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Collie, John Norman (1859-1942) Professor
Norman Collie was one of those astonishing late Victorian polymaths who could only ever have existed in a relatively brief period of British history. He flourished during a window of opportunity created when some of the wealth from an enormous Empire at its height was siphoned away from the gravid exploitation which had generated it, towards tenured scholarship. It allowed gentleman of even relatively modest background, but high ability, to build brilliant academic careers - and still have a quarter of the year off to go exploring interesting undiscovered parts of the globe. The lucky blighters, they had it all! Still, none deserved it more richly than Collie. His scientific achievements included helping in the discovery of Neon, and pioneering X-ray photography for medical examination purposes. His genius extended to mountaineering too, where he excelled both on rock and ice, and also in Greater Ranges pioneering. Thus, with his characteristic over-achiever’s zest, Collie helped pioneer climbing both in the Lakes and the Cuillin, pulled off the first Grade V winter climb (Steep Gill on Scafell), and made the first ascent of several alpine peaks and routes. As if all that was not enough, he initiated climbing exploration on Nanga Parbat and in the Canadian Rockies, where he discovered the Columbia Icefield. On top of all this he was slim, tall, good looking and a hit with the ladies. Even the fact that he chipped the odd hold and believed he was chased down Ben Macdhui by the ghostly ‘Grey Man’ did nothing to diminish the respect he was held in by his peers. They simply don’t make ‘em like Collie any more.
Standout climbs: Moss Gill Scafell (S), Steep Gill, winter (V), Pioneering routes in Skye.
Further reading: Norman Collie, a life in two worlds. Christine Mill, Aberdeen University Press, 1987

Biographical information is kindly supplied by Colin Wells.
2006-08-06 00:00:00
Maxine Willett
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Collie, John Norman (1859-1942) Professor