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Reconstructing Irish Science: The Library of the Royal College of Science for Ireland (1867-1926)

Abstract A representative selection of printed books and maps associated with the scientific subjects taught at the Royal College of Science for Ireland (RCSI) held in UCD Special Collections.

In collection

Date
1867/1926
Extent
28 items
Location of original
Original items located in UCD Library Special Collections.
Repository
UCD Library Special Collections
Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive
Language
English ; French ; Latin ; Irish
Scope and Content
This collection consists of a representative selection of images associated with the scientific subjects taught at the Royal College of Science for Ireland (1867-1926), along with the 1872 Catalogue of its Library.
The foundation of the RCSI in 1867 was the result of intensive lobbying for a higher scientific institution in Ireland led chiefly by the chemist and educationalist, Sir Robert Kane. Evolving from Kane's educational and exhibitional institute - the Museum of Irish Industry - the RCSI aimed to provide instruction and teaching to Irish and British men and women across a broad range of science and engineering subjects. Kane served as Dean until 1873 and professorships were established in physics, chemistry, applied chemistry, geology, applied mathematics and mechanics, botany, zoology, agriculture, descriptive geometry and engineering, and mining and metallurgy. Although recognised as an innovative centre for training and research, the RCSI suffered throughout its history from the low numbers of students who enrolled in its courses - averaging about 100 at the turn of the century. The RCSI also faced a challenge in selling the message of higher scientific education among middle-class nationalists in Dublin. For those who did graduate with an associate diploma from the RCSI, a variety of careers was available such as positions as lecturers and teachers in science colleges, technical schools, and national schools; geologists on the Geological Surveys; civil and electrical engineers; civil servants throughout the British Empire; industrial chemists; mining and mineralogical workers; physicians; veterinarians; county surveyors.
The College was revitalised following the establishment of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1899 and it moved to splendid new buildings designed by Sir Aston Webb on Merrion Street in 1911. During the Civil War in October 1922 the College was officially closed following a bomb scare and part of it was taken over by the Free State government for use as offices. Despite efforts to save the College, the University Education (Agriculture and Dairy Science) Act was passed in June 1926 and the RCSI was amalgamated with UCD. The amalgamation resulted in the provision of academic staff, students, and much-needed facilities to the UCD Faculties of Agriculture, Engineering and Architecture, and Science. The UCD School of Engineering continued to function at Merrion Street until 1989 when it was relocated to the Belfield Campus.
UCD James Joyce Library and Special Collections contain thousands of books, maps, pamphlets, journals, and other printed materials which were once part of the RCSI library and that of its predecessor, the Museum of Irish Industry. A key objective of this project is to examine and research the extant RCSI collection, mostly dating from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, held in storage in UCD. Also utilising the papers of the RCSI in UCD Archives and the general rare science collection in Special Collections, this project takes a holistic approach towards science in pre-Independence Ireland with specific research outputs and a HII exhibition intended to arouse interest in the history of science at UCD.
The Museum of Irish Industry had been founded on the model of the Museum of Practical Geology and the Government School of Mines on Jermyn Street, London, and Kane was an avid proponent of exploring Irish mineral deposits, as can be seen in his The Industrial Resources of Ireland (1844). A Chair of Mining and Mineralogy was established for the RCSI, yet J.P. O'Reilly proved to be the only holder and the Chair was abolished in 1899. This was indicative of the steady decline in the fortunes of Irish mining operations from the early nineteenth-century onwards. The history of mining and assaying in Ireland is a fascinating area and books such as John Pettus's Fodinæ Regales and maps produced by the British Coal Commission are just some of the materials available to the student at UCD Special Collections.
Victorian physics was a discipline in a constant state transformation, swiftly evolving from the abstract natural philosophies of the early nineteenth century to the cutting-edge measurement physics of the later part. Michael Faraday was a dominant figure in Victorian science, and his path-breaking Experimental Researches in Electricity laid the foundations for future experimentation in electromagnetism and electro-technology. The Chair of Physics was arguably the most important teaching position in the late-Victorian university and with just four professors of physics at the RCSI throughout its history this position was one of its most stable. Under the long tenure of William F. Barrett (1873-1909), an emphasis was placed on the practical experimentation of students in the laboratory from an early stage, and as the image demonstrates, female students were not discriminated against.
The Professorship of Chemistry was originally divided up between theoretical and applied chemistry, but the English-born Robert Galloway taught both of these subjects at the Museum of Irish Industry and the RCSI. Galloway's The First Step in Chemistry was probably the primary text-book used in his introductory courses. In 1879 Galloway was controversially forced to retire following a dispute regarding his teaching methods. However, it seems that at the centre of this dispute was the lack of laboratory space at 51 St. Stephen's Green, and Professor Barrett had complained about damage caused to his physical instruments during one of Galloway's classes. Improved conditions for chemistry students came with the College's transfer to Merrion Street, as can be seen from the picture of the Inorganic Chemistry laboratory.
One of the undoubted treasures of the RCSI library, now in UCD Special Collections, is the collection of publications from the Ray Society, a group of naturalists and zoologists founded in 1844 which counted Charles Darwin among its prominent members. The RCSI library contained the chief works of Darwin including a second edition of his On the Origin of the Species (1860) and a first edition of The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Many zoological books were copiously illustrated and the image presented here of a kingfisher bird from Morris's A History of British Birds gives one an idea of the quality of these illustrations.
