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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Death of Activist James Haughton

james-haughtonJames Haughton, Irish social reformer and temperance activist, dies in Dublin on February 20, 1873.

Haughton, son of Samuel Pearson Haughton (1748–1828), by Mary, daughter of James Pim of Rushin, Queen’s County (now County Laois), is born in Carlow, County Carlow, and educated at Ballitor, County Kildare, from 1807 to 1810, under James White, a quaker. After filling several situations to learn his business, in 1817 he settles in Dublin, where he becomes a corn and flour factor, in partnership with his brother William. He retires in 1850. Although educated as a Friend, he joins the Unitarians in 1834, and remains throughout his life a strong believer in their tenets.

Haughton supports the anti-slavery movement at an early period and takes an active part in it until 1838, going in that year to London as a delegate to a convention. Shortly after the Temperance campaigner Father Theobald Mathew takes the pledge, on April 10, 1838, Haughton becomes one of his most devoted disciples. For many years he gives most of his time and energies to promoting total abstinence and to advocating legislative restrictions on the sale of intoxicating drinks.

In December 1844 Haughton is the chief promoter of a fund which is raised to pay some of the debts of Father Mathew and release him from prison. About 1835 he commences a series of letters in the public press which make his name widely known. He writes on temperance, slavery, British India, peace, capital punishment, sanitary reform, and education. His first letters are signed “The Son of a Water Drinker,” but he soon commences using his own name and continues to write until 1872.

Haughton takes a leading part in a series of weekly meetings which are held in Dublin in 1840, when so numerous are the social questions discussed that a newspaper editor calls the speakers the “Anti-everythingarians.” In association with Daniel O’Connell, of whose character he has a very high opinion, he advocates various plans for the amelioration of the condition of Ireland and the Repeal of the Union, but is always opposed to physical force.

Haughton becomes a vegetarian in 1846, both on moral and sanitary grounds. For two or three years before his death he is president of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom. He is one of the first members of the Statistical Society of Dublin (1847), a founder of the Dublin Mechanics’ Institute (1849), in the same year is on the committee of the Dublin Peace Society, aids in abolishing Donnybrook Fair in 1855, and takes a chief part in 1861 in opening the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin on Sundays.

James Haughton dies at 35 Eccles Street, Dublin, on February 20, 1873, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery on February 24 in the presence of an immense crowd of people.

Haughton’s son, Samuel Haughton, publishes a memoir of his father’s life including extracts from his public correspondence in 1877.