Norman Collie: A Life in Two Worlds—Mountain Explorer and Scientist, 1859–1942. Christine Mill. Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, 1987. XIII+197 pages, black-and-white photographs, maps, appendices. £14.90.
In Norman Collie: A Life in Two Worlds, Christine Mill gives a measured account of the dual career of John Norman Collie, distinguished mountaineer and scientist. A chemist by profession, he both taught and conducted research at a time when chemistry was not held in particularly high esteem in academic circles. After a brief stint teaching at Cheltenham Ladies’ college, in 1887 he moved on to University College, London, where (except for a period of six years) he spent the rest of his professional life, becoming the first Professor of Organic Chemistry.
A man of many parts, Collie was also a collector. His jade was the envy of many a museum. He was fascinated by gemstones. His interest in color led him to be among the first to take up color photography. In 1896, he took the first X-ray to be used for surgical purposes. He also blew his own laboratory vessels. He was attracted to the mystical and the magical, believing “emphatically in the Loch Ness monster” and proposed Aleister Crowley for membership in the Alpine Club in 1895.
His climbing career, which began in 1886 on the island of Skye, took him to the far reaches of the globe in the company of such mountaineering luminaries as Alexander Mitchell Kellas, Albert Frederick Mummery, William Cecil Slingsby and Hugh E.M. Stutfield. With Kellas, to whom he suggested the possibilities of the Himalaya, he climbed in Scotland. With Mummery, he first climbed in the Alps; in 1895, they went to Nanga Parbat. Although Mummery died on the mountain, their extensive reconnaissance of the peak would serve subsequent expeditions well. With Slingsby, the “father of Norwegian mountaineering,” he climbed on Lofoten Island in 1903 and 1904; together they made numerous first ascents. He may be best known, however, for his exploration of Canada’s then unknown Rocky Mountains. Between 1897 and 1911, he made a total of six trips, two of them (1898 and 1902) with Stutfield.
He was the author of two books, Climbing on the Himalaya and Other Mountain Ranges, published in 1902, and Climbs and Exploration in the Canadian Rockies, which he wrote with Stutfield, in 1903. His love for the mountains continued until his death, in 1942, on his beloved Skye.
In this book, Christine Mill provides a sensitive and thoughtful assessment of the life of John Norman Collie—a pioneer in two worlds. She has written a biography that both holds one’s attention and enriches one’s knowledge.
Patricia A. Fletcher