Dr James Bryce was born on 23 Oct 1806 at Coleraine Ireland. James was the third child in a family of ten to Scottish parents the Rev James Bryce, a Presbyterian clergyman who was born in Airdrie and Catherine Annan from Auchtermuchty.
James Bryce at fourteen in 1820 entered Glasgow Uni by 1826 he became Master of the Mathematical Department in Belfast Academy. In 1846 he returned to Glasgow, having been appointed Master of the Mathematical and Geographical Department of the High School there. That office he held for twenty eight years till his possible retirement in 1874. In 1858 the University of Glasgow conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. On retirement James went to stay in Edinburgh.
Whilst at Belfast Academy, he added Geology to his teaching and by the age of 27 was elected a Fellow of the local Geological Society. Of the many post he held in his lifetime these included, President of the Glasgow Philosophical Society, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Vice president of the Edinburgh Geological Society and a Fellow of the London Geological Society .
He had written several papers on geology, including the geological structure of the, the east coast of Antrim, the Giant’s Causeway, Skye and Raasay and also a book the geology of Arran and the other Clyde islands. James frequent trips to the Highlands would have made him friends and was a kenspeckled person amongst like-minded people in the scientific world in the north.
On Wednesday the 11th July James travelled from Inverness to Foyers on the steamer Gondolier. On arrival at Foyers pier proceeded to the Foyers Hotel, acquired a room and wrote a postcard informing his wife Margaret of his safe arrival. The exact details of the tragic accident is very hard to ascertain from differing newspaper reports of the day, however a rough summary of events follows. Setting out from the hotel around 10.30 am for Inverfarigaig, James was noticed about noon at work amongst the rocks wielding his hammer by a carter going up the pass to Gorthleck.
His son also James Bryce, the distinguished professor of Civil Law in Oxford University, has suggested how his father met his death, although no human eye witnessed it, as no one was with the deceased when it occurred. Professor Bryce states that a mass of rocks, fallen from the hill, was situated on the steep hillside
up which his father had clambered. He supposes that his father had struck with his hammer one of the rocks and destroyed the equilibrium of the mass. The mass, loosened by the stroke, gave way, and the rocks of which it was composed
rushed downhill, overwhelming and crushing to death, in their headlong course, Dr Bryce, who was standing immediately below. When his body was discovered, his hammer, which had done the deed, lay at a short distance from him, as if dropped from his hand in the agony of the catastrophe. It had furnished him the happiest moments of his life: it had been the cause of his death.
On the carters return around 2 pm he saw a body beside the burn unable to stop because of his horse and cart, carried on and informed a gamekeeper living nearby. The gamekeeper Archibald McFarlane and his fellow worker went to investigate and found the lifeless body of James. A policeman was then summoned and after his arrival the remains were transported to the Foyers Hotel, where he was identified as the gentleman who was staying there and had written the postcard. A message was sent to Inverness and from there a telegram was then sent to his wife informing her of the tragic news.
An official investigation was carried out by the procurator fiscal, after which on Friday the remains were moved to Inverness by boat.
At Muirton Quay, Inverness, the remains were met by a small but deeply attached number of friends and taken to the railway station, to be transported to Edinburgh. On Monday after a private funeral James Bryce was interred in the Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh.
Following prompting by the secretary of the Edinburgh Geological Society to James Joyce friend in Inverness, William Jolly, the Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club organised a subscription collection in January 1878, to get a memorial in remembrance of Dr James Bryce. This would have been sent amongst its members, along with members of Societies in Glasgow and Edinburgh which he was associated with. By November 1878, James’s Glasgow and Edinburgh friends alone had collected £27 (worth over £4k in today’s terms) towards the memorial, but they wanted more clarity from Inverness on the proposed sketch of the monument.
The memorial was erected by June 1879 opposite the spot where James was killed. An upright monolith undressed nearly as it was taken/ hewn from the high crag besides which it stands. On the 8th September 1879 Inverness Field Club president William Jolly and a few leading members, visited the site at Inverfarigaig. The inscription reads ”In memory of James Bryce, LL.D., F.G.S., F.R.S.E., a distinguished geologist, born near Coleraine, Ireland,1806; killed opposite this spot, whilst in pursuit of his favourite science, July 11th 1877. Erected by scientific friends in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness”.
Dr James Bryce’s two sons were elected to parliament
James Bryce (Viscount Bryce of Dechmount) was Liberal MP 1880-85 for Tower Hamlets and1885-1907 For South Aberdeenshire. From 1907-13 was British Ambassador to the USA
His son John Annan Bryce was elect Liberal MP for Inverness Burghs from 1906 till 1918.
Both brothers and equally unsuccessfully, tried to have an act passed, to permit much greater public access to the Scottish countryside.
Copyright Alister Chisholm 2023