Graves described Hamilton as follows: “It may be well here to give the reader such an outline as can be drawn by memory of Hamilton’s personal appearance at this time of his life . He was of middle height, but his breadth of shoulders and amplitude of chest made him appear shorter than he really was. His head, when in social intercourse, he generally carried with an upward inclination, giving to full view his countenance beaming with an expression of ingenuous cheerfulness and receptivity. His features were not either beautiful or handsome, but there was a certain harmony in their combination which indicated strength, and in these early years produced almost the effect of good looks. His eyes were light blue; his hair was a dark silky chestnut: his nose rather broad below, the distance between it and the mouth being somewhat in excess [...]. The mouth itself of moderate size, with upper lip flexible in speaking, and slightly pouting when at rest; the chin well shaped and firm, while the breadth of the skull at its base, and its equable hemispherical development, betokened at first view a certain intellectual grandeur. He was strong and active on his limbs; his hands were soft and fair; his fingers, as has been noted by his friend Professor De Morgan, broad at the ends, and apparently not adapted for nice manipulations. Yet his manuscript, even when very minute, was exceptionally clear; and the drawing of his mathematical diagrams, which were often of great complexity, was remarkable for neatness and accuracy.”
The first bust shown above was made in 1830 by Thomas Kirk. Graves writes that during a visit to the Dunravens, the parents of his pupil Lord Adare, “Lord Dunraven requested him to sit to Kirk, the Dublin sculptor, for a marble bust. The request was complied with before the end of 1830; and one of Hamilton’s letters intimates the fact that, as part of he preparation for its execution, he had to submit to a cast being taken from his head. The bust may therefore be supposed faithfully to represent his cranial development, and in this respect to possess a permanent value.” Graves then compares the 1830 bust with the 1833 one, “in its representation, however, of the features of the face, it seems to me to be inferior as a likeness to a miniature bust executed in 1833 by Mr. Terence Farrell [...]. I have therefore preferred to prefix as frontispiece to this [first] volume an autotype copy from a cast taken from the model of the latter.” According to a note made by Clement Ingleby, given in his 1867 book Memorabilia and memorials of Sir William Rowan Hamilton : collected in his honour by Clement Mansfield Ingleby, the first bust was in the possession of Lord Dunraven, the second one in that of Lord Talbot de Malahide.
The photo made around 1846 is a part of a part of a daguerreotype. In his book Ingleby gave a comment from William Edwin Hamilton, that the larger portrait, showing ‘Hamilton and one of his sons’, was itself a part of a daguerreotype of Sir William, Lady Helen and their family, made by the artist Glukman. “From this portrait Messrs Nelson and Mayhall took the glass negative, of which it is a print.”* In my AVM I had placed the part showing the son, surmising it was William Edwin, in the third row of the overview of the Hamilton family. The fact that William Edwin did not comment on who the boy in the photo is, underpins the suggestion that it is he, and not Archibald.
The photo made around 1855 comes from a family album of the O’Regan family, together with the photo of Lady Hamilton. As stated in the caption, it was given in the book about Dunsink Observatory by Patrick Wayman. Of the photo taken around 1860 I do not know anything except that it was used in the online celebration of Schrodinger. I took out some of the blots on his face; for what I did see the comparison.
Graves regarded as the best images of Hamilton the 1859 photograph, which he gave as a frontispiece to the second volume, and the photograph made from the 1867 bust, given as a frontispiece to the third volume and showing Hamilton as he may have looked like in his fifties. About the 1859 portrait Graves wrote, “I take the opportunity of expressing my opinion that this representation of his features stands out from all other photographs of him which I have seen (and I believe I have seen almost all that were taken), as alone doing something like justice to the combined intellectual and moral character of the subject. It exhibits, I think, both in conformation and expression, the profound thinker, the reverent benevolent sage. The marble bust in the Library of Trinity College is from the hand of Foley, and a photograph from it supplies the frontispiece to the present [3rd] volume. Our eminent sculptor never had the advantage of seeing Sir W.R. Hamilton, and had to work from small photographs and a cast of the anterior half of the head. The aspect which the photograph presents will, however, be acknowledged by all who knew the living man to be both fine and like.” [Graves 1889, 120].
Max Power, who in 2019 made the newest addition, the clay bust, used the 1859 photo and the Foley bust, and it is so much like the image of Hamilton I have in my mind that seeing it for the first time it seemed to me as if the Foley bust had turned around to look at something else. But with an even better likeness to the 1859 photo, which is the reason I placed it between those two images.
The last photo was also given by Wayman in his book about Dunsink Observatory, and he remarked in its caption, “The last known photograph of Sir William, taken in 1864 or thereabouts. This photograph, from the records of the O’Regan family, is referred to in an extant letter from Helen Eliza Hamilton, before her marriage, to Ann O’Regan, sister of her future husband, the Venerable John O’Regan, dated 8 March, 1866 (J. O’R.).”
I took the liberty of flipping the photo horizontally, because of similarities in Hamilton’s face with the one from 1861, and backed up by the positions of the buttons of his waistcoat. In the drawing of Hamilton sitting in the president’s chair of the RIA, his waistcoat is closed left over right, as was and still is customary; men’s clothing closes left over right, women’s clothing right over left (although, happily, nowadays hardly anyone cares any more about who wears what). Before the digital era photos were regularly mirrored; a photo can be made from either side of a negative. But drawings and paintings do not have that property, moreover, the text below the drawing of Hamilton in the chair shows it is not mirrored. Also the larger 1861 picture shows left over right; that picture is therefore also not mirrored. But the larger picture taken around 1864 and shown in Wayman’s book shows right over left, and that therefore is clearly wrong. (I will scan and upload that photo soon).
Every now and then I look at the painting by Sarah Purser, and ask myself why I do not like it at all. Even though I like other paintings by Purser very much, to me this painting has nothing to do with the photos, and with what Graves specifically mentioned about the 1859 photo as representing Hamilton in the best way, the “reverent benevolent sage.” The problem is that even though it may have had likeness, in the painting Hamilton’s facial expression is very different from the photos. Painted in 1894, and therefore perhaps influenced by the then already starting gossip, to me it shows a dissatisfied. I often wondered whether I would have believed him enough to write my essay had I only known Purser’s painting. It can be seen on the website of the Royal Irish Academy.