seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Robert John Kane, Chemist & Educator

robert-john-kaneSir Robert John Kane, chemist and educator, dies at the age of 80 in Dublin on February 16, 1890. In a distinguished career, he founds the Dublin Journal of Medical  & Chemical Science, is Vice-Chancellor of Royal University of Ireland and is director of the Museum of Irish Industry.

Kane is born at 48 Henry Street, Dublin on September 24, 1809 to John and Eleanor Kean (née Troy). His father is involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and flees for a time to France where he studies chemistry. Back in Dublin, Kean (now Kane) founds the Kane Company and manufactures sulfuric acid.

Kane studies chemistry at his father’s factory and attends lectures at the Royal Dublin Society as a teenager. He publishes his first paper in 1828, Observations on the existence of chlorine in the native peroxide of manganese, in the London Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature and Art. The following year, his description of the natural arsenide of manganese results in the compound being named Kaneite in his honour. He studies medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1834 while working in the Meath Hospital. He is appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Apothecaries’ Hall, Dublin in 1831, which earns him the moniker of the “boy professor.” In the following year he participates in the founding of the Dublin Journal of Medical & Chemical Science.

On the strength of his book Elements of Practical Pharmacy, Kane is elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832. He studies acids, shows that hydrogen is electropositive, and proposes the existence of the ethyl radical. In 1836 he travels to Giessen in Germany to study organic chemistry with Justus von Liebig. In 1843 he is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s Cunningham Medal for his work on the nature and constitution of compounds of ammonia.

Kane publishes a three-volume Elements of Chemistry in 1841–1844, and a detailed report on the Industrial Resources of Ireland. This includes the first assessment of the water power potential of the River Shannon, which is not realised until the 1920s at Ardnacrusha.

Kane becomes a political adviser on scientific and industrial matters. He serves on several commissions to enquire into the Great Irish Famine, along with Professors Lindley and Taylor, all more or less ineffective. His political and administrative work means that his contribution to chemistry ceases after about 1844.

Kane’s work on Irish industry leads to his being appointed director of the Museum of Irish Industry in Dublin in 1845. The Museum is a successor to the Museum of Economic Geology, and is housed at 51 St. Stephen’s Green.

Also in 1845 Kane becomes the first President of Queen’s College, Cork (now University College Cork). He does not spend a lot of time in Cork as he has work in Dublin, and his wife lives there. The science building on the campus is named in his honour. He is knighted in 1846.

In 1873 Kane takes up the post of National Commissioner for Education. He is elected president of the Royal Irish Academy in 1877, holding the role until 1882. In 1880 he is appointed the first chancellor of the newly created Royal University of Ireland. After a motion to admit women to the University, put forward by Prof. Samuel Haughton at Academic Council in Trinity College Dublin, March 10, 1880, Kane is appointed to a committee of ten men to look into the matter. He is opposed to the admission of women, and nothing is reported from the committee in the Council minutes for the next ten years.

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Birth of John Robert Gregg, Inventor of Gregg Shorthand

john-robert-greggJohn Robert Gregg, educator, publisher, humanitarian, and the inventor of the eponymous shorthand system Gregg shorthand, is born in Shantonagh, County Monaghan on June 17, 1867.

Gregg is the youngest child of Robert and Margaret Gregg. They move to Rockcorry in 1872. Robert Gregg, who is of Scottish ancestry, is station-master at the Bushford railway station in Rockcorry. He and his wife raise their children as strict Presbyterians, and send their children to the village school in Rockcorry. On Gregg’s second day of class, he is caught whispering to a schoolmate, which prompts the schoolmaster to hit the two children’s heads together. This incident profoundly damages Gregg’s hearing for the rest of his life, rendering him unable to participate fully in school, unable to understand his teacher. This ultimately leads to him unnecessarily being perceived as dull or mentally challenged by his peers, teachers, and family.

In 1877, one of Robert Gregg’s friends, a journalist named Annesley, visits the village for a weekend. He is versed in Pitman Shorthand and takes verbatim notes of the sermon at the village church. This causes the preacher to sweat and stutter out of fear that his sermon, which he has plagiarized from a famous preacher, would be made public through Annesley’s notes. That day, Robert Gregg sees the shorthand skill as a powerful asset, so he makes it mandatory for his children to learn Pitman shorthand, with the exception of John, who is considered by his family too “simple” to learn it. None of the children succeed in fully learning the system. On his own, John Robert learns a different shorthand system, that of Samuel Taylor, published in a small book by Odell. He teaches himself the system fully since he does not require the ability to hear in order to learn from the book.

Due to hardships on the family, Gregg has to leave school before the age of 13 in order to support his family’s income. He works in a law office, earning five shillings a week.

Gregg professes he initially set out to improve the English adaptation by John Matthew Sloan of the French Prévost Duployan shorthand, while working with one of Sloan’s sales agents, Thomas Malone. Malone publishes a system called Script Phonography, of which Gregg asserts a share in authorship is owed to him. Angered by Malone, Gregg resigns from working with him and, encouraged by his older brother Samuel, publishes and copyrights his own system of shorthand in 1888. It is put forth in a brochure entitled Light-Line Phonography: The Phonetic Handwriting which he publishes in Liverpool, England.

In 1893, he emigrates to the United States, where he publishes in the same year Gregg Shorthand. The method meets with great success in the new country, and Gregg settles in Chicago where he authors numerous books for the Gregg Publishing Company on the subjects of shorthand and contemporary business practices.

John Robert Gregg dies in New York City, at the age of 80, on February 23, 1948.