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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Birth of George Salmon, Mathematician & Theologian

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Rev. Prof. George Salmon, distinguished and influential Irish mathematician and Anglican theologian, is born in Dublin on September 25, 1819. After working in algebraic geometry for two decades, he devotes the last forty years of his life to theology. His entire career is spent at Trinity College Dublin.

Salmon, the son of Michael Salmon and Helen Weekes, spends his boyhood in Cork, where his father is a linen merchant. There he attends Hamblin and Porter’s Grammar School before attending Trinity College in 1833, graduating with First Class Honours in mathematics in 1839. In 1841 he attains a paid fellowship and teaching position in mathematics at Trinity. In 1845 Salmon is additionally appointed to a position in theology at the university, after having been ordained a deacon in 1844 and a priest in the Church of Ireland in 1845.

In the late 1840s and the 1850s Salmon is in regular and frequent communication with Arthur Cayley and J. J. Sylvester. The three of them together with a small number of other mathematicians develop a system for dealing with n-dimensional algebra and geometry. During this period he publishes about 36 papers in journals.

In 1844 Salmon marries Frances Anne Salvador, daughter of Rev. J. L. Salvador of Staunton-upon-Wye in Herefordshire, with whom he has six children, of which only two survive him.

In 1848 Salmon publishes an undergraduate textbook entitled A Treatise on Conic Sections. This text remains in print for over fifty years, going through five updated editions in English, and is translated into German, French and Italian. From 1858 to 1867 he is the Donegall Lecturer in Mathematics at Trinity.

In 1859 Salmon publishes the book Lessons Introductory to the Modern Higher Algebra. This is for a while simultaneously the state-of-the-art and the standard presentation of the subject, and goes through updated and expanded editions in 1866, 1876 and 1885, and is translated into German and French. He also publishes two other mathematics texts, A Treatise on Higher Plane Curves (1852) and A Treatise on the Analytic Geometry of Three Dimensions (1862).

In 1858 Salmon is presented with the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy. In June 1863 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society followed in 1868 by the award of their Royal Medal. In 1889 he receives the Copley Medal of the society, the highest honorary award in British science, but by then he has long since lost his interest in mathematics and science.

From the early 1860s onward Salmon is primarily occupied with theology. In 1866 he is appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Trinity College, at which point he resigns from his position in the mathematics department. In 1871 he accepts an additional post of chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Salmon is Provost of Trinty College from 1888 until his death in 1904. The highlight of his career is likely when in 1892 he presides over the great celebrations marking the tercentenary of the College, which had been founded by Queen Elizabeth I. His deep conservatism leads him to strongly oppose women receiving degrees from the University.

Salmon dies at the Provost’s House on January 22, 1904 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. An avid reader throughout his life, his obituary refers to him as “specially devoted to the novels of Jane Austen.”

Salmon’s theorem [ru] is named in honor of George Salmon.

Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017). I have also served on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, Chairman 2017-2018) and the Walnut Valley Property Owners Association board (2015-2020, Secretary 2017-2020).

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