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


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Death of Sir John Purser Griffith, Civil Engineer & Politician

Sir John Purser Griffith, Irish civil engineer and politician, dies at Rathmines Castle in Dublin on October 21, 1938.

Griffith is born on October 5, 1848 in Holyhead, Wales. He is educated at Trinity College Dublin, and gains a license in civil engineering in 1868. He serves a two-year apprenticeship under Dr. Bindon Blood Stoney, the Engineer in Chief of the Dublin Port and Docks, before working as assistant to the county surveyor of County Antrim. He returns to Dublin in 1871 and works as Dr. Stoney’s assistant, becoming the Chief Engineer in 1898 before retiring in 1913.

Griffith serves as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland between 1887 and 1889 and of the Institution of Civil Engineers between 1919 and 1920. He is elected Commissioner of Irish Lights in 1913 and is a member of the Royal Commission on Canals and Waterways between 1906 and 1911.

Griffith purchases and drains the bogland at Pollagh, part of the Bog of Allen. A peat fueled power station is built which drives an excavator, with excess peat being taken by the Grand Canal for sale in Dublin. The site is sold to the Turf Development Board in 1936 who uses it as a basis for all of their later peat fueled power stations. The area is now a nature reserve.

Griffith receives a knighthood in 1911 and becomes vice-president of the Royal Dublin Society in 1922. He serves as Honorary Professor of Harbour Engineering in Trinity College, his alma mater, and receives an honorary M.A.I. degree from the University of Dublin in 1914. From 1922 he is an elected member of the Seanad Éireann, the Irish senate, until its abolition in 1936. In the 1930s he and his niece, Sarah Purser, endow the Purser Griffith Travelling Scholarship and the Purser Griffith Prize to the two best performing students in European Art History at University College Dublin.

Griffith dies at Rathmines Castle in Dublin on October 21, 1938, having rightly earned the epithet ‘Grand Old Man of Irish engineering.’ A portrait in oils by his niece Sarah Purser, RHA, hangs in the Museum Building in Trinity College Dublin.


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Birth of John Purser, Mathematician & Professor

John Purser, Irish mathematician and professor at Queen’s College, Belfast, is born in Dublin on August 24, 1835.

Purser is the son of John Tertius Purser (1809–1893), the general manager of the well known A Guinness, Son & Co. brewery, and Anna Benigna Fridlezius (1803-1881). He is educated in a wealthy family, which includes artists, as his cousin Sarah Purser, or engineers, as his brother-in-law John Purser Griffith. He is the brother of mathematician Frederick Purser. He receives his early education at the private boarding school run by his uncle, Dr. Richard W. Biggs, at Devizes, Wiltshire. He completes his schooling at Devizes and begins his university studies at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating BA in mathematics in 1856. He is the best mathematician of his year at the University and in 1855 he gains the Lloyd Exhibition.

Purser becomes a tutor to the four sons of William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse (1800-1867) in 1857. Lord Rosse’s 72-inch reflecting telescope, built in 1845 and colloquially known of as the “Leviathan of Parsonstown,” is the world’s largest telescope when it is built and continues to hold this distinction until the early 20th century. As well as acting as tutor to the children, Purser does become involved in Lord Rosse’s interest in astronomy but never does any observing.

In 1863, Purser is appointed professor of mathematics at Queen’s College, Belfast, a position he maintains until his retirement in 1901.

Purser is much better known as a teacher than as a researcher, and he has a good number of notable students, including Sir Joseph Larmor, theoretical physicist who serves as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge; Charles Parsons, the inventor of the steam turbine; Sir John Henry MacFarland, who becomes Chancellor of the University of Melbourne; and William McFadden Orr.

Purser never marries. When his father dies on April 5, 1893, Rathmines Castle passes to him. He dies at Rathmines Castle on October 18, 1903, a very wealthy man. In his will he leaves £100,000 to his brother Frederick Purser, £40,000 to his sister Anna Griffith and £5,000 to each of her children. In addition to the money, he owns property in Blessington Street, Essex Street and Eustace Street which he leaves to his brother-in-law John Purser Griffith. Other properties and interests that he owns he divides between his brother Frederick and his sister Anna. After his death, his sister Anna and her husband John Purser Griffith move into Rathmines Castle although, at this time, its ownership has gone to Frederick Purser. After Frederick dies in August 1910, the Castle and his considerable wealth passes to Anna.

(Pictured: Portrait of John Purser painted by the artist Sarah Purser, daughter of Tertius Purser’s brother Benjamin Purser. The portrait hangs in Queen’s College, Belfast.)