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Thursday, 17 April 2014

O for Oxford-Borders Connections in "My Scottish Borders"

Welcome to a Look Around 
"My Scottish Borders"

O is for:

Sir James Murray

The Oxford English Dictionary was first compiled by a Bprderer, Sir James Murray. (1837-1915).  He was born in the village of Denholm, near Hawick, Roxburghshire, the son of a tailor.  He left school at 14 and became a teacher and founder member of the Hawick Archaeological Society  which is still flourishes today as the local history organisation.

Like so many Victorians, James Murray pursued  activities focusing on self educaiton. Following a move to London,  he developed an interest in languages and etymology  and wrote "A Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland" - the first scientific study of dialect.  

In 1879 he took on the role of the principal  editor of the proposed Oxford English Dictionary, with the task of capturing  all the words then extant in the English speaking world in all their various shades of meaning -  a massive project.    He was knighted in 1908 and  was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by nine universities.

He died before the Dictionary itself was completed, but he left a legacy of work and inspiration for those compiling it.  In fact, when the final results were published in 1928, it ran to twelve volumes, with 414,825 words defined and 1,827,306 citations employed to illustrate their meanings.  It quickly became established as the standard for the English language.  A tribute to Sir John Murray noted: 

"When the remaining part of the last volume is finished, the Oxford English Dictionary will stand unrivalled in its completeness as a record of the history of the vocabulary of a living language, and it is to Murray far more than to any other man that the honour of this great achievement will belong".

Thomas Phillips - Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 - 1872. Writer on science - Google Art Project.jpg
Mary Somerville
The Oxford College of Somerville  was named after another  Borderer - Mary Somerville, nee Fairfax (1780-1872)  who was born in the abbey town of Jedburgh, Roxburghshire.  

She quickly developed her intellectual interests, notably in mathematics and science.  Following her marriage she moved to London and there  in 1831 published her first book, The Mechanism of the Heavens.   In 1835 she became one of the first women members of the Royal Astronomical Society, and in 1869, she was awarded the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society - remarkable achievements  in a time when women in science were almost unknown.

Having little formal schooling herself, she was a firm advocate of education for women,   and in 1868 she was the first person to sign John Stuart Mill’s petition to Parliament in support of women’s suffrage - sixty years before this became a reality! 

So it was perhaps not surprising that in 1879 the founders of a new college at Oxford for women students chose the name of Somerville in recognition of her example.

Mary Fairfax Somerville died at the age of 92, and an obituary notice in London's Morning Post in 1872 described  as the "Queen of Nineteenth Century Science."

[With acknowledgement to Wikipedia].

Scottish Borders in Scotland.svg

Follow the next stage of this 
A-Z Journey 
through the Scottish Borders

P is for:
Pele Towers & Princely Connections

Do take a look at earlier  posts in
 "My Scottish Borders"

A-Z Challenge Preview
A-Z Challenge A - Abbeys,Abbotsford and Armstrongs
A-Z Challenge B - Border Reivers, Border Ballads and Blackmail 
A-Z Challenge C - Common Ridings and Carter Bar 
A-Z Challenge D - Dryburgh Abbey,  Duns Scotus and The Douglas Tragedy 
A-Z Challenge E - Elliots, Earlston, Enigma Hero and Eyemouth Tart 
A-Z Challenge F - Flodden, Fletcher and Flowers of the Forest  
A-Z Challenge G - A Green & Pleasant Land and Galashiels 
A-Z Challenge H - Hermitage Castle and Hawick  
A-Z Challenge I - Inspirational Land of Poets James Hogg and Will Ogilvie 
A-Z Challenge J -Jedburgh, Jethart Justice and Jethart Snails  
A-Z Challenge K - Kaleidoscope, Kelso and Kinmont Willie  
A-Z Challenge L - The Fair Lilliard and Leaderfoot Viaduct
A-Z Challenge M - Muckle Mou'ed Meg and Melrose 
A-Z Challenge N - Newark Castle and Nature  


  1. Loved reading about Murray and Somerville. The Oxford Dictionary has to be one of my favourite books! (Yes, I am one of those peculiar people who *reads* the dictionary). Visiting during the A-Z Challenge - keep going, you're doing great!

    My blog is at GenWestUK

  2. Many thanks, Ros, for taking the time to comment in what is such a hectic A-Z challenge. Still the end is in sight! I am enjoying your succinct posts as a reminder on key aspects of our family history. research.


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