Other pages
on this website
Entrance page - overview of this website, Hamilton’s work A Victorian Marriage - archived blogs 2015 - 2019 Photopage of people featuring in Hamilton’s biography Catherine Disney - also her son James William Barlow, and granddaughter Jane Barlow Miscellaneous - Hamiltoniana, and a bit of physics Climate - why we have to clean up the atmosphere by taking out the legacy CO2 we dumped into it as if it was an infinite waste bin.



Top of this page
Introduction

A Victorian Marriage
Book as pdf and epub, recommendations, in the news

Aim of this website
Publications
Unpublications
Not officially published short articles, notes, and the 2014 student essay bundle with which this all began

Background

Utrecht, 27 October 2023


27 Oct 2023
Hamiltons and Huttons
17 Sept 2023
Hamilton’s maternal grandfather Robert Hutton
7 June 2023
Hamilton’s elusive sister, Archianna Hamilton
20 March 2023
Hamilton’s elusive grandparents, Robert Hutton and Mary Ann Guinin
14 February 2023
A video about Hamilton, quaternions, Maxwell’s equations and vector analysis, by Kathy Jones
14 November 2022
Gossip - correcting errors but maintaining conclusions
1 October 2022
Alice without quaternions
31 July 2022
Meeting Zerah Colburn, the ‘mental calculator’, in 1813 and 1820
15 July 2022
An 1820 flag book semaphore, and fellow school boys in Trim
10 July 2022
In 1822, exactly two hundred years ago, Hamilton became a mathematician
12 June 2022
The importance of contexts and minute details
20 January 2022
Hamilton, Coleridge, networks and the internet
4 November 2021
Hamilton, Coleridge, Arabella Lawrence and nonconformist families
16 October 2021
Young William Rowan Hamilton - hyperpolyglot
2 October 2021
William Edwin and the Chatham Market Guide
29 August 2021
The word ‘Quaternion’
7 August 2021
Hamilton’s godfather, Sydney Hamilton Rowan
14 July 2021
Hamilton’s Scottish or rather Irish descent, and Dr. James Hutton
26 September 2020
The error or flaw in Laplace’s Mécanique Céleste
23 August 2020
Lady Hamilton’s grave
3 May 2020
Graves’ opinion about Lady Hamilton, and apparent disagreements
25 April 2020
Lady Helen Hamilton’s crushed reputation
24 November 2019
Hamilton’s intellect, Grace McFerrand, and why Archibald Hamilton did not attend College
11 November 2019
A terrible hailstorm in 1850, and Biela’s comet
23 October 2019
Dunsink Observatory, the Meridian room, and again Hamilton’s birth house
19 October 2019
Lady Hamilton’s last years, a pension and Allendale Cottage in Drumcondra
16 October 2019
A game and locations in Hamilton’s life, quaternions and spacecraft
16 August 2019
Trinity Library; letters and photos
3/4 August 2019
The IHoM5 in Maynooth
15 June 2019
Reverend Benjamin Williams Mathias
19 May 2019
Uncle James, his family and the Diocesan School
4 May 2019
Illnesses and astronomy
18 January 2019
An article about the largely ignored influence of Helen Bayly and Catherine Disney on Hamilton’s life
11 November 2018
Photos of Hamilton and his notebook, also showing Graves’ blue pencil
20 September 2018
Calculating, quaternions, Gibbs and computers
30 June 2018
Extreme honesty and eccentricity, a happy marriage and drinking prowess, and still evolving gossip
15 June 2018
Hamilton and Coleridge
8 June 2018
Astronomy in 1848; Hamilton’s visit to Parsonstown
31 March 2018
De Vere about Hamilton’s affection for his wife
11 February 2018
The siblings of Hamilton’s father, and the Rowan name
4 February 2018
Patrick Wayman, our gossip article, and the “fabrication, or at any rate a gross exaggeration” of the uneaten meals in Hamilton’s study
2 February 2018
Macfarlane, William Edwin Hamilton, alcohol, gossip, history in need of corrections in case of new insights
29 January 2018
Ellen de Vere, Miss Ellis of Abbotstown, and parents bereaved of nearly all their children
12 January 2018
Hamilton’s “splendid meteor”
7 January 2018
Lady Wilde, and her son Oscar having been born on the birthday of the quaternions
21 December 2017
Hamilton’s formulation of geometrical optics as the marriage between the wave theory of Fresnel and the ray method of Newton
12 December 2017
Publication of ‘A most gossiped about genius: Sir William Rowan Hamilton’
22 November 2017
Publication of the corrected version of ‘A Victorian Marriage’
26 August 2017
The death of Edward Senior in 1865:
most likely the second fatal train accident in Dublin
7 July 2017
Summerhill House, Langfords and Longfords, and Hamilton’s account from within the house
31 October 2016
Paper copies, an epub version of ‘A Victorian Marriage’, and ereaders
18 September 2016
Files sent to the printer, and a search for Hamilton’s birth house
22 October 2015
Attending the Hamilton Walk in Dublin
15 October 2015
Having finished the essay ‘A Victorian Marriage’, corrections are still needed
2 September 2015
The 150th anniversary of the death day of
Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865)


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A Victorian Marriage – archived blogs 2015 - 2019

My book, or essay, can be read in the BookReader developed by the Internet Archive:
A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton

Contact




A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton




Hamilton essay, books




Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865) doubtless was Ireland’s most ingenious mathematician. Having been knighted in 1835 for his theoretical discovery of conical refraction, Hamilton’s work has been highly praised, yet throughout the twentieth century his private life has been heavily gossiped about; he became seen as an unhappily married alcoholic.
His own description of the discovery of the quaternions, which he made when he was walking with his wife, breathes such a peaceful atmosphere that it became the inducement to investigate how an alleged unhappy marriage could lead to such a circumstance. That resulted in the writing of my fist book, or rather history essay, A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton, in which it was shown that he did have a good marriage, and was by no means an alcoholic.





Hamilton was indeed a most admirable person, and a most truly amiable and high-souled one. Nothing but so much greatness could have made so much enthusiasm only what was natural - and nothing but so much enthusiasm could have carried him on to so much greatness.

— John Frederick William Herschel



[Helen Bayly] brought calm to [Hamilton’s] affections; she won the good opinion of his friends; and she became to him the centre round which the pleasures, the duties, and the hopes of home were gathered.

— Robert Perceval Graves



I know really scarcely anyone who seems more universally to have “won golden opinions” from her extensive circle of acquaintance [...]. Of her present guests and your aunt [your amiable wife] has won hearts - and hearts not easily won. I am preparing to yield mine, or rather have done so.

— Uncle James Hamilton



His whole happiness seems to be in making others happy; indeed any woman is blessed to be married to such an affectionate kind creature as Hamilton.

— Helena Maria Hamilton née Bayly



As to [Miss Bayly’s] beauty, I may unconsciously exaggerate that in my present state of feeling, and I must own that it did not strike me at first nor always, though lately it has much impressed me. But her mind I was pleased with from the first [...]. Spirituality, including but not confined to religion, appeared early and still appears to me to be its characteristic; and though she is not a person of brilliant or highly cultivated intellect, yet I have always found that I converse with her with pleasure, and that my own mind is excited and refined by her society.

— William Rowan Hamilton









A Victorian Marriage

not a biography but a history essay


My essay, written as a defense against the unhappy and alcoholic view on Hamilton’s private life, can be read online in the BookReader of the Internet Archive, A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton, or as a pdf. In case offline reading is preferred, it can be downloaded below as a pdf (left) or an epub (right). A summary can be found on my Entrance page.