Before the RCSI, botany was already an important lectureship at the Dublin Society and, as it later became known, the Royal Dublin Society. Kane made space for the teaching of botany at the Museum of Irish Industry and the highly accomplished William Henry Harvey became a professor there. The RCSI library contains many finely illustrated botanical volumes from this era which include The Irish Flora, a work attributed to Kane's botanist wife, Katherine Sophia Kane. Another interesting piece of Irish botanical literature is John Cameron's Gaelic Names of Plants, an exhaustive listing of flora and fauna with their English, Latin, and Gaelic names with notes on superstitions associated with plants.
The origins of the RCSI can be traced back to the activities of the Geological Survey in Ireland from the 1830s which inspired Kane to establish the Museum of Economic Geology in 1845, later renamed the Museum of Irish Industry. The activities of the Geological Survey at Hume Street were closely aligned with that of the Museum of Irish Industry just around the corner, and all the RCSI Professors of Geology simultaneously worked for the Survey. The Antrim-born Edward Hull taught at the RCSI for some two decades and did important geological work as part of the Palestine Exploration Fund (1883-1884). Hull's superior in Dublin, George Henry Kinahan, also taught at the RCSI and mapped much of west and south-west Ireland in the 1860s and 1870s. Kinahan's maps in The General Glaciation of Iar-Connaught are just some of a large number of RCSI maps deposited in UCD Special Collections.
The RCSI library was particularly rich in mathematical text-books and this reflects the growing importance that advanced mathematics had for a large variety of scientific subjects such as engineering, physics, and chemistry. All entrants to the RCSI were expected to have a basic knowledge of mathematics and it was on this basis that lecturers such as Robert Stawell Ball, Professor of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics, could educate students in theories of forces, motion, gravity, and acoustics. While Irish students were held to be particularly strong in mathematics, professors such as George Boole, who taught at Queen's College, Cork, also excelled in the subject. Boole's An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854) was a highly influential treatise which later provided a basis for algebraic logic and computational theory.
The Irish astronomical tradition was a particularly strong one and from Sir Howard Grubb's extraordinarily successful telescope industry to James Joyce's 'Ithaca' episode, astronomy was something which thrilled Irish scientists and public alike. Although astronomy was not a subject officially taught at the RCSI, its library contains a large number of works on astronomy written by English, German, and French astronomers. Robert Stawell Ball departed the RCSI in 1874 to become Royal Astronomer of Ireland and his The Story of the Sun along with John Rand Capron's Auroræ demonstrates the visual richness of astronomy books during the period.
The pioneer forestry society in the British Isles was the Dublin Arboricultural Society which existed c.1829-1831, yet interest in forestry as a scientific subject only began to emerge towards the end of the nineteenth century, with most Irish and British foresters studying in France (usually Nancy). UCD Special Collections possesses issues of the Gardener's Chronicle stretching back to 1862, many of which deal with Irish horticultural matters. In 1903 the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction established a centre for forestry at Avondale and began to patronise soil science at the RCSI. In 1913 Augustine Henry, a brilliant amateur botanist and graduate of Nancy, was made the only ever Professor of Forestry at the RCSI and throughout his tenure he played a key role in afforestation policy in Ireland.
With the establishment of the Faculty of Agriculture there were high hopes that the RCSI, in conjunction with the Royal Dublin Society, would foster scientific approaches to Irish agriculture and rejuvenate the sector in the aftermath of the Famine and depression of the 1870s. Despite the RCSI being the only institution in the United Kingdom offering specialised education in agriculture, the Professorship proved to be a failure and it was abolished in 1877. With the establishment of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1899, and the influence of Colonel Plunkett's Co-operative movement, the Chair was revitalised. One RCSI graduate, William Fream, wrote a text book for agricultural scientists, farmers, and administrators which sold 10,000 copies in three months.
The International Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace, London, in 1851, kick-started the age of great Victorian public displays of national industries, crafts, and the applied and fine arts. Wyatt's The Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century (1853) gives us an excellent idea of the kind of materials that were put on display in this period. One example is of an ivory throne presented to Queen Victoria by the Rajah of Travancore, complete with ornamental hookah. The Museum of Irish Industry was the major repository of industrial and geological specimens in Ireland, but its director, Sir Robert Kane, also had an eye for the fine arts and spent £57 on the ten-volume Les Arts au Moyen Age (1838-1846). Much of the cultural activity in Victorian Dublin took place in the district around Kildare Street and Merrion Square and many attempts were made establish a museum quarter here on the South Kensington model.
At the time of the incorporation of the Museum of Irish Industry into the RCSI in 1867, its library already consisted of thousands of books, monographs, maps, journals, reports, and other printed materials which had been assembled with great care by the Kane and his librarian, Alphonse Gages. The material which constituted the RCSI library reflected the diversity of scientific, geological, and engineering subjects taught there and as the College grew in scope, so too did the number of its acquisitions. In 1868 there were 3,935 volumes; by 1875 this had grown to 6,000. The digitisation of Gages's first catalogue, produced in 1872, helps us to reconstruct a Victorian scientific library and its digitisation offers a wonderful resource for future researchers in the history of science and history of the book.
Databases--Abstracts and Indexing
University College, Dublin
Royal College of Science, Ireland

