Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Trinity Menu Trinity Search

You are here About > 400 years of Mathematics

Mathematics at TCD 1592-1992

years of
by T. D. Spearman


The dominating influence of Newton had an unfortunate effect in turning the attention of English and Irish mathematicians away from the important developments taking place on the Continent. In consequence the contribution of Trinity mathematicians during the 18th century was not as distinguished as it otherwise might have been. There were, nevertheless, some able people such as William Hales, Hugh Hamilton, Richard Murray and Matthew Young. When Hales' Analysis Aequationum was published in 1784 the great French mathematician lagrange wrote of it `La clarté et la précision qui régnent dans cet ouvrage et la réunion qu'il présent des méthodes élémentaires et des théories sublimes doivent lui donner un des premiers rangs parmi ceux de son genre.' Hamilton published books on conic sections and on natural philosophy, and Young wrote An enquiry into the principal phenomena of sounds and musical strings. Murray, who was Professor of Mathematics from 1764 until 1795 when he became Provost, was influential as a teacher, particularly towards the candidates for Fellowship. The philosopher George Berkeley, who was a Fellow from 1707 to 1724 was an early critic of the underlying basis of Newton's calculus.

The establishment of the two Chairs of Natural Philosophy and of Mathematics was of particular importance for the development of the mathematical school. Both Chairs were endowed by the Governors of the Erasmus Smith Schools: that of Natural Philosophy in 1724 and of Mathematics in 1762. Another professorship of special relevance to mathematics was that of astronomy which was created by the bequest of provost Andrews who died in 1774, and based in Dunsink Observatory. Many of the incumbents of this chair were distinguished mathematicians: Brinkly, Ball, Whittaker; and the pre-eminent figure in Trinity mathematics, William Rowan Hamilton.

George Berkeley; Fellow 1707 to 1724,Bishop of Cloyne 1734 to 1753. Berkeley was strongly critical of the conceptual basis of Newton's calculus. He would not accept the concept of infinitesimal quantities and wrote scathingly of the "evanescent increments... May we not call them ghosts of departed quantities."

professors of Mathematics

1762 John Stokes
1764 Richard Murray
1795 Thomas Elrington
1799 George Hall
1800 William Magee
1813 Bartholomew Lloyd
1822 James Wilson
1825 Franc Sandleir
1835 James MacCullagh
1843 Charles Graves
1862 Michael Roberts
1879 William Snow Burnside
1914 Stephen Barnabas Kelleher
1917 Robert Russell
[Vacant: 1921-6]
1926 Charles Henry Rowe
1944 Timothy Stanislaus Broderick
1962 Heini Halberstam
1964 Gabriel Andrew Dirac
1966-89 Brian Hughes Murdoch

professors of Natural
and Experimental

1724Richard Helsham
1738Caleb Cartwright
[Vacant: 1743-5]
1745William Clement
1759Hugh Hamilton
1769Thomas Wilson
1786Matthew Young
1799Thomas Erlington
1807William Davenport
1822Bartholomew Lloyd
1831Humphrey Lloyd
1843James McCullagh
1848Robert Vickers Dixon
1854Joseph Allen Galbraith
1870John Robert Leslie
1881George Francis Fitzgerald
1901William Edward Thrift
1929Robert William Ditchburn
1946Ernest Thomas Swinton Walton
1974Brian Henderson
1984Denis Lawrence Weaire

of Natural

1847John Hewitt Jellett
1870John Hewitt Jellett
1884Benjamin Williamson
1890Francis Alexander Tarlington
1902Frederick Purser
1910Matthew Wyatt Joseph Fry
1925John Lighton Synge
1930Albert Joseph McConnell
[Vacant: 1957-62]
1962John Stephen Roy Chisholm
1966Thomas David Spearman

of Astronomy

1783Henry Ussher
1790John Brinkley
1827William Rowan Hamilton
1865Franz Friedrich Ernst Brünnow
1874Robert Stawell Ball
1892Arthur Alcock Rambaut
1897Charles Jasper Joly
1906Edmund Taylor Whittaker

The Erasmus Smith Chair of Experimental and Natural Philosophy, from its foundation in 1724 until the establishment of the University Chair of Natural Philosophy in 1847, maintained a theoretical and mathematical orientation. Several incumbents of the mathematics Chair, including Bartholomew Lloyd and James Mac Cullagh progressed from it to that of Natural Philosophy. After 1847 this mathematically inclined tradition was continued by the University Chair of Natural Philosophy which was in effect, and still is today, the Chair of applied mathematics and theoretical physics, while the Erasmus Smith Chair became the Chair or experimental physics.

The Andrews Chair of Astronomy, which from 1792 until 1921 also carried the title of Royal Astronomer of Ireland, was established in 1783. It was suspended in 1921 but re-established as a part-time honorary chair in 1984. Many of its incumbents were mathematicians.

Next: A new dawn - the reforms of Bartholomew Lloyd

Table of contents