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


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Birth of John Kyan, Inventor in Wood Preservation

kyans-patentJohn Howard Kyan, inventor of the ‘kyanising’ process for preserving wood, is born on November 27, 1774 in Dublin. His father, also John Howard Kyan, is the owner of valuable copper mines in County Wicklow. He is educated to take part in the management of the mines, but soon after he enters the company its fortunes decline, and in 1804 his father dies almost penniless.

For a time Kyan is employed at some vinegar works at Newcastle upon Tyne, but subsequently removes to London. The decay of the timber supports in his father’s copper mines had already directed his attention to the question of preserving wood, and as early as 1812 he begins experiments with a view to discovering a method of preventing the decay. Eventually he finds that bichloride of mercury or corrosive sublimate, as it is commonly called, gives the best results and, without revealing the nature of the process, he submits a block of oak impregnated with the substance to the Admiralty in 1828. It is placed in the ‘fungus pit’ at Woolwich, where it remains for three years exposed to all the conditions favourable to decay. When taken out in 1831, it is found to be perfectly sound, and after further trials it still remains unaffected.

Kyan patents his discovery in 1832 (Nos. 8263 and 6309), extending the application of the invention to the preservation of paper, canvas, cloth, cordage, etc. A further patent is granted in 1836 (No. 7001).

The process attracts great attention. Michael Faraday chooses it as the subject of his inaugural lecture at the Royal Institution on February 22, 1833, on his appointment as Fullerian professor of chemistry. Dr. George Birkbeck gives a lecture upon it at the Royal Society of Arts on December 9, 1834, and in 1835 the Admiralty publishes the report of a committee appointed by the board to inquire into the value of the new method.

In 1836, Kyan sells his rights to the Anti-Dry Rot Company, an Act of Parliament being passed which authorises the raising of a capital of £250,000. Tanks are constructed at Grosvenor Basin, Pimlico, at the Grand Surrey Canal Dock, Rotherhide, and at the City Road Basin.

Among the early applications of the process is the kyanising of the palings around the Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, which is carried out in 1835 as an advertisement with small brass plates being attached to the palings at intervals stating that the wood has been submitted to the new process. The plates soon disappear, but the original palings still remain in good condition.

The timber used in building the Oxford and Cambridge Club, British Museum, Royal College of Surgeons, Westminster Bridewell, the new roof of the Temple Church, and the Ramsgate harbour works is also prepared by Kyan’s process. When wooden railway ties become general, a very profitable business for Kyan’s company is anticipated, and for a time these hopes are realised.

It becomes evident that iron fastenings cannot be used in wood treated with corrosive sublimate, on account of the corrosive action, and it is said that the wood becomes brittle. The salt is somewhat expensive and Sir William Burnett‘s method of preserving timber by zinc chloride, and afterwards the application of creosote for that purpose, proves severe competitors. Doubts begin to be expressed as to the real efficiency of kyanising, and the process gradually ceases to be employed.

John Kyan dies on January 5, 1850 in New York City, where he is engaged on a plan for filtering the water supplied to that city by the Croton Aqueduct.


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Enactment of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918

parliament-qualifications-of-women-act-1918The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, is given royal assent on November 21, 1918. It gives women over the age of 21 the right to stand for election as a Member of Parliament (MP). At 27 words, it is the shortest UK statute.

The Representation of the People Act 1918, passed on February 6, 1918, extends the franchise in parliamentary elections, also known as the right to vote, to women aged 30 and over who reside in the constituency or occupied land or premises with a rateable value above £5, or whose husbands do.

In March 1918, the Liberal Party MP for Keighley dies, causing a by-election on April 26. There is doubt as to whether women are eligible to stand for parliament. Nina Boyle makes known her intention to stand as a candidate for the Women’s Freedom League at Keighley and, if refused, to take the matter to the courts for a definitive ruling. After some consideration, the returning officer states that he is prepared to accept her nomination, thus establishing a precedent for women candidates. However, he rules her nomination papers invalid on other grounds: one of the signatories to her nomination is not on the electoral roll and another lives outside the constituency. The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are asked to consider the matter and conclude that the Great Reform Act 1832 had specifically banned women from standing as parliamentary candidates and the Representation of the People Act had not changed that.

Parliament hurriedly passes the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act in time to enable women to stand in the general election of December 1918. The act consists of only 27 operative words: “A woman shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage for being elected to or sitting or voting as a Member of the Commons House of Parliament.”

In the December 14, 1918 election to the House of Commons, seventeen women candidates stand, among them well-known suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, representing the Women’s Party in Smethwick. The only woman elected is the Sinn Féin candidate for Dublin St. Patrick’s, Constance Markievicz. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she does not take her seat.

The first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons is Nancy Astor on December 1, 1919. She is elected as a Coalition Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton on November 28, 1919, taking the seat her husband had vacated.

As Members of Parliament, women also gain the right to become government ministers. The first woman to become a cabinet minister and Privy Council member is Margaret Bondfield who is Minister of Labour in the second MacDonald ministry (1929–1931).


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Poisoning of James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond

James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond, is poisoned in London on October 28, 1546. He is the son of Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond, and Margaret Fitzgerald, Countess of Ormond. In 1535 he is created Viscount Thurles, and is confirmed by Act of Parliament on November 6, 1541, in the Earldom of Ormond, as 9th Earl with the pre-eminence of the original earls.

About 1520 Butler joins the household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who praises him as a young gentleman “both wise and discreet.” In early 1522, it is proposed by King Henry VIII that he marry his cousin Anne Boleyn, who is the great-granddaughter of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond. This is to resolve a dispute her father Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire has with James’ father over the Ormond inheritance and title. Wolsey himself supports the proposal. The marriage negotiation, comes to a halt for unknown reasons. Butler subsequently marries Lady Joan Fitzgerald in December 1532. Lady Joan is the daughter and heiress of the other great Munster landholder, the James FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Desmond and his wife Amy O’Brien. Their marriage produces seven sons.

During the early 1540s Butler gradually restores the Butler dynasty to their former position of influence, leading to antagonism from the quarrelsome Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Anthony St. Leger. St. Leger gives Butler command of the Irish forces in the Anglo-Scottish War of 1544. On the face of it this is an honour, but allies of Butler accuse St. Leger of deliberately sending him into danger. Butler himself demands an inquiry into claims that St. Leger had planned his murder, and the matter is thought to merit a Privy Council investigation. The Council finds in favour of St. Leger and he and Butler are ordered to work together amicably. Key Government allies of Butler like John Alan and Walter Cowley are removed from office, and Butler is struggling to maintain his standing when he is poisoned.

On October 17, 1546, James goes to London with many of his household. They are invited to dine at Ely Place in Holborn. He is poisoned along with his steward, James Whyte, and sixteen of his household. He dies nine days later, on October 28, leaving Joan a widow in her thirties.

It is surprising, in view of Butler’s high social standing, that no proper investigation into his death is carried out. Who is behind the poisoning remains a mystery. His host at the dinner, John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, though he could be notably ruthless, seems to have no motive for the crime, as he is not known to have had any quarrel with Butler. A recent historian remarks that it would be an extraordinary coincidence if St. Leger had no part in the sudden and convenient removal of his main Irish opponent.