Thomas Muir: 'Lad O'Pairts': The Life and Work of Sir Thomas Muir (1844–1934), Mathematician and Cape Colonial Educationist
Peter Elliott, author
Thomas Muir: ‘Lad o’Pairts’ is the first comprehensive book on Muir’s life and work, covering his humble Lanarkshire origins, his time as a schoolmaster in Glasgow, his passion for mathematics and the turbulent period he spent as the leading educationist of the Cape Colony in the early twentieth century. He was a man of broad interests, warm humor and wit, but also an acerbic critic, imbued with the prejudices of his times. This book, which draws extensively on Muir’s personal diaries of his travels into the interior, provides insights into the social and political backdrop against which he reformed the Cape education system. Thomas Muir (1844–1934) was both a renowned mathematician and a colonial educationist. As mathematician he is known particularly for his monumental five volumes, 'The Theory of Determinants', written when this concept was mainstream. As Superintendent-General of Education of the Cape Colony (1892–1915), he demonstrated extraordinary powers of industry and had a profound influence on the course of education in the Colony; he introduced wide-ranging reforms and the school buildings constructed throughout the Cape remain a permanent legacy of his era. He was one of a new breed of British colonialists, an efficient bureaucrat and educational planner. Muir’s diaries of his travels into the remote interior of the Cape are published in Part II of this book. They are dominated by his changing moods and interests and capture the trifling details and enthusiasms of each day. Written for no one but himself, the accounts enable the reader to savor the full character of this highly intelligent and energetic, but complicated, man. The trivialities and reflections that interest him, and his vivid description of people and places, constitute the tapestry of the ordinary humanity of Muir. He was no paragon, but the flaws in his character and his ‘redeeming’ vices make him all the more interesting.