A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton              A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton


The essay is available open access at the Internet Archive, and at Google Books. It has also been printed in hardback copies, in a very limited edition. In case a paper book is indeed preferred: it can be ordered by contacting me or the printer, BoekenGilde; if we receive ten requests, the essay will be printed in an again small edition, at a cost of €62.50 each (not including postal charges).

The epub was made with a beautiful template my nephew made for me. But because Google Books and some e-readers require epub 2 or 3, I converted it into two additional versions, A_Victorian_Marriage_-_Sir_WRH_2.0.1.epub, A_Victorian_Marriage_-_Sir_WRH_3.0.1.epub.

For further publications about subjects related to Hamilton’s story, see Publications.

For some information about me:   ORCID iD icon






Reviews


“I have at last read the whole of your big book, and am most impressed with the amount of effort and research you have put into it. Congratulations! I do think you have made your case - Hamilton was not an alcoholic, and he loved his wife Helen.”

— Charles Mollan, historian of Irish Science, formerly Science Officer of the Royal Dublin Society, and author of It’s Part of What We Are.


“A former student recently sent me a copy of Hankins’ biography of Hamilton. He’d picked it up in a flea-market and decided to pass it on to me. When I got to the chapter about Hamilton’s love-life I just had to go back and reread what you had to say about it. It is really terrible that such a distortion of the facts could have become the accepted version.”

— Anthony O’Farrell, professor emeritus Mathematics and Statistics at Maynooth University, and initiator of the yearly Hamilton Walk.


“I have read your monumental book on Hamilton on the web - congratulations! You have debunked and corrected a lot of material written by other biographers of Hamilton.”

— Desmond MacHale, emeritus professor of Mathematics at University College Cork, and biographer of George Boole.






In the ‘news’


January 2023. Kathy Jones, who runs the Youtube channel Kathy Loves Physics and History, published a video in which the parts of Hamilton’s private life are based on my views, Quaternions are Amazing and so is William Rowan Hamilton!


February 2022. Peter Gallagher, Samson Shatashvili, Colm Mulcahy, Tony O’Farrell and I were interviewed (online) for the Dublin University Times, ‘Revising the Legacy of William Rowan Hamilton.’


October 2020. Peter Gallagher, Fiacre Ó Cairbre, Tony O’Farrell and I contributed to the virtual Hamilton Walk, which was introduced by Sheila Donegan, and narrated by Eoin Gill. From 26:00 to 34:40, I talk about The happy marriage the quaternions were born into.








The fourfold aim of this website is to

— show that, contrary to general belief, Sir William Rowan Hamilton had a good marriage, that in fact large parts of his marriage were fairly happy. It is discussed where the idea of his marriage as having been an unhappy one came from, and it is shown that according to current standards he was by no means an alcoholic.

— emphasize that people should be looked at within the context of their time and circumstances. That Lady Hamilton leaving her children because she was ill was something which was very likely done on doctor’s orders; no-one then knew anything about the impact it could have on children’s later lives. Or that the Hamiltons lived at an observatory which was built at a remote, dark, and elevated place, in a time in which light bulbs, radio, television, telephone and computers had not been invented yet. Which means that in the years that the children still were young, when Hamilton was in England every evening Lady Hamilton would be alone in her candle lit room, the servants and the personnel being with the sleeping children, or talking to each other, or being at their own homes. Such circumstances would make not only Lady Hamilton but almost anyone prefer to visit a neighbouring sister.

— argue that although on the one hand it is important to regard people in the context of their time, on the other hand that should be kept within reasonable limits; it is perfectly all right to recognize that Hamilton may have been judged unfairly in his days, that if he would have lived nowadays no-one would have given his behaviour any second thoughts. It is therefore justified to speak more positively about him than it was done in his days; Hamilton just seems not to have been willing to adjust to a rapidly changing society. As still happens nowadays: many people do not want to adapt to drastic changes in social behaviour, especially when the social rules or habits during childhood or early adulthood were considered just fine.

— draw attention to the fact that in Victorian times especially women were extremely harshly judged, and so was Lady Hamilton. During those years women were expected to be, by nature, warm, tender, caring, poetic and literary, but many women did not come up to these standards being logical, stubborn, practical, headstrong, technical, or just not poetic. Their condemnation is something which does not have to be repeated now; these are not Victorian times anymore.



Conclusions about Hamilton’s private life
This all means that to see Hamilton as the man he was, as depicted in Graves’ biography and in all the correspondences it contains, forget everything you thought you knew about his private life. Nowadays, Hamilton enjoying the “pleasures of the table” in the times of Temperance, which was the very reason that Graves wrote his six or seven(!) lamenting pages, is not a part of Hamilton’s reputation any more. With good reasons; Hamilton was never drunk. But what did not disappear, and is here and there still growing, are the twentieth century ‘explanations’ for the alcohol, which were thought up by people who did not read Graves’ biography from cover to cover, or even, as ET Bell did, for the sake of juicy gossip.

An attached couple
Graves called the Hamiltons “attached” to each other; his lamentations were never about the marriage having been unhappy, it was all about Hamilton enjoying the wine at dinners, and Helen Hamilton not turning her husband into a teetotaller. But because there was no problem with the alcohol, it is very likely that she also liked to drink wine at dinner, as most people did. There was one event which Graves explained differently than Hamilton and the peope around him did, but that is an intricate story.

Not leaving her husband for longer periods of time
That Helen Hamilton twice lived with her mother, Mrs. Bayly, for about ten months was not because she did not love her husband back; she did. Yet they agreed to her taking care of her ailing mother, whom they both loved very much, and when Hamilton visited them in Nenagh, which he did as often as he could, he was very happy there. Mrs. Bayly died at the Observatory in 1837. In 1841 Helen Hamilton went to England because she was ill, and lived with a sister. It is completely obvious that Hamilton had forgotten parts of his pre-nuptial promises, and Victorian married women could hardly protest. After he could, in January 1842, happily bring her back home, he never forgot again; she must have been able to make him understand in what difficult positions he had placed her.

Hamilton’s “three loves”
Hamilton loved Ellen de Vere and Helen Bayly as much as he had loved Catherine, and the reason he always openly spoke about that is because he thought he would be a liar if he would have said then that he loved them very much, and later deny it. Ellen de Vere married happily, and there was no reason to worry about her. But having believed that also Catherine had married happily, he was shocked when in 1830 he saw that she was unhappy. In 1848 they corresponded and then he heard that she even was very unhappy, and he tried to comfort her by giving good advice. Then she tried to commit suicide, and he thought she had temporarily lost her mind. But only in 1853, shortly before she died, he learned the truth: that she had also wanted to marry him, but had been forced by her family to marry William Barlow. He had not known about the coercion, and having been friends with several Disneys, it was a complete shock. Which explains his utter distress; because of the Victorian times he could not really talk about it, and it took him some months to find his peace again.

Hamilton’s psychological discovery
During those months he happily could make use of his third main scientific discovery; a psychological one which was, as were his mechanics and the quaternions, far ahead of his time; psychology had not been ‘invented’ yet. In December 1831, his having lost hope to marry Ellen de Vere started a six-month period of distress and melancholy. But in the Summer of 1832 he started to see what he was doing to himself, and he found a way to restore his mental health, in precisely the way therapists would now help people to do; it comes down to stop repeating the memories causing the negative feelings and focus on the positive things in life. It must not be forgotten that Hamilton was a very self-assured man, there were no underlying mental problems, and in October 1832 he finally was his happy self again. But neither Aubrey de Vere, as a poet always searching for romance, nor Graves, believing that Hamilton was a simple, zealous man, understood what Hamilton had discovered, no matter how clear Hamilton was about it.
Understanding the life-long consequences of his psychological discovery, which brought him conical refraction and Helen Bayly, and from then on made it possible to overcome his melancholy feelings, is crucial to understanding Hamilton as the man he was. He had always been in danger of succumbing to the very early fame, as many young actors do. But with the help of his family, his extended family and later his wife, and using his genius not only for mathematics but also for his private life, he managed to remain humble, and a loving family man.






