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


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Birth of Molesworth Phillips, Companion of Captain Cook

molesworth-phillipsMolesworth Phillips, sailor and companion of Captain James Cook, is born in Swords, County Dublin on August 15, 1755.

Phillips is the son of John Phillips of Swords. His father is a natural son of Richard Molesworth, 3rd Viscount Molesworth, whence Phillips acquires his Christian name. He first enters the Royal Navy, but on the advice of his friend Sir Joseph Banks he accepts a commission as second lieutenant in the Royal Marines on January 17, 1776. In this capacity he is selected to accompany Captain Cook on his last voyage, extending over nearly three years. He sails with Cook from Plymouth on July 12, 1776, and is with the marines who escort Cook when he lands at Hawaii on February 14, 1779.

In John Webber‘s painting “The Death of Captain Cook” Phillips is represented kneeling and firing at a native who is clubbing Cook. Phillips is himself wounded, but, after swimming back to the boat, he turns back and helps another wounded marine to the boats.

On November 1, 1780 Phillips is promoted to captain. On January 10, 1782 he marries Susanna Elizabeth, third daughter of Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1814), and sister of Frances Burney and of James Burney, Phillips’s friend, who, like him, had accompanied Cook on his last voyage. He has no further active service, but is promoted brevet major on March 1, 1794, and brevet lieutenant colonel on January 1, 1798. From 1784, for the sake of his wife’s health, he lives for a time at Boulogne, but after the French Revolution he resides chiefly at Mickleham, Surrey, not far from Juniper Hall, where Frances Burney entertains numbers of French emigres. From 1796 to 1799, during the alarm of a French invasion of Ireland, Phillips feels it his duty to reside on the Irish estates at Beleotton, which he had inherited from an uncle. On January 6, 1800 his wife dies.

After the Treaty of Amiens, Phillips visits France in 1802, and he is one of those who are seized by Napoleon on the renewal of the war. He is detained in France until the peace of 1814. During this detention he makes friends with the Prince of Talleyrand and other well-known Frenchmen. After his return to England he becomes acquainted with Robert Southey, Mary and Charles Lamb, who describe him as “the high-minded associate of Cook, the veteran colonel, with his lusty heart still sending cartels of defiance to old Time,” and with John Thomas Smith (1766-1833), whom he supplies with various anecdotes for his Nollekens and his Times.

Phillips dies of cholera at his house in Lambeth on September 11, 1832, and is buried in St. Margaret’s, Westminster, where an inscription commemorates him and James and Martin Burney (1788-1852).

(Pictured: Etching of Molesworth Phillips by Andrew Geddes, circa 1825, bequeathed by Frederick Leverton Harris, 1927, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Birth of Scientific Writer Dionysius Lardner in Dublin

dionysius-lardnerDionysius Lardner, scientific writer who popularised science and technology and edited the 133-volume Cabinet Cyclopædia, is born in Dublin on April 3, 1793.

Lardner’s father was a solicitor in Dublin, who wishes his son to follow the same calling. After some years of uncongenial desk work, Lardner enters Trinity College, Dublin in 1812, obtains a B.A. in 1817 and an M.A. in 1819, winning many prizes. While in Dublin, Lardner begins to write and lecture on scientific and mathematical matters, and to contribute articles for publication by the Irish Academy.

In 1828, Lardner is elected professor of natural philosophy and astronomy at University College, London, a position he holds until he resigns his professorship in 1831. He is the author of numerous mathematical and physical treatises on such subjects as algebraic geometry, differential and integral calculus, and the steam engine. He also writes handbooks on various departments of natural philosophy, but it is as the editor of Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopædia that he is best remembered.

The Cabinet Cyclopædia eventually comprises 133 volumes with many of the ablest savants of the day contributing to it, including Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Moore, Connop Thirlwall, and Robert Southey. Lardner himself is the author of the treatises on arithmetic, geometry, heat, hydrostatics and pneumatics, mechanics, and electricity. The Cabinet Library and the Museum of Science and Art are his other chief undertakings.

In 1840, Lardner’s career receives a major setback as a result of his involvement with Mary Spicer Heaviside, the wife of Captain Richard Heaviside, of the Dragoon Guards. Lardner runs off to Paris with Mrs. Heaviside and is pursued by her husband. When he catches up with them, Heaviside subjects Lardner to a flogging but is unable to persuade his wife to return with him. Later that year Heaviside successfully sues Lardner for “criminal conversation” (adultery) and receives a judgment of £8,000. The Heavisides are divorced in 1845 and Lardner marries Mary Heaviside in 1846. The scandal effectively ends his career in England, so Lardner and his wife remained in Paris until shortly before his death in 1859. He is able to maintain his career by lecturing in the United States between 1841 and 1844, which proves financially rewarding.

Lardner dies in Naples, Italy, on April 29, 1859 and is buried in the Cimitero degli Inglesi there.