Grant, James William (DNB00)

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GRANT, JAMES WILLIAM (1788–1865), astronomer, was born at Wester Elchies in Morayshire on 12 Aug. 1788. His father, Robert Grant, made a fortune abroad, and bought about 1783 the Elchies estate, hereditary in a branch of his family, to which he subsequently added the lands of Knockando and Ballintomb. James William Grant entered the East India Company's service as a writer on 22 July 1805, and filled appointments of increasing importance in Bengal until his retirement in 1849. He employed his leisure in scientific pursuits, and with an excellent five-foot achromatic he detected, on 23 July 1844, the companion of Antares, two years before the duplicity of the star was perceived by Mitchel. Excessive modesty, however, caused him to neglect publishing the discovery, which became known only through Professor Piazzi Smyth's examination of his observing papers. On his elder brother's death, in 1828, he inherited the family estates. He returned to Scotland in 1849, and erected at Elchies a fine observatory in granite, the entrance guarded by sphinxes. Here was placed the 'Trophy Telescope,' conspicuous in 1851 in the nave of the Great Exhibition, and the first large telescope erected in Scotland. The object-glass, eleven inches in diameter, was by Ross, the mount by Ransome & May. Grant's use of it was hampered by the climate and growing ill-health; but Professor Piazzi Smyth found its performance excellent in a set of observations on double stars made at Elchies in the autumn of 1862 (Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Soc. xxiii. 2). It was sold in 1864 to Mr. Aytoun of Glenfarg, Perthshire.

Grant was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society on 13 Jan. 1854. His sole publication was a letter 'On the Influence of Climate upon the Telescopic Appearance of a Celestial Body' (ib. xiv. 165), accompanying two sketches of Mars, made respectively at Calcutta and Elchies. He was an accomplished microscopist, his slides evoking the admiration of native and foreign experts. Botany, natural history, and painting were also cultivated by him. He married Margaret, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Wilson of Gamrie in Banffshire, and had by her eight sons and four daughters, all born in India. The present laird of Elchies is his grandson. He died at Wester Elchies of gout on 17 Sept. 1865, and was buried in Knockando churchyard. His wife died in London on 28 Jan. 1855. Grant's mind was one of singular sweetness and elevation, and he was regretted alike as a friend, a landlord, and a benefactor to the poor.

[Information from the family; Banffshire Journal, 19 Sept. 1865; Lachlan Shaw's Hist. of the Province of Moray, i. 112, 117 (1882); Jervise's Epitaphs and Inscriptions in the Northeast of Scotland, i. 299 (1875); Monthly Notices, xxiii. 1 (Professor R. Grant); Good Words, iv. 125, February 1863 (Professor Piazzi Smyth); Dodwell's Bengal Civil Servants.]

A. M. C.