S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Main, Prof James (mathematics)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: Date not known, Place not known.

James Main, Master of Arts (MA), was assistant to the astronomer Professor J.P. Nichol of the Glasgow University Observatory. In 1840 he was recruited as professor of mathematics at the South African College, Cape Town, during a visit to Britain by Dr James Adamson*. He was highly recommended by Professor Nichol, who wrote: "He is the best mathematician I know, and is destined to occupy a very eminent place in the history of science. I know his qualifications as a teacher, and am aware that he will answer all your purposes" (South African Commercial Advertiser, 3 April 1841, p. 1). Main and his wife arrived in Cape Town about March 1841, on the same ship as Adamson. In addition to mathematics he lectured also in physical science (both at the secondary school level, the most advanced available at the Cape at that time). However, he was not satisfied with his position and during 1842 was furthermore in poor health. As a result he resigned his post at the end of the year.

There was a James Main who published extensively on horticulture and other scientific topics from 1828 to 1849, but he is probably not the same person (National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints (1968-1980) and Royal Society, Catalogue of scientific papers (1867-1925)).

List of sources:
Ritchie, W. The history of the South African College, 1829-1918. Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller, 1918.

South African Commercial Advertiser, 3 April 1841, p. 1, [advertissement] South African College.

Compiled by: C. Plug