Lectures on and Elements of Quaternions by Sir William Rowan Hamilton


These copies of the two books on Quaternions written by Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865) are kept at the Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. They can both be read online at the Internet Archive: Lectures on Quaternions (Dublin, 1853) and Elements of Quaternions (Dublin, 1866).

In July 2015 Frans Sellies, one of my colleagues at the Library, showed me the books and very kindly made the beautiful photographs shown above. To see the books in reality was more touching than I had expected, and in order to do something symbolic with having seen them all the colours of this website come from Hamilton’s books as shown on the Internet Archive, and those of the logo come from photographs Frans made of the books. For Frans’ photos see his flickr page.







Publications



2022 — Journal articleAlice without quaternions: another look at the mad tea-party
This article will be published in the 3rd issue of the 37th volume of British Journal for the History of Mathematics. Using mathematical and historical arguments it is shown that Melanie Bayley’s 2009 suggestion, that Hamilton’s quaternions were the subject of the chapter about the mad tea-party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, is highly unlikely.


2022 — Journal articleHow two hundred years ago William Rowan Hamilton turned into a mathematician
This article was published in the Summer 2022 issue of Irish Mathematical Society Bulletin. Finally having understood how important Hamilton’s maternal family, the Huttons, were for him, I decided to rewrite parts of the Illnesses and Astronomy unpublication. While working on it, I suddenly realised that 14 November 2022 is the two-hundredth anniversary of Hamilton’s first original mathematical papers.
It is unfortunate that I made an error regarding the dates Hamilton met Zerah Colburn; the first time they met was in 1813, when Hamilton was eight, and Zerah had just turned nine. For the consequences of Graves’ error about the first date they met, see Corrected errors and maintained conclusions.


2021Symposium PresentationSir William Rowan Hamilton : the influence of the 1880s temperance struggles on his posthumous reputation
Online presentation, with presenter’s notes, on the fourth day of the BSHM - CSHPM/SCHPM Conference, the 5-yearly joint conference of the British Society for the History of Mathematics and Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics/La Société Canadienne d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Mathématiques, in collaboration with HOM-SIGMAA, the History of Mathematics Special Interest Group of the MAA. Online, coordinated through the University of St Andrews, Scotland, 12-15 July 2021.


2019RTÉ Brainstorm ContributionHow a 19th century Irish mathematician helped NASA into space
With Colm Mulcahy and Michel Destrade. Written as a celebration of 176 years of quaternions and published by RTÉ’s Brainstorm on Hamilton Day.


2019Symposium PresentationA biographer’s opinion as primary source : the strange case of Sir William Rowan Hamilton
Presentation, with presenter’s notes, given on the second day of the IHoM5, the joint Irish History of Mathematics (IHoM) and British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) Conference, held at Maynooth University on 1 and 2 August 2019.


2019BookCatherine Disney : a biographical sketchviii, 135 pages : illustrations, portraits, maps ; 25 cm.
I wrote this sketch in order to do Catherine honour; she had a very difficult life because, while in love with Hamilton, she was forced to marry someone else. In later years learning how terribly unhappy she was caused Hamilton much distress. That, however, did not at all mean that he had only loved her, as has been claimed, the story about Catherine’s unhappiness simply is a terrible story. Forcing people into marriage should be impossible.
This book can also be read, as pdf or epub, here at Google books, or here at the Internet Archive.


2018Journal articleHelen Bayly and Catherine Disney as influences in the life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton
This article has been published in the Winter 2018 issue of Irish Mathematical Society Bulletin. For errata see Utrecht, 18 January 2019.


2018Magazine ArticleAstronomy in 1848
This is an English translation of a short article, Sterrenkunde in 1848, which was published in the June issue of Zenit, the popular science magazine for astronomy, meteorology and space research, and organ of the KNVWS, the Royal Dutch Association for Meteorology and Astronomy. See also Utrecht, 8 June 2018. The article describes one of Hamilton’s visits to Parsonstown, where Lord Rosse had built the Leviathan telescope, then the largest telescope in the world.


2018Journal ArticleOn an 1850 report of a fireball from the Scorpiid-Sagittariid Complex
In 1850 Hamilton saw a ‘splendid meteor’, and he wrote a short report about it in a local newspaper. It appeared to be the first known report of a meteor of that complex. This article has been published in WGN, Journal of the International Meteor Organization. See for some more information Utrecht, 12 January 2018. A Dutch announcement of the article, een Nederlandse bekendmaking van het artikel, can be found here: Over een verslag uit 1850 van een zeer heldere meteoor.


2017Journal ArticleA most gossiped about genius: Sir William Rowan Hamilton
With Steven Wepster. Published in the British Journal for the History of Mathematics, in this article first an English summary of the 2015, and in 2017 corrected, essay has been given. Using six books, published between 1902 and 2008, the second part of this article shows how Hamilton’s private life became the caricature it is nowadays. For this article see also Utrecht, 12 December 2017.


2017BookA Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton - xii, 508 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm.
This is the book, or essay, with which this project began. I published the first version in 2015, and soon saw it needed quite some corrections. What I aimed for is to show convincingly that Hamilton was happily married, was not an alcoholic, and had an understandable grief about the terrible fate of his first love Catherine Disney.
A Dutch summary, een Nederlandse samenvatting, can be found here: Een Victoriaans Huwelijk.






The presentations on Youtube


Presentation Maynooth 2019              Presentation St.-Andrews 2021







Unpublications

Not officially published short articles and notes


Alice and early 19th century developments in mathematics1 October 2022

Zerah Colburn, the ‘mental calculator’18 August 2022

How Arabella Lawrence’s sister Sarah introduced William Rowan Hamilton to Samuel Taylor Coleridge4 November 2021Revised and extended 20 January 2022

Young William Rowan Hamilton : hyperpolyglot16 October 2021

Sir William Rowan Hamilton’s godfather, Sydney Hamilton Rowan7 August 2021

Hamilton’s descent and Dr. James Hutton14 July 2021

William Hamilton and the ‘flaw’ in Laplace, the flawed story about it, and William’s proof26 September 2020

Lady Hamilton’s descent25 April 2020

Archibald Hamilton and education24 November 2019

Grace McFerrand24 November 2019Updated July 2021

Uncle James - theologian and linguist24 November 2019

Biela’s Comet11 November 2019

The twenty places in Hamilton’s Ireland — 12 October 2019 — as given in the game on Hamilton’s Ireland. Written for Ireland’s Maths week, 12-20 October 2019.

The family of Uncle James Hamilton of Trim19 May 2019

Illnesses and Astronomy4 May 2019Revised June 2022

The Hamiltons of Jervis Street and the name Rowan11 February 2018Revised July 2021

About the ownership of Summerhill House, where Hamilton met Catherine7 July 2017

Lower Dominick Street18 September 2016


Van Quaternionen tot VectoranalyseSummer 2014
The essay bundle with which this Hamilton project began. Unfortunately, it is in both Dutch and English, which means that there will always be someone who cannot read it all.
Not knowing then what I know now, I now would have chosen a real photo of Hamilton. Also, the photo of Green is erroneous, no photograph of him seems to exist. He died in 1841, only three years after the first photo was made on which people can be seen. (Btw, is in that photo a child peeping through the curtains, in the left upper window of the white house? Perhaps the child saw the photographer and wondered what that strange man was doing with that little box.)




