seamus dubhghaill

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


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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 Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne

daniel-mannixDaniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, advocate of Irish independence, and one of the most influential and controversial public figures in 20th-century Australia, is born near Charleville, County Cork on March 4, 1864.

Mannix is the son of a tenant farmer, Timothy Mannix, and his wife Ellen (née Cagney). He is educated at Congregation of Christian Brothers schools and at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, County Kildare, where he is ordained priest in 1890. He teaches philosophy (1891) and theology (1894) at St. Patrick’s and from 1903 to 1912 he serves as president of the college. During his presidency, he welcomes both King Edward VII in 1905 and King George V in 1911 with loyal displays, which attract criticism by supporters of the Irish Home Rule movement.

Consecrated titular archbishop of Pharsalus in 1912, Mannix arrives in Melbourne in the following year as coadjutor archbishop, becoming archbishop of Melbourne in 1917.

Mannix’s forthright demands for state aid for the education of Roman Catholics in return for their taxes and his opposition to drafting soldiers for World War I make him the subject of controversy. A zealous supporter of Irish independence, he makes an official journey to Rome in 1920 via the United States, where his lengthy speech making attracts enthusiastic crowds. His campaign on behalf of the Irish, however, causes the British government to prevent him from landing in Ireland, which he finally visits in 1925.

After World War II Mannix seeks to stop Communist infiltration of the Australian trade unions. He plays a controversial part in the dissensions within the Australian Labor Party and backs the largely right-wing Catholic Democratic Labor Party, which breaks away. A promoter of Catholic Action (i.e., lay apostolic activity in the temporal society) and of the Catholic social movement, he is responsible for the establishment of 181 schools, including Newman College and St. Mary’s College at the University of Melbourne, and 108 parishes.

By the 1960s the distinct identity of the Irish community in Melbourne is fading, and Irish Catholics are increasingly outnumbered by Italians, Maltese and other postwar immigrant Catholic communities. Mannix, who turned 90 in 1954, remains active and in full authority, but he is no longer a central figure in the city’s politics. He dies suddenly on November 6, 1963, aged 99, while the Archdiocese of Melbourne is preparing to celebrate his 100th birthday. He is buried in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.