John Scott Russell was born John Russell on 9 May 1808 in Parkhead, Glasgow, the son of David Russell and Agnes Clark Scott. He spent one year at St. Andrews University before transferring to Glasgow University. It was while at Glasgow University that he added his mother's maiden name, Scott, to his own, to become John Scott Russell. He graduated from Glasgow University in 1825 at the age of 17 and moved to Edinburgh University where he taught mathematics.
On the death of Sir John Leslie, Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University in 1832, Scott Russell, though only 24 years old, was elected to temporarily fill the vacancy pending the election of a permanent professor, due to his proficiency in the natural sciences.
His obituary was published in the Proceedings of Royal Society (London), vol. 34 (1882–1883), pp. xv–xvii. It is interesting to note that in his obituary it was mentioned that John Scott Russell was a very gifted person but did not contribute papers to the Royal Society of London but to other organizations like the Royal Society of Edinburgh, British Association, etc. His great discovery regarding his solitary wave of translation was not mentioned in his obituary published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (London).
He had married Harriette Osborne; they had two sons and three daughters, Louise (1841–1878), Rachel (1845–1882) and Alice. Arthur Sullivan and his friend Frederic Clay were frequent visitors at the Scott Russell home in the mid-1860s; Clay became engaged to Alice, and Sullivan wooed Rachel. While Clay was from a wealthy family, Sullivan was still a poor young composer from a poor family; the Scott Russells welcomed the engagement of Alice to Clay, who, however broke it off, but forbade the relationship between Sullivan and Rachel, although the two continued to see each other covertly. At some point in 1868, Sullivan started a simultaneous (and secret) affair with Louise (1841–1878). Both relationships had ceased by early 1869.
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