Background information



Utrecht, 27 October 2023


Hamiltons and Huttons


Everything I am doing at the moment is in preparation of an article in which I want to show that Hamilton was not sent to Trim because of the financial circumstances of his parents, but because of his very early recognised, very out-of-the-ordinary intelligence. The first time I started to feel that writing such an article in a convincing way would perhaps be possible was when I was writing my Arabella Lawrence and Coleridge unpublication, and found the enormous Hutton family. It created an image of Hamilton’s youth which in Graves’ biography is not recognisable, and can only be seen after first giving much attention to the most minute details, and then reading the biography within the context of its time. And now, as always writing and correcting several unpublications at the same time, I suddenly was triggered by a remark made by Hamilton when he was seventeen, and still living in Trim. It was about a poem he had written, and showed a strong sense of kindred spiritness with the family of ‘Cousin Arthur’, as he is called in Graves’ biography. Arthur Hamilton was actually a cousin of Hamilton’s father Archibald, and I was surprised because I had not thought about him as even having had family apart from Archibald and uncle James and their families; in the biography Arthur comes across as a very nice person who doubtless had many friends, and as a father figure for the Hamilton siblings after the deaths of their parents, but not as having been surrounded by family of his own.

One of the steps towards the planned article was to show that the image of young Hamilton arising from Graves’ biography as a lonely, perhaps even socially naive, country boy is completely incorrect, as appeared after I had found the Hutton family and their enormous networks and, what should not be forgotten, uncle James’s circle of acquaintances which included the Edgeworths, the Disneys who then lived at Summerhill house, and the family of aunt Elizabeth, the Vicars and LaTouches. I now also wanted to find as much as I could about Cousin Arthur’s Hamilton family, curious about who they were, and what their influence might have been on young Hamilton.

The only persons mentioned in Graves’ family tree are Arthur’s father Francis, and his sister Margaret, who according to Graves married a certain ‘G. Whistler’. That name being very uncommon, he soon appeared to have been Gabriel Whistler, and searching for him I readily stumbled on the Assembly rolls of Dublin in the Calendars of ancient records of Dublin which are available online at the Internet Archive (1447-1831), on the Gentleman[’s] and Citizen’s Almanacks, and Wilson’s Dublin Directories, later incorporated in the Treble Almanack, at the Internet Archive (1733-1743), Oireachtas Library (1771-1785), and HathiTrust (1808-1840s). In all collections years are missing, and some lonely volumes turn up elsewhere, but together they give a rather good overview for the years needed for my search after family members of Hamilton. I also decided to make an account on FamilySearch. I had long doubted making an account because I want everyone to be always able to immediately check what I claim, but it is free of charge and I really wanted to be thorough.* It soon appeared that, for now, the ancestors of Hamilton’s grandfather William Hamilton are impossible to find, but that his Hutton ancestors already lived in Dublin in 1662, and that he had a cousin four times removed, John Hutton, a Dublin Innholder who died in 1708. At the time Hamilton was born the Hutton family in Dublin was enormous already, and together with the fruitless searches for the Hamiltons, the search for which Huttons were, and were not, members of Hamilton’s family, became a very time consuming task.

But what I did find was again quite surprising, and together with Hamilton’s unexpected involvement with his enormous extended Hutton family, these finds now nullify the last parts of the general view on Hamilton as a lonely orphan with hardly any family to rely on except for his Uncle James, the country schoolmaster, and Cousin Arthur, the barrister who had managed to become something in society. Next to Hamilton’s father Archibald Hamilton having been an attorney at the King’s Inns and for instance law-agent to the benchers, and cousin-in-law once removed Gabriel Whistler, solicitor in chancery, attorney and law-agent to the city, the overviews show many Dublin political careers.

On the Hutton side, Hamilton’s great-grandfather, the tannery owner Robert Hutton (ca.1720-1779), most likely his brother, George Hutton, and Robert’s sons Henry and Daniel, were with great regularity wardens of their guilds, sometimes master, and often members of the Dublin common council,* and on the Hamilton side the same holds for Hamilton’s great-uncle, the saddler Francis Hamilton (ca 1754-1830), and his son John, Arthur’s brother, of whom I had never heard before. Their political careers culminated in Robert Hutton becoming a very regular member of the common council, and becoming, for instance, one of the auditors of the Dublin city accounts in 1768, Henry Hutton becoming sheriff in 1793, alderman in in 1796, and lord mayor in 1803, Francis Hamilton praying to be excused from becoming high-sheriff in 1805 and becoming sheriffs-peer and alderman in 1806, and his son-in-law Gabriel Whistler becoming sub-sheriff in 1802.

* To become a master or warden of a guild, one had to be a freeman of the guild. To become a member of the common council, one had to be a freeman of the city. For the difference between these two freedoms, see for instance this extract from the Third report on fictitious votes, 1837, part of the British Parliamentary papers.

Contrary to Graves’ unintentional image of a rather secluded young Hamilton because of his focus on members of the peerage, academics and the clergy, and greatly enhanced by Hankins in his 1980 biography because of a few errors he made, and his small suggestion of poverty which became part of the Hamiton stories, Hamilton grew up surrounded by family members at the top of Dublin society. The families were more than a distant coach-maker, however well-known John Hutton was, and an early deceased “eminent apothecary,” as Graves mentioned that Archibald Hamilton called his father William without proof.

And, as always, it was as what could be expected; having had the career Hamilton had, he must have had the best start possible. Many very intelligent people do not reach the realm of pure science in the way Hamilton did, and that was made possible by his large family who took care of troubles before they could slow their precious nephew down, as can be recognised, in hindsight, in small remarks Graves made in his biography. How marvellous uncle James, aunt Sydney and aunt Elizabeth were, they did not raise Hamilton alone. Which also explains, in hindsight, how Hamilton could very easily make friends, feel strong bonds with close friends and family, had very extended networks, and felt at home with a very broad spectrum of different people.



Utrecht, 7 June 2023


Hamilton’s elusive sister, Archianna Hamilton


The elusiveness of the youngest Hamilton sibling, Archianna (1815-1860), has its roots in the fact, as Hankins remarked in his 1980 biography of Hamilton, that “there is little mention of her in the family correspondence” [p. 12]. Yet Hankins then assumed that “she lived in Dublin until her death in 1860,” and subsequently concluded that “she must have lived a very quiet and retired life to be so inconspicuous in the mass of letters that Hamilton left behind.” Even though it is not known where Archianna lived between 1817 and 1860, that does not seem to be the most logical assumption, nor conclusion. It is, moreover, embedded in Hankins’ staccato description of the early youths of the Hamilton sisters, taking up only one page [12] of his biography, but containing a number of mistakes about elementary facts given in Graves’ Victorian conceiled but factually nearly correct first chapters. This is the more unfortunate because Hankins’ other chapters, about Hamilton’s mathematics, religion, politics and philosophy, taking up four-fifth of the biography, were very reliable, leading his readers to also assume the correctness of the one-fifth part about Hamilton’s private life.

But it is remarkable that at times Graves even seems to have forgotten about Archianna. While Grace was regularly in Trim, according to Graves, in Spring 1818, a year after their mother Sarah’s sudden death in May 1817, William’s sisters Eliza and Sydney went to live with their maternal relatives in Ballinderry, the Moravian Willey family. Graves does not mention Archianna who then was only two years old, yet it rather appears to be an omission than some difficult arrangement with multiple homes for the sisters, as can be deduced from the following small remarks, made in January and October 1825.

