James Blackwood

Although born in the same year as James Thomson (1823), James Blackwood came from a different background - his family were relatively rich. After being educated at Kilmarnock Academy he went to Aberdeen and started a photographic business. Returning to Kilmarnock about 1860 he set up business in carpet manufacturing and later became managing partner of the Holm Foundry. By 1866 he was Town Councillor and in 1869 he was elected a magistrate. He played a large part in the establishment of both the New Academy and the Infirmary in the town.

Despite all these public duties he became an accomplished scientist. He was especially interested in geology and for his studies he built a microscope and rock sectioning equipment - the latter produced thin sections of rock which were so thin as to be transparent. In 1884 he was asked to become an Honorary Member of the  Glenfield Ramblers, which he gladly did. 

From his earliest days, Blackwood had been a pioneer in the subject of optics, electric light and photography, often lecturing on these subjects. It is no surprise that it was he who, in 1863, set up the first electric light in Kilmarnock in an upper room overlooking the Cross. 

Described as second only to his great friend Dr. Heddle as a mineralogist the Blackwood collection is in three parts: minerals and rocks, predominantly Scottish; A microscope slide collection; and a collection of Carboniferous fossils, especially strong in brachiopods. James Blackwood died in 1893 and his collection now makes up a large part of the Natural Sciences Collection held by East Ayrshire Council. 

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