Record source
Finding aid encoded in EAD by the Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive (IVRLA) - RM., 26 November 2009

Finding aid author
Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive (IVRLA)

1. Index lists

2. Mining and Mineralogy

3. Physics

4. Chemistry

5. Zoology

6. Botany

7. Geology

8. Applied Maths and Mechanics

9. Astronomy

10. Forestry

11. Agriculture

12. Art/Exhibition

13. Catalogue


1.   Index lists

[Index list of RCSI books held in UCD Newsted.] (1698/1871)   [View...]
[Index list of journal titles in UCD Newsted.] (1873/1967)   [View...]
[RCSI numbers of attendence.] (1868/1919)   [View...]

2.   Mining and Mineralogy

[Maps and sections to accompany the report of the Royal Coal Commission 1871.] (1871)   [View...]
Fodinæ Regales. Or the History, Laws and Places of the Chief Mines and Mineral Works in England, Wales, and the English Pale in Ireland. /By John Pettus. (1670)   [View...]
[De Re Metallica Libri XII]. /By Georg Agricola] (1621)   [View...]

3.   Physics

Experimental Researches in Electricity. Vol.1. /By Michael Faraday. (1839)   [View...]
[Photograph of first year physics laboratory, from 'The College of Science for Ireland.'] (1923)   [View...]

4.   Chemistry

The First Step in Chemistry: A New Method for Teaching the Elements of Science. /By Robert Galloway. (1856)   [View...]
[Photograph of laboratory for inorganic chemistry, from 'The College of Science for Ireland.'] (1930/1959)   [View...]

5.   Zoology

[Photograph in Charles Darwin. 'The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.'] (1872)   [View...]
[Image of Kingfisher in F.O. Morris. 'A History of British Birds. Vol.1.'] (1851)   [View...]

6.   Botany

The Irish Flora. [Attributed to Lady Kane.] (1846)   [View...]
[Gaelic Names of Plants (Scottish and Irish)]. /By John Cameron. (1883)   [View...]

7.   Geology

The Survey of Western Palestine. /By Edward Hull. (1886)   [View...]
The General Glaciation of Iar-Connaught and its neighbourhood, in the counties of Galway and Mayo. /By G. Henry Kinahan. (1872)   [View...]

8.   Applied Maths and Mechanics

Experimental Mechanics: A Course of Lectures delivered at the Royal College of Science for Ireland. /By Robert Ball. (1871)   [View...]
An Investigation of the Laws of Thought. /By George Boole. (1854)   [View...]

9.   Astronomy

The Story of the Sun. /By Robert Ball. (1893)   [View...]
Auroræ: Their Characters and Spectra. /By John Rand Capron. (1879)   [View...]

10.   Forestry

Forests Woods and Trees. /By Augustine Henry. (1919)   [View...]
['Potato Digging in Ireland' Gardener's Chronicle, vol.18.] (1895-07/1895-12)   [View...]

11.   Agriculture

[Photograph of laboratory of agricultural botany in The College of Science.] (1930/1959)   [View...]
Elements of Agriculture: A Text-book Prepared under the authority of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. /By William Fream. (1892)   [View...]

12.   Art/Exhibition

[Image of throne in M. Digby Wyatt. The Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century. Vol. 1.] (1853)   [View...]
[Image of Sarcophagus in Les Arts au Moyen Age, 4e Série] (1838)   [View...]
[Image of Dublin cultural area in Museum Association. Report of Proceedings with Papers Read.] (1800/1899)   [View...]

13.   Catalogue

[Catalogue of the Library of the Royal College of Science for Ireland.] (1852/1872)   [View...]

Conditions Governing Access to Original Materials Printed material in UCD Library Special Collections is made available to staff and students of UCD, and to eligible external readers, in the reading room during regular opening hours. To facilitate readers who are not free to use Special Collections during these times, alternative arrangements can be made. Manuscripts are usually only available, by appointment, to research students, teaching staff and scholars. Research students should also have a letter of recommendation from their supervisor.

For further information on accessing original items in this collection, please contact UCD Library Special Collections directly.

Conditions Governing Access to Digitised Materials Digital surrogates are made available by the Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive (IVRLA), subject to the terms and conditions outlined on this website.

Conditions Governing Use of Original Materials Restrictions may vary depending upon the particular item. Please contact UCD Library Special Collections for further information.

Conditions Governing Use of Digitised Materials Digital surrogates may only be used in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive (IVRLA).