In January 1825, in a letter written from Dublin to his uncle James in Trim, William explicitly mentioned that “Grace, Eliza, and Sydney had been at Kilmore,” the house near Clontarf of their great-uncle John Hutton, and were now with him at the house of ‘Cousin Arthur’. Visiting each other was now easy for the siblings, because William lived with Cousin Arthur in Dublin while attending college, and the sisters were enrolled in the school of the Misses Hincks, also in Dublin.* Archianna, who then was only nine years old, not being mentioned by her brother, there can be hardly any doubt that she was not in Dublin. It is logical to assume that she was still at school in Ballinderry, because the Moravians were used to not only teaching boys but also girls, and aunt Susan Willey was, as can be seen below, “a teacher in the Ballinderry ladies’s school” from 1817 until 1826.

* The ‘boarding and day school’ at 47 North Great George’s-street was run by two sisters, Bithia and Frances Hincks, who were related by marriage to the Hamiltons. In January 1825 Frances Hincks died but the school was not closed. From newspaper advertisements, it can be seen that Bithia Hincks continued the school, from 1828 together with Mademoiselle De Marval. In June 1834 Bithia had to retire for reasons of health, the school closed and the house was offered for sale by her cousin once removed Daniel Hutton, a brother of Hamilton’s grandfather Robert Hutton. In January 1835 a school was opened at the same address by someone else.

On 14 October 1825, William wrote a letter to Grace from Trim, and it can be assumed that the three sisters still were at the school in Dublin. Apparently, William had heard that Archianna would join them to celebrate Halloween in the house of Cousin Arthur, and wrote, “How pleasant it will be to meet all together again, after the anxiety of an October Examination, and after being so long separated! Archianna, too, will be with us this time, and add not a little to our enjoyment. I am afraid we are too old and sensible to care much for the nuts and apples - even burning nuts - and I do not know whether at Ballinderry such customs exist.” It is not certain whom William included in the “we,” but Grace was twenty-three then, William was twenty, Eliza eighteen, and Sydney fourteen or fifteen. The sisters having been living in Dublin, the remark about Ballinderry most likely referred to Archianna who then just had turned ten, and might still like burning nuts, if celebrating Halloween in this way was also a Moravian custom. Such remarks, combined with a lack of remarks about Archianna having lived elsewhere, make it seem safe to assume that Archianna had gone to Ballinderry with Eliza and Sydney, and that Graves simply forgot to mention her.

Showing that Hankins was incorrect when he assumed that Archianna had lived such a retired life appears to be closely connected to showing that she was the sister who Hamilton called a “Calvinist,” whom Hankins had assumed to have been “Sydney (and probably also Eliza)” [p. 230]. The assumption that Sydney was the sister Hamilton alluded to, was derived from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1859, “I [have] a very dear sister living, whom I very much respect as well as love, and who is a devoted Calvinist; being also - notwithstanding, as I might almost be tempted to say - but really I ought not to say it - an extremely pious and practical Christian.” Because in 1859 of the Hamilton sisters only Sydney and Archianna were still alive, one of them had to be the ‘devoted Calvinist’. But Hamilton also mentioned that his Calvinist sister had been a friend of William Henry Krause, which means that showing that it was Archianna would also mean showing that she did not live so “inconspicuously” that she hardly even made it into her brother’s papers, because in that case such a friendship would have been impossible.

Therefore trying to find some proof that Archianna was the ‘Calvinist’ sister, I decided to search the British newspapers again, and to my amazement I found Archianna’s death announcements. Having been born in 1815, she died in Dublin, on 16 February 1860 at 23 North Portland Street, the house (with a yard) which was rented by her sister Sydney, which is in accordance with Graves, who had written that she had died in February 1860, “when she was staying with her sister Sydney in Dublin.” Announcements were placed in papers in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Limerick, and it is noteworthy that in the advertisements Archianna was called the “fifth daughter” because that means that the text was provided by people close to her, perhaps by her surviving siblings, William and Sydney. Archianna had indeed been the fifth daughter, because the fourth daughter was Sarah Susanna, who was born in 1812, and died in 1817, only a few months before also her mother died. But there was nothing to indicate the denomination Archianna belonged to, or where she was buried. It is possible she was buried at Mount Jerome because she is mentioned on the head stone of Hamilton’s grave, but she is not mentioned in the Mount Jerome records.

Also searching again for the online Dublin church records of the Hamiltons of Dominick street, hoping to find some patterns, the only baptism record appeared to be that of Archibald (1778) (Graves gave a convincing argument that Archibald was born in 1778 instead of 1779); there is nothing of Sarah and the children. In case of Sarah, that might be explained by the fact that contrary to Archibald, she most likely was not born within the parish of St. Mary, perhaps not even in Dublin, and she may not have been baptised in the Church of Ireland. For the eldest son called William it is explained by the fact that before he could be baptised, he died at Jervis street, where Archibald and Sarah may have lived with Archibald’s widowed mother Grace. It is most likely that, like Hamilton, the other children were baptised in the ‘dissenter’ Church of Ireland congregation of Benjamin Mathias in Dorset street, yielding two possibilities; either these baptism records have not been digitally processed yet, or they did not survive.

All extant burial records, of William (eldest brother, 1801), Sarah (daughter, 1817), Sarah (mother, 1817), Archibald (father, 1819), Grace (1846), and Eliza (1851), and are from the parish of St. Mary. Missing are the burial records of both sons called Archibald, William Rowan, Sydney and Archianna. One of Archianna’s little brothers was buried in Trim, and because there is a burial record for the eldest William, this brother must have been one of the two children called Archibald. He died before his cousin Kate but nothing further is known; Hamilton’s remark, made in 1822, about Kate having been buried “by the side of her little brother and mine,” does not say anything about whether or not he had known his little brother. Of the other son Archibald nothing was found. Of William Rowan, Sydney and Archianna it is certain that they not die in the parish of St. Mary; Hamilton died in 1865 at Dunsink Observatory which is in the parish of Castleknock, yet only his civil record was found, which just states that he died in Dublin North; Sydney died in Auckland, New Zealand, and was buried there at an Anglican cemetery, but that may not be a sufficient proof that she still was a member of the Anglican Church; Archianna died in North Portland Street, which is in the parish of St. George. Unfortunately, no further clues were found in the records, which means that for now there is nothing special about Archianna’s missing records.

Still not being able to show that Archianna was the Calvinist sister, there does seem to be an option which would make more sense than the assumption that Archianna lived an inconspicuous life; namely that she did not live in or even near Dublin. Because she was so very young when she went to live with the Willeys it is possible that, much more than her sisters did, she saw uncle John and aunt Susan as her parents. In favour of that option is one tiny detail which is not in Graves, but it was given by Hankins [1980, pp. 52-53]. In 1827, when Hamilton was appointed Andrews professor of astronomy and was going to move into Dunsink Observatory, aunt Susan wrote to both Hamilton and Sydney that, in Hankins’ words, “since he now had a home for them it was desireable that [his sisters] go to it.”

But then Grace and Eliza moved in with their brother, and Sydney a year later, yet Archianna never lived at the observatory. In 1827 Sydney had been in Rhodens, working as an assistant in the school of Mrs. Swanwick, most likely one of the many Swanwick relatives of the Hamiltons and the Huttons. At some time Archianna was travelling with her, but apparently she was not living with her. Sydney came to the observatory in 1828, but next to Hamilton mentioning that, according to Hankins, “Archianna will not for many years be ready” [to assist with the regular star observations], there was also no indication that Archianna should be taken in anyway because aunt Susan did not want to take care of her any more. It can easily be assumed that Archianna, who was thirteen now, was still at school in Ballinderry. And when five years later Hamilton married, the sisters left the observatory as was customary then. Even the servants left [Hankins 1980, p. 119] but also that was customary, to allow the new head of the household to choose her own household staff. Archianna was eighteen then, and she could not join her siblings at the observatory any more. Yet it is not certain that she did not move to Dublin then, and perhaps did disappear from sight.

