Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

John Tyndall (1820-1893)

A short Biography

World Acclaimed Scientist

John Tyndall was born in Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow on 2nd August 1820.  During the course of his life, this very intelligent poet-scientist was to invent practical items such as a safe miners' lamp, a powerful lighthouse beacon and the first practical gas mask - therefore being responsible for saving the lives of many thousands of miners, sailors and common labourers. In France, Pasteuration is called Tyndallization, for it was John Tyndall who apparently first discovered the process of killing bacteria in milk, Louis Pasteur merely passed along Tyndall's discovery to mankind. 

John Tyndall birth place in Leighlinbridge,

Per article in "Ireland of the Welcomes," Tyndall could be called a brilliant but "invisible scientist" whose theories and accomplishments were often attributed to others.  John Tyndall also described the action of the fungus penicillin on bacteria over a century before Sir Alexander Fleming re-discovered the antibiotic.  Tyndall was also a master mountaineer, and was the first person to climb several peaks in the Alps.  He reached to within a few hundred feet of the top of the famed Matterhorn the year before Whymper succeeded in the difficult climb.

Tyndall was directly descended from a group of Gloucestershire farmers who crossed the Irish Sea in the 17th century.  His parents, although apparently well educated, were poor.  His mother was disinherited for marrying against her father's wishes.  His father was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary, and an Orangeman by inclination, although the senior Tyndall most certainly was not a religious bigot.  He did, in fact, send his son John to school under the tutelage of a Catholic who can be best described as a hedge schoolmaster.  It was a pay school, a luxury that John Tyndall senior could ill afford.  Master Conwill was known over the entire countryside for his scholarship and teaching ability.  He imparted to his students a basic foundation in English and mathematics as well as surveying, the latter being indispensable for young John whose interests were to lead him into the physical sciences.   John studied under Conwill until his 17th birthday, a far older age than most country lads.  In retrospect, it seems that Tyndall was more than likely an assistant schoolmaster during his latter two years at Ballinbranagh schoolhouse.

Tyndall joined the Ordnance Survey as a Civil Servant on 01 April 1839.  For a short time he surveyed in Co Carlow close to his home, but in 1840 he was transferred to Youghal in Co. Cork.  In 1842 he was transferred by the Ordnance Survey to Preston in England.  He never returned to Ireland expect for short visits home.  In Preston he joined the Chartist labour movement led by immigrants from Ireland.  His articles in the "Liverpool Mercury" were outspoken and exposed the injustices to the lower working classes, Irish and English alike.  Since the Civil Service could ill afford to be politicised by his strong position concerning labour he was fired and returned to Carlow to rethink his future.

Since the Tyndall's were Quakers it should be no surprise that the brilliant young scholar joined the staff of Queenswood College, a progressive Quaker school in Hampshire, England.  Here Tyndall and his closest friend, the chemist, Edward Frankland, built the first practical science laboratory in England.  In 1848 he left Queenswood to work on a Ph.D. at Marburg University in Germany, and completed a mathematical dissertation in only two years.  While there he came under the influence of the German chemist Robert Bunsen who invented the famous Bunsen burner, even today a basic instrument of every chemistry laboratory. 

By June 1851, Tyndall had returned to England and made many influential scientific friends.  He was nonetheless defeated in attempts to gain a lectureship at Cork and Galway Universities.  Had he succeeded he might have spent the remainder of his life in his native land.  As fate would have it he was chosen to present a lecture at the Royal Institute (The Royal Society).  His lectureship was recommended by a committee of which Michael Faraday, the great electrical scientist, was a prominent member. Tyndall's outstanding lecture so impressed Faraday and others that he was shortly afterwards elected Professor of Natural Philosophy at the great institute.  Faraday and Tyndall were to remain admiring co-workers and friends for the rest of Faraday's life.  When his friend died, John Tyndall succeeded him as Secretary of the Royal Institute.  The rest of Tyndall's life was spent managing and conducting experiments and writing first-class poetry.  Importantly, John invented the first infra-red spectrophotometer.

In 1884, Dec 22: Professor John Tyndall and his wife spent first night in their new house - first house on Hindhead. 'Hindhead House' is still there, now converted to flats, at the rear of Tyndall's estate.

John Tyndall - died December 4, 1893, Hindhead, Surrey, England

John Tyndall. Xemplar of Scientific & Technological Education", by N.D. McMillan and J. Meehan. Published by ETA Publications, Dublin, Ireland (1980.

On the back cover the following is noted:

“Few people today know much about the career of John Tyndall who, starting with no special advantages, achieved in popular esteem a high position as a scientist. This success came largely from his great gifts as a lecturer who could explain scientific ideas in an attractive way to audiences who had little or no contact with science.
'Impressive demonstration experiments played a central part in these lectures and so he maintained and possibly enhanced the tradition established by his illustrious predecessors at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, namely, Thomas Young, Sir Humphrey Davy, and Michael Faraday. His influence contributed much towards getting science recognised as an important part of a good general education and towards getting student practical work recognised as important in the teaching of science. His best original work was on the motion of glaciers, the transmission of radiant heat through matter and the scattering of light.
The many references to the sources of their information given by the authors will be valuable to any reader wishing to acquire more details about particular points. I am happy to recommend the book with much confidence to all interested in the history of science and the lives of scientists. “
26 January 1980. E.T.S. WALTON (1951 Winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics)

Source: Carloman Mar 2007

Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia - Tyndall

Source: John Tyndall, Co. Carlow, IR & England, "The Invisible Scientist" - (Conwill, Whymper, Faraday, Bunsen, Frankland)

Thanks to "Jean Rice"

 at the
Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment and University College Cork (UCC)

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The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM

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