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Queen's University

Queen's Encyclopedia

Dupuis, Nathan Fellowes (1836-1917)

[photo of Nathan Fellowes Dupuis]

Nathan Fellowes Dupuis was one of Queen's most influential and versatile science professors in the 19th century and helped to found the University's Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

He was born on a farm near Kingston. When he was fourteen years old, he was the marvel of his neighbours; despite having little formal schooling, he had a talent for mathematics and mechanics and he had made a clock out of bits of scrap materials around his farm, which was hanging in his family's barn, working and keeping good time. A local clockmaker named William Smith of Smith Bros. Jewellers (which still exists), heard the story of this boy and convinced him to move to Kingston and apprentice under him. Dupuis practised the art of clock-making for a few years more, independently pursuing studies in math and astronomy, before returning to school and then teaching public school for six years.

He entered Queen's University in 1863, and later that same year was given the post of Observer in the university observatory. Mr. Dupuis was fascinated with astronomy and was said to have known entire star charts by memory. He completed his degree at Queen's in 1866 when he was 30 years old.

After graduation, he became a Queen's librarian and continued his studies in his spare time.

Dupuis began his teaching career as Professor of Chemistry and Natural History in 1868. He was appointed Professor of Mathematics and Chemistry in 1880 and in 1881 became Professor of Pure Mathematics.

He had a leading role in the founding of the Faculty of Practical Science at Queen's and he was made Dean when it opened in 1894. He retained that post until he retired in 1911.

Mr. Dupuis was always a force for progress at Queen's and strongly proclaimed the virtues of a scientific education. In fact, he often did so by calling the "usefulness" of subjects like classics and philosophy into question - a practice which brought him into conflict with his fellow professors on more than one occasion.

Mr. Dupuis published a number of books, such as Elements of Geometrical Optics in 1868 and Geometry of the Point, Line, and Circle, which was a revolutionary break from the traditional geometry of Euclid. He earned himself a reputation as a scholar and an innovative thinker in his field.

Mr. Dupuis was a multi-talented man and in addition to his theoretical excursions in mathematics and chemistry, he never lost his knack for building things. He helped Professor Goodwin design Carruthers Hall and invented numerous pieces of scientific and practical apparatus for the university, including the the original clock in Grant Hall tower, which continued to work - with some new parts - for roughly 90 years until it was replaced in 1993. He was also a painter and loved to play the violin.

The students of Professor Dupuis remembered him as a man with a strong personality, but one who never failed to encourage his students and bring out the best in them.

He died in California in 1917 and is buried in the Cataraqui Cemetery.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000