) The Stellar Universe
  • (from Google Books)
  • — (1855)The Planet Neptune: An Exposition and History, Edinburgh: James Nichol
  • Cyclopedia of the Physical Sciences
  • General Principles in Geology, the preface to Keith Johnston's Physical Atlas


  • Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 19 (1858–9), 141; 20 (1859–60), 131;
  • The Times, 23 September 1859, 10b

About Nichol

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