Still, there is one last strangeness in Graves’ biography, and that is the near exclusion of Hamilton’s dissenter and protestant family members. It is possible that for Graves it simply was much more easy to access the Anglican records than the various protestant ones, but a feeling remains that he was uncomfortable with showing the subject of his biography within the mix of Anglicans and protestants, academics and non-academics he grew up in; the Hamiltons as Anglicans, the Huttons as both protestants and Anglicans, and both families having academic and non-academic members. Only once Graves showed something of his feelings of disdain about the protestants around Hamilton, when he wrote about Hamilton’s father Archibald, “A letter exists written by him to the Rev. Mr. [John] Willey, on the 10th of September, 1817, which manifests a largeness of view in religion scarcely to have been expected from a member of the Bethesda congregation, which then and long afterwards was noted for Calvinistic tenets of an extreme character.” If in that light the elusiveness of especially Hamilton’s maternal grandparents and of Archianna is considered, it might indicate that indeed Archianna was the Calvinist.

Concluding, it is a more likely scenario that Archianna indeed did not live in Dublin, but that she stayed with her uncle and aunt until they died, as many spinster daughters did. Women earned much less than men, and many elderly had to be taken care of, making it a profitable solution for both parties. From the time of their marriage in 1817 until 1826 the Willeys lived in Ballinderry Co. Antrim, and that is where Archianna came to live with them in 1818. Then they went to Cootehill Co. Cavan. In 1844 uncle John retired to Glenavy Co. Antrim, and they moved to Gracehill Co. Antrim in 1845, where uncle John died in 1847. Three years after her husband’s death aunt Susan went to Lurgan in Co. Armagh, and in 1857 to Woolford Halse in England. When in 1858 aunt Susan died, Archianna was forty-three, and she may have come to Dublin, to move in with her only living sister Sydney, perhaps having been happy that Sydney lived not too far from the Moravian church in Kevin Street. Archianna died in Sydney’s home in 1860. Where she was buried is not known, neither why and by whom it was decided to add her name on her brother’s gravestone. But it is good that her name is prominently there; she has been overlooked too often already.



Utrecht, 20 March 2023


Hamilton’s elusive grandparents, Robert Hutton and Mary Ann Guinin


Having found the importance in Hamilton’s life of his maternal relatives, the Hutton family, every now and then I made a futile attempt to find more about Hamilton’s elusive maternal grandparents, Robert Hutton and Mary Ann Guinin, whose marriage record was so easy to find. But when I lately made an inquiry about Hamilton’s youngest sister Archianna Priscilla Hannah (1815-1860), I received a very unexpected answer, which led to finding the wedding date and place of Mary Ann Guinin’s parents.

I had been happy to find the burial records of three of the four Hamilton sisters, and combining them with both Graves’ family tree and newspaper announcements nearly all their birth and death days, and their addresses are known. Grace (4 October 1802 - 13 June 1846), lived at 15 Upper Dominick street and died with 43. Eliza Mary (4 April 1807 - 14 May 1851) lived in Dorset Street and died with 44; until now I had not known where they lived in Dublin. Of Sydney Margaret (1810 / 1811 - 3 March 1889), who died with 78, there is a biographical sketch, and another one going with a photo of her gravestone. She emigrated to Nicaragua in 1862, and went to New Zealand in 1874, where she became a matron in the Auckland Asylum. She died “at the residence of Mrs Robertson, top of Hobson Street,” and was buried at the cemetery which now is called the George Maxwell Memorial Cemetery. Different from her sisters, a photo of her exists.

Triggered by the new photos Colm Mulcahy and David Malone had sent of Hamilton’s gravestone at Mount Jerome Cemetery, and the fact that therewith we now completely transcribed it, I decided to search again for Archianna Hamilton, amazed by the fact that her name is on the gravestone, but she is not buried there. From about a year after their mother Sarah died, Archianna seems to have lived mainly with her aunt and uncle, Susannah Hutton, sister of her mother Sarah Hutton, and her husband, the Moravian minister and amateur astronomer John Willey, and I started a search for them.

There appeared to exist an amazing story about how they came to wed each other. It begins nearly a month after Sarah Hamilton died, on 10 May 1817, therewith also explaining why the Hamilton sisters did not move to Ballinderry immediately after their mother’s death, but in Spring 1818.
“1817: On the 7th June Br. John Willey, who was serving in Dublin, accepted a call to Ballinderry. In those days you didn’t necessarily get to marry the person of your choice as can be seen by these extracts from the Elders Conference Minutes: “26th July - Br. John Willey, having been informed that the question about his marriage to Ann Linfoot had been negatived by ‘the lot’, writes that he has another proposal to make. He leaves it entirely to the Conference to choose for him, being confident our Saviour will direct us to find a suitable person. After some consideration the name of Rachel Spence was submitted to the lot, but negative No. 2 was drawn. We then put Sr. Susanna Hutton’s name and the affirmative was drawn.
“On the 16th August Br. Holmes informs us that Br. John Willey and Sr. Susanna Hutton (at Cootehill) had both declared their free acceptance of the marriage proposal made to them, and would soon after the betrothing proceed to Gracehill to be married there. In consequence of Br. John Willey’s and Sr. Hutton’s arrival at Gracehill on the 20th August, it was settled that the marriage is to take place tomorrow at 11 in the forenoon. Br. Benade will accompany them to Ballinderry at the beginning of next week.””

Therefore, the most likely place to search seemed to be the Moravian Church in Ballinderry, and I filled in a contact form, asking if anything was known about Archianna Hamilton and the Willey family. Only a few days later I received the most amazing answer from Lorraine Parsons, Archivist of the Moravian Church, British Province. It did not clear up any uncertainties about Archianna, whose life still is a mystery, yet it did shed a light on the enigma of Hamilton’s elusive grandparents,
“Rev. John Willey (13/12/1781-06/10/1847) was an assistant minister at the Moravian Church in Dublin from 1814, and then became minister at Ballinderry Moravian Church in 1817; minister at Cootehill Moravian Church in 1826; retired to Glenavy in 1844, and moved to Gracehill in 1845, where he died and was buried in 1847.” She further wrote that Susannah had been a governess, and that from 1817 until 1826 she had been a teacher in the Ballinderry ladies’s school. And, that “we have a note that Susannah was originally born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.”

Especially the information about Susannah Willey was very unexpected: it explained, for instance, why the Hamilton sisters were schooled so well in a time education for women was not at all customary. But even more extraordinary was that Susannah was not born in Ireland. I replied that I could hardly believe it, that I had never heard about the Huttons having emigrated to America, and that only a few years later they were found in Dublin again, when in 1800 Hamilton’s mother, Sarah Hutton, married Archibald Hamilton. The Archivist promptly answered, “Moravians did cross the Atlantic and return again or move around the world if they were called to serve elsewhere.” Thinking about the end of the eighteenth century, I had not at all expected that travelling across the oceans and back again was already done so easily. It opened up many more possibilities for my searches.

