seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Lawrence Parsons, 4th Earl of Rosse

Lawrence Parsons, 4th Earl of Rosse, KP, FRS, a member of the Irish peerage and an amateur astronomer, dies on August 29, 1908. His name is often given as Laurence Parsons.

Parsons is born at Birr Castle, Parsonstown, King’s County (now County Offaly), the son and heir of the astronomer William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, who built the “Leviathan of Parsonstownreflecting telescope, largest of its day, and his wife, the Countess of Rosse (née Mary Field), an amateur astronomer and pioneering photographer. He succeeds his father in 1867 and is educated first at home by tutors, like John Purser, and after at Trinity College, Dublin and the University of Oxford. He is the brother of Charles Algernon Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine.

Parsons serves as the eighteenth Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin between 1885 and 1908. His father serves as the sixteenth Chancellor. He is Lord Lieutenant of King’s County and Custos Rotulorum of King’s County from 1892 until his death. He is also a Justice of the Peace for the county and is appointed High Sheriff of King’s County for 1867–68. He is knighted KP in 1890.

Parsons also performs some preliminary work in association with the practices of the electrodeposition of copper sulfate upon silver films circa 1865 while in search of the design for a truly flat mirror to use in a telescope. However, he finds it impossible to properly electroplate copper upon these silver films, as the copper contracts and detaches from the underlying glass substrate. His note has been cited as one of the earliest confirmations in literature that thin films on glass substrates experience residual stresses. He revives discussion in his work Nature’s August 1908 edition after witnessing similar techniques used to present newly-devised searchlights before the Royal Society.

Although overshadowed by his father (when astronomers speak of “Lord Rosse”, it is almost always the father that they refer to), Parsons nonetheless pursues some astronomical observations of his own, particularly of the Moon. Most notably, he discovers NGC 2, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Pegasus.

Parsons is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in December 1867 and delivers the Bakerian lecture there in 1873. He is vice-president of the society in 1881 and 1887. From 1896 he is President of the Royal Irish Academy. In May 1902 he is at Caernarfon to receive the honorary degree LL.D. (Legum Doctor) from the University of Wales during the ceremony to install the Prince of Wales (later King George V) as Chancellor of that university.


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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.)


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Birth of Sir Joseph Larmor, Physicist & Mathematician

Sir Joseph Larmor FRS FRSE, Irish and British physicist and mathematician who makes breakthroughs in the understanding of electricity, dynamics, thermodynamics, and the electron theory of matter, is born in Magheragall, County Antrim on July 11, 1857. His most influential work is Aether and Matter, a theoretical physics book published in 1900.

Larmor is the son of Hugh Larmor, a Belfast shopkeeper and his wife, Anna Wright. The family moves to Belfast around 1860, and he is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and then studies mathematics and experimental science at Queen’s College, Belfast, where one of his teachers is John Purser. He obtains his BA in 1874 and MA in 1875. He subsequently studies at St. John’s College, Cambridge where in 1880 he is Senior Wrangler and Smith’s Prizeman, and obtains his MA in 1883. After teaching physics for a few years at Queen’s College, Galway, he accepts a lectureship in mathematics at Cambridge in 1885. In 1892 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and he serves as one of the Secretaries of the society. He is made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1910.

In 1903 Larmor is appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a post he retains until his retirement in 1932. He never marries. He is knighted by King Edward VII in 1909.

Motivated by his strong opposition to Home Rule for Ireland, in February 1911 Larmor runs for and is elected as Member of Parliament for Cambridge University (UK Parliament constituency) with the Conservative Party. He remains in parliament until the 1922 general election, at which point the Irish question has been settled. Upon his retirement from Cambridge in 1932 he moves back to County Down in Northern Ireland.

Larmor receives the honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) from the University of Glasgow in June 1901. He is awarded the Poncelet Prize for 1918 by the French Academy of Sciences. He is a Plenary Speaker in 1920 at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) at Strasbourg and an Invited Speaker at the ICM in 1924 in Toronto and at the ICM in 1928 in Bologna.

Larmor dies in Holywood, County Down, Northern Ireland on May 19, 1942.