William Brydone Jack: A brief biography
Born Nov. 23, 1817 in the parish of Tinwald, Scotland, William Brydone Jack was an outstanding student, graduating from the University of St. Andrews in 1840. He was deeply influenced by his mentor there, Sir David Brewster, an accomplished physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and writer whose many inventions include the kaleidoscope.
Although he had been offered the prestigious chair in physics at Manchester New College, Dr. Jack was advised by Brewster to first get some teaching experience. He came out to the colonies to accept the appointment of Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at King’s College, Fredericton in 1840. Intending to stay only a couple of years, he wound up spending his entire career at the institution that later became the University of New Brunswick. His marriage to Marion Ellen Peters, daughter of the New Brunswick attorney general, in 1844 deepened his roots in the province.
He was a well-liked professor, known familiarly among his students as “Manus” because of his Scottish pronunciation of “minus.” In addition to his teaching, he distinguished himself as an astronomer and researcher (see accompanying story). He became president of UNB in 1861, a position he held until 1885. During those 24 years the university grew and developed under his leadership: a gymnasium was built and a third storey added to Sir Howard Douglas Hall; personnel and investment policies were instituted; and, most important, practical instruction, including engineering, was introduced. To heighten the university’s reputation, Dr. Jack toured schools in the province, promoting the benefits of post-secondary education.
Dr. Jack enjoyed gardening, driving spirited horses and curling. He was regarded as a fine speaker and was active in the community and the local St. Andrews Society. After the death of his first wife in 1858, he married Carolyn Disbrow of Saint John. He had a total of 10 children. William Brydone Jack died on Nov. 23, 1886 at age 69.
A display on his life and scientific contributions can be viewed in the Stewart Room on the fifth floor of the Harriet Irving Library, UNB Fredericton. Learn more about the Brydone Jack Observatory.