Richard John Griffith, Irish geologist, mining engineer, and chairman of the Board of Works of Ireland, is born in Hume Street, Dublin, on September 20, 1784. He completed the first complete geological map of Ireland and is author of the valuation of Ireland, known ever since as Griffith’s Valuation.
Griffith goes to school in Portarlington and later, while attending school in Rathangan, his school is attacked by the rebels during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He also studies in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In 1799 he obtains a commission in the Royal Irish Artillery, but a year later, when the corps is incorporated with that of England, he retires, and devotes his attention to civil engineering and mining. He studies chemistry, mineralogy, and mining for two years in London under William Nicholson and afterwards examines the mining districts in various parts of England, Wales, and Scotland.
While in Cornwall he discovers ores of nickel and cobalt in material that has been rejected as worthless. He completes his studies under Robert Jameson and others at Edinburgh, is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1807, a member of the newly established Geological Society of London in 1808, and in the same year he returns to Ireland.
In 1809, he is appointed by the commissioners to inquire into the nature and extent of the bogs in Ireland and the means of improving them. In 1812 he is elected Professor of Geology and Mining Engineer to the Royal Dublin Society. Shortly afterwards he expresses his intention of preparing a geological map of Ireland. During subsequent years he makes many surveys and issues many reports on mineral districts in Ireland. These form the foundation of his first geological map of the country in 1815. He also succeeds Dr. Richard Kirwan as government inspector of mines in Ireland. In 1822 Griffith becomes engineer of public works in Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, and is occupied until 1830 in repairing old roads and in laying out many miles of new roads in some of the most inaccessible parts of the country.
Meanwhile, in 1825, he is appointed by the government to carry out a boundary survey of Ireland. He is to mark the boundaries of every county, barony, civil parish, and townland in preparation for the first Ordnance Survey. He is also called upon to assist in the preparation of a parliamentary Bill to provide for the general valuation of Ireland, which passes in 1826. Griffith is appointed Commissioner of Valuation in 1827, but does not start work until 1830 when the new 6″ maps become available from the Ordnance survey and which he is required to use as provided for by statute. He continues to work on this until 1868. On Griffith’s valuation the various local and public assessments are made.
His extensive investigations furnish him with ample material for improving his geological map and the second edition is published in 1835. A third edition on a larger scale (1 in. to 4 m.) is issued under the Board of Ordnance in 1839 and it is further revised in 1855. For this great work and his other services to science Griffith is awarded the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society in 1854. In 1850 he is made chairman of the Irish Board of Works and in 1858 he is created a baronet.
Griffith dies at the age of 95 at his residence in Dublin on September 22, 1878. At the time of his death, he is the oldest surviving fellow of the Geological Society of London and is the last survivor of the long-since disbanded Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery. He is buried alongside his wife, Maria Jane, in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.