I started a new search for Hamilton’s elusive grandparents, realising that I did know something about them. In 1832 Hamilton had found a family connection between Lord Adare, then his pupil, the later third Earl of Dunraven, and himself, about which Graves commented in a footnote, “The common ancestor was Piers Moroney, Esq., whose daughter Catherine married the great-grandfather of the first Earl of Dunraven, and of whom another daughter married a Mr. Webber. A descendant of the latter was wife of Robert Hutton, Esq., and maternal grandmother of Hamilton. Hamilton was thus sixth cousin of his pupil. The authority for this statement is a memorandum by W. R. Hamilton, founded on information supplied to him by ‘old Mr. Webber.’” The connection between Lord Adare and Piers Moroney was indeed easily found, but Catharine Moroney was not Lord Adare’s great-grandmother, she was his great-great-great-grandmother, who had married Thady Quin in 1669.

Also, in his biography describing the year 1837, Graves wrote, “But the shadows of mortality had likewise passed across [Hamilton’s] spirit. His grandmother Hutton in March, and his aunt Mary Hutton in May, both of whom had from earliest days a hold upon his affections, were removed by death.” The burial record of Hamilton’s aunt Mary Hutton was again easily found;* she was of ‘Glassnevin’ Road, where she lived at Fairfield with her uncle and aunt Joseph Hutton and Mary Hutton née Swanwick.

* Curiously, there is a second burial record, one of them a copy. Also, there is a problem with Mary Hutton’s age. If she was 57 on 10 May 1837, she was born on or before 10 May 1780. Yet Graves gives as the birthdate of Sarah Hutton August 1780, but unfortunately, her burial record does not give her age. But also, their parents having married 28 August 1779, Mary having been 57 when she died does not make sense. Unless Sarah was not the eldest daughter, the only solution seems to be that Sarah was born somewhat earlier, late in May or early in June 1780, and Mary just before 10 May 1781, and that she died in her 57th year instead of having been 57.

To see if there was more information in the British newspapers, I searched for the 1837 death announcements of Mary Ann and Mary Hutton. I could not find an announcement for Mary Ann Hutton in March, but I did find the announcement for Mary Hutton, who, curiously, died on 10 May, which also was the death day of her sister Sarah. And then, there it was: Mary had been “a daughter of the late Robert Hutton, formerly a citizen of Dublin.” Together with new information sent by the Archivist, the gaps in the story of Hamilton’s maternal family, which Graves had left open, seemed to close.

The new information was an overview of Susannah Willey’s life; “Hutton, Susannah (1785-1858) b 19.04.1785 Baltimore Maryland USA, educated: Wem Shropshire 1800, occupation: governess Cork 1805-08, governess near Cootehill 1809, reception: received congregation Cootehill 19.04.1812, confirmed Gracehill by Br S Benade December 1812, sacrament Gracehill 20.12.1812, church service: teacher ladies’ school Gracehill 30.11.1812, congregation labourer Ballinderry and teacher ladies’ school 1817, congregation labourer Cootehill and teacher ladies’ school Cootehill 1826, husband resigned (ill-health) and retired Ballinderry July 1841, congregation labourer Cootehill March 1843, retired Glenavy 1844, Gracehill 1845, widow Glenavy 1847, Lurgan 1850, Woodford Halse 1857, m John Willey (b 1781) Gracehill by Br S T Benade 21.08.1817 - widowed 06.10.1847, family: daughter of Robert Hutton, granddaughter of Thomas Hutton of Dublin,* daughter-in-law of Michael Willey (b 1727) and Ann (née Ashley) (b 1739), sister-in-law of Joseph Willey (b 1777), mother of Joseph Hutton (b 1820),** Robert Willey (b 1825) and Anna Powell (Taylor) (b 1827), mother-in-law of Jane, Elizabeth (née Bayne) (b c 1836) and William Taylor (b 1821), grandmother of Robert Bayne Willey (b 1868), d 06.02.1858 aged 72 Woodford Halse.”

* Robert Hutton’s father was not Thomas but Robert Hutton, the Dublin tannery owner, Hamilton’s great-grandfather. In any case in 1842 Thomas Hutton (1788-1865) lived at Elm Park, Artaine, not far from Fairfield. Also in Artaine was Kilmore House, where John Hutton the coachmaker lived. On this screenshot of a map from Griffith’s Valuation I also showed Furry Park House, where during her teens Catherine Disney lived.
** Joseph Hutton was Hamilton’s cousin Joseph Hutton Willey, of the Moravian settlement at Fulneck where the most well-known photo of Hamilton was made in 1859. His wife Jane Willey née Millar was helping out at Dunsink Observatory when Hamilton died in 1865.

Susannah thus very likely was born in Baltimore* in 1785, and in 1800 she was in Wem, Shropshire, where one of the branches of Hamilton’s family tree originated, as described in the “Descendants of Philip Henry,” starting with the Swanwicks and the Lawrences. And it was not even that great an ancestral distance; Mary Hutton,* Sarah Hamilton’s cousin who also lived at Fairfield, Glasnevin, had said that the hazel trees in her garden had been “planted by her own hand, grown from nuts she brought from her grandfather’s home at Wem, Shropshire.” This opens possibilities for an interesting scenario, which could explain why so little is known about Hamilton’s maternal grandparents, Robert Hutton and Mary Ann Hutton née Guinin. Suppose that, in a family of ‘dissenters’, as Graves would call the Huttons, either Robert, or Mary Ann, or both, were Moravian; in 1746, ten years before Robert was born, John Cennick had preached for some time in Dublin. It seemed to have become a turmoil, but therewith also long remembered. If Robert and Mary Ann were Moravian, it is perfectly possible that after their marriage in 1779, and Sarah’s and Mary’s births around 1780, they went to America, where Susannah was born. They also had a little son who apparently died early, but because in those times boys were listed before girls, it is not known if he was older or younger than Susannah. And if Robert died soon after Susannah’s birth in 1785, that would explain why there were no more children, and why the family was back in Europe in 1800, when Sarah married Archibald Hamilton, and Susannah was in Wem.

* Note added 31 May 2023: I contacted the maintainer of the WikiTree page of Hamilton’s great-grandfather Robert Hutton, who is a Hutton descendant. He had a remarkable suggestion, namely that Susan (as she was called in the ‘Descendants’, was not born in Baltimore, Maryland, but Baltimore, Cork. That would make much sense indeed; before moving to Cootehill (1808), Gracehill (1812), and Ballinderry (1817) Susan had been a governess in Cork from 1805, when she was twenty years old. It would mean that Hamilton’s mother Sarah’s family records should be sought after in Cork, instead of in Dublin. Also Hamilton’s maternal relative-by-marriage Edward Hincks was born in Cork, as a son of the Presbyterian minister Thomas Hincks.
** This Mary Hutton (1792-1887) was a daughter of Sarah’s uncle Rev. Joseph Hutton and aunt Mary Swanwick (1767-1856), and an important source of information for the Hutton branch in the Descendants. Her father Joseph was a son of Robert the tannery owner, and her mother Mary was a daughter of John Swanwick from Wem, who had married Mary Hincks. For the photos of these two Mary’s, see the Descendants. Until 1837, when Hamilton’s Aunt Mary died, there were indeed three Mary Huttons living at Fairfield.

That again lead to Hamilton’s elusive grandmother, Mary Ann Guinin, because nothing is known about her whereabouts after her husband’s apparent death; although Graves seems to indicate that Hamilton had known her well, witing that she had “from earliest days a hold upon his affections,” Graves never mentioned any visits from or to each other. Yet, focusing on ‘eminent’ people and shying away from what he judged ‘too domestic’ for his readers, he also never mentioned that Hamilton visited his Aunt Mary, even though they wrote very honest letters to each other, and it is known from between Graves’ lines that in any case once, but probably more often, Hamilton visited cousins in England, and he was visited by them. It is not known who exactly these cousins were; next to family in various parts of Ireland, not only did he have family at Fulneck, England, there were more first and second cousins who moved to England, as can be seen in the Descendants. And also in Dublin there were by Graves unnamed cousins; in 1852 Hamilton was at a cousin’s house when he played off a hoax upon his pupil Lord Adare.

