Kelvin Collection

This collection comprises the books and papers of the physicist William Thomson, Baron Kelvin of Largs (1824-1907). He was Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow from 1846 to 1899 and made revolutionary contributions to the study and practical applications of electricity, magnetism and thermodynamics. 

Kelvin’s correspondents include some of the leading scientists and engineers of the 19th century, including George Boole, Fleeming Jenkin, J P Joule, James Clerk Maxwell, P G Tait and C J Varley. The collection contains over 1000 letters; subjects include Kelvin’s research projects, the Department of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow and more general academic and family matters. Some of these letters feature in a web exhibition of Kelvin's correspondence. The collection also includes photographs, press cuttings and around 100 books from Kelvin's personal library, including presentation copies of works by his contemporaries. There are also some 3,500 pamphlets, chiefly on scientific matters.

How the material was acquired:

In 1892 Lord Kelvin presented his collection of pamphlets directly to the university. His books originally passed to his nephew, James Thomson Bottomley. After his death in 1926, Bottomley’s trustees donated them to the university and they were housed in the Department of Natural Philosophy (renamed the Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1986) until they were transferred to the Library in 1999. Kelvin’s letters and papers, augmented by later additions, had already been transferred from the Department of Natural Philosophy in 1967.

We continue to acquire Kelvin material and there are a number of related collections which may be of interest.

How to find material from the Kelvin Collection

The following items, now largely duplicated by online information, are available in the Special Collections reading room: 

  • Kelvin Papers: index to the manuscript collection of William Thomson, Baron Kelvin, in Glasgow University Library (Glasgow, 1977). Index arranged alphabetically by correspondent.
  • Catalogue of Scientific Papers presented by Lord Kelvin in 1892 and 1894. ‘An interim catalogue containing the titles (as far as printed) of the papers included in the first donation.’
  • William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, 1824-1907: an exhibition of manuscripts and machines from the collections of Glasgow University (Glasgow: 1977). See web exhibition of Kelvin's correspondence.

Related collections:

  • MS Gen 1752: Thomson family papers including letters of William Thomson (Kelvin) and his brother James Thomson (1822-1892). The collection also includes correspondence with Fleeming Jenkin (relating largely to work on submarine telegraphy).
  • MS Gen 1753: papers of the partnership of William Thomson (Kelvin), Cromwell Fleetwood Varley and Fleeming Jenkin relating to submarine telegraphy. Mainly patents and related documents.
  • MS Gen 1754: papers relating to William Thomson (Kelvin), his nephew James Thomson Bottomley (1845-1926) and telegraph cable laying. (Restricted pending cataloguing.)
  • Glasgow University Archive Services hold papers recording the part played by Kelvin in university affairs, and also the records of scientific instrument makers Kelvin and Hughes Ltd.
  • The university’s Hunterian Museum holds many examples of Kelvin’s scientific instruments and has a permanent display Lord Kelvin: Revolutionary Scientist
  • The National Register of Archives has information about Kelvin material held elsewhere.