Local Heroes (and Villains)
John Cruickshank (1787-1875)
John Cruickshank was born at the small farm of Barnhills, where his father worked as a handloom weaver, sharing the farm tenancy with his brother in law. In 1794 when John was seven, his father died during a fever epidemic, and his mother had to move. She took him to Grange, and then to Knowehead in Marnoch to be next door to her sister, the wife of William Ogilvie.
John's first teacher was Margaret Brown whose brother was married to James Ferguson's sister, so no doubt John grew up to stories of Ferguson's achievements. Like Ferguson before him John worked as a herd boy,often spending his nights observing the movement of the planets. He was later to recall his surprise at seeing a meteor shower (the Leonids) in 1799
Although he had little formal education in his early years, other than a winter quarter or "raith", or two at the parish school of Rothiemay, by the age of sixteen he had set his mind on going to university. So for two years he went to the parish school at Ordiquhill, and for a short time he was, as older boys often were in those days, put in charge of other pupils. They were his cousins John Ogilvie (the future lexicographer) and William Ogilvie. A short spell at Grange school followed and in 1805 he walked the 40 miles to Aberdeen to attend the Marischal College bursary competition. His reward was a bursary of £5 per year for two years, then considered enough to pay for his course. He graduated MA in 1809 with distinction in mathematics.
After some years working as a teacher at Boharm,and as a tutor at Haddo and then Netherdale, in 1817 he became assistant Professor of Mathematics at Marischal College.
Professor Cruickshank made a significant impact at Marischal College as a educator and administrator. He was a good teacher of mathematics (unlike James Clerk Maxwell, who was a colleague during his last years), and he instituted reforms at Marischal College that were only copied by other Universities much later. Early in his long career he was involved with the national trigonometrical survey, and later he became secretary of Marischal College and was involved in the renewal of the college buildings to Archibald Simpson's design. He retired as Senior Professor of Mathematics in 1860 when Marischal and King's College were united in the University of Aberdeen, but retained his interest in education in his later years, as the Milne Bequest Inspector of Schools for Aberdeenshire.