What also does not help in finding Hamilton’s maternal grandmother, is that her name came in three formats. In the Hutton part of the Descendants, which was based on details furnished by Mary Hutton, Sarah Hamilton’s cousin, she was called ‘Marianne Guissand’, and if that would appear to be incorrect, it could mean that either Mary Hutton did not know her well, or that they simply did not often talk about her descent. Graves called her ‘Marianne Guinand’, but it is not known how he came to that conclusion. In her marriage record she was called ‘Mary Ann Guinin’, and it is not known how accurate these records were. Yet not having found any useful sites for the name Guissand, the two most likely possibilities are Guinand and Guinin.

Therefore now following Hamilton’s story based on information provided by “Old Mr. Webber,” I searched without any filters for the combination ‘Guinin’ and ‘Webber’. And then I found something very unexpected; on 2 June 1747 a Philibert Guinin and a Mary Webber married in Paris. I probably would not have taken that seriously but for the remark of the Archivist, that the Moravians easily travelled. Yet, this marriage record, and the fact that they married in France, allows for even more possibilities; on the one hand thay may have been Moravian, on the other hand Guinin may have been a variant spelling of Guinand, the name Graves gave, which is a Huguenot name, see also the Huguenot Library. At the time of their marriage most Huguenots had already fled France due to the persecutions under Louis XIV and Louis XV, and that also could explain why Mary Ann Guinin met Robert Hutton in Dublin. But this is all speculation, and for now it is too uncertain.

But what again seems to be obvious, is that many members of these families were protestant. Although Robert and Mary Ann married in the Church of Ireland, the Anglican Church, they may soon have become Moravian, or, perhaps one or both of them were Moravian already; as far as is known also Hamilton’s parents, Archibald Hamilton and Sarah Hutton, married in the Church of Ireland, yet they were members of the ‘dissenter’ congregation of Benjamin Mathias. And the sponsor at Hamilton’s baptism was Presbyterian; these people apparently felt more connected than divided by the many branches of protestantism or Calvinism. It is known that also one of Hamilton’s sisters, most likely Archianna, was a Calvinist.* And that Hamilton, even though a faithful member of the Anglican church, wrote that he did “not feel in the least afraid [...] of reading anything [...], atheistical books, infidel books, Socinian books, Protestant evangelical books, books by the Archbishop [Whately] of Dublin, Protestant High-church books, Romanist books.”

* Hamilton mentioned that his sister had been a friend of William Henry Krause (1796-1852), which seems to point at Archianna; from 1838 until 1840 Krause was curate in Cavan, at the time the Willeys, and most likely also Archianna, lived quite close-by at Cootehill. But the possibility remains that it was Sydney; after 1840 Krause lived in Dublin, where he preached at Bethesda, and “soon became one of the most noted of the evangelical clergy of that city.” Yet Sydney was buried at an apparently Anglican cemetery; it therefore indeed may have been Archianna who was the Calvinist.

There still are many gaps to fill in further. It is not at all certain that Philibert Guinin and Mary Webber were Hamilton’s great-grandparents.* Also, the line from Piers Moroney to the Dunravens is known, but the line from Moroney to the Hamiltons is not, one generation is missing. And worst of all, still hardly anything is known about Archianna Hamilton. She was a funny child; she preferred the lyre over the telescope; from her 2nd year until she was eleven she lived in Ballinderry; every now and then she travelled with her sister Sydney; she died in Dublin while staying with Sydney; she may have been a friend of William Krause; she is on the Hamilton gravestone at Mount Jerome but she is not buried there. Nothing else.

If anyone has further information, about Archianna Hamilton, or about Mary Ann Guinin, or about any of the people mentioned here, please contact me.

* Note added 7 June 2023: again searching the Irish church records (still searching for Archianna) I suddenly recognised something I had seen before, but then it had had no meaning for me. Searching with the name Guinin, there appeared to be four records. The first is a 1669 burial record, which unfortunately is not scanned yet; the last is the 1779 marriage record of Hamilton’s grandparents Robert Hutton and Mary Ann Guinin. The second and third are duplicates. It is the 1754 baptism record of Thomas Genins, son of Catholic parents, and the surprise is that the first sponsor is Philbertus Guinin. Because in the Catholic records names were often Latinised, and the name is extremely rare, this can hardly not be Philibert Guinin, who in 1747 married Mary Webber in Paris. The time of moving to Ireland would coincide with the Huguenots fleeing France, and in case they were indeed protestants, being a sponsor at a Catholic baptism is not too surprising given the fact that in 1779 his daughter (if this appears to be correct) Mary Ann would marry in the Anglican Church. If Philibert Guinin married in 1747 in Paris, and was in Dublin in 1754, it might mean that the Guinin family came to Dublin between 1747 and 1754, and thus explain how Mary Ann Guinin, Hamilton’s grandmother, met Robert Hutton in Dublin.



Utrecht, 14 February 2023


A video about Hamilton, quaternions, Maxwell’s equations and vector analysis, by Kathy Jones


On 31 January 2023, a YouTube video came online, called, ”Quaternions are Amazing and so is William Rowan Hamilton!” It was made by Kathy Jones, who has a channel called Kathy Loves Physics & History. In her videos, she explains subjects in physics and engineering, while simultaneously telling about the main discoveries which led to how we now understand these subjects. Wherever possible using original documents, she tells about why and how the discoveries were made, who the main discoverers were, and what the circumstances were they made their discoveries in. Her way of embedding the discoveries in their history greatly enhances the understanding of the physics involved. Being very happy with it, I wrote an update to my ResearchGate project about Hamilton.

Kathy contacted me in September 2022, and with a pause because she decided to make her Westinghouse videos first (and could celebrate her best selling book The Lightning Tamers (!)), we worked hard to tell the story of Hamilton’s private life as succinctly yet correctly as possible in such a video. I am very happy that now Hamilton’s story is told as it always should have been told, without the gossip interfering.

But I also realise that when now someone would start to read Robert Perceval Graves’ 1880s biography, especially the second volume which was published in 1885, that reader would certainly be surprised, and wonder why it does not seem to describe so much happiness, rather on the contrary. And that is why, to see that Hamilton really was a happy man, it is necessary to understand how Graves wrote the biography, and what was behind the extensive lamentations about “his hero,” as Kathy justifiably expressed Graves’ admiration for his friend. The main lamentations can be found in the second volume on pp. 334-335, and pp. 505-506.


The psychological discovery

The most important event in Hamilton’s life which Graves missed completely, is the psychological discovery Hamilton made in 1832. Psychology was not ‘invented’ yet, and also Hamilton’s friend Aubrey de Vere missed it; it is therefore not something for which Graves can be blamed. It even is very fortunate that he did give the letters in which Hamilton described it to De Vere. But without understanding what Hamilton wrote about, the way he suddenly got over Ellen de Vere, and fell in love with Helen Bayly, seems very illogical, and that explains why Graves suggested that it had been Helen Bayly’s 1832 illness which “prepared the way for tenderer and warmer feelings.” Even many years later Hamilton referred to his discovery, and he was never again as melancholic as he was after having ‘lost’ Catherine Disney and Ellen de Vere. But