A Brief History of Mathematics and Statistics at Queen's

Queen's University received a Royal Charter on October 16, 1841 from Queen Victoria. Classes began later, in 1842 with two professors. One of these professors was James Williamson, Queen's first mathematician and the brother-in-law of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister. Williamson's arrival from Scotland "was of great relief to his colleagues, who gladly turned over to him the classes in mathematics." (1)

Willamson remained at Queen's until his death in 1893, having been "the man who through all the difficult years had combined scholarly integrity and tireless industry with warm personal friendship for all members of Queen's, professors and students alike, the man whom constant through all changes and reverses, had become almost the living embodiment of the university." (2)

Williamson was the only person at Queen's teaching mathematics until he was joined by Nathan Dupuis. Dupuis originally come to Queen's in 1863 as the University's "Observer." He became a librarian in 1866, was awarded an M.A. from Queen's in 1867 and was appointed Professor of Chemistry in 1868 (3). He was later appointed Professor of Mathematics, in 1880. He held this position until 1911, when he retired. (4)

In 1893, the School of Mining, which was to become the Faculty of Applied Science, was created at Queen's; Professor Dupuis was appointed Dean of the new School. Even in this capacity, though, Dupuis placed a great deal of emphasis on Mathematics, insisting that it was "the whole basis of practical science" (5).

A few more points on Dupuis seem important. He was an excellent teacher. W.L. Grant, the son of former Principal Grant, wrote that "he was the only perfect teacher I have ever known." (6) He was also an excellent craftsman, designing a wide variety of mechanical devices, including the Grant Hall clock.

In 1911, Dupuis left Queen's, and John Matheson became the head of the department. Matheson had been at Queen's since 1902, where he and Dupuis were the only professors teaching mathematics. In 1911, the department expanded to a total of four professors.

In 1924, Matheson became the Dean of Arts, while concurrently holding the position of Head of Mathematics. He continued in both of these positions until 1943.




In 1943, Ralph L. Jeffery became the Head of the Mathematics Department. At this time, there were seven faculty members in the department.

Jeffery continued as head until 1960, when he was succeeded by A. John Coleman. When he arrived, there were only 9 faculty members in the department; by 1963, it had grown to 14, and by 1967, to 32. (7)






(1) Neatby, Hilda, Queen's University, Volume 1, p. 9.
(2) Ibid, p. 109.
(3) Ibid, p. 135.
(4) Wallace, R.C., Some Great Men of Queen's, p. 52.
(5) Neatby, p. 220.
(6) Wallace, p. 63.
(7) Coleman, A. John, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, p. 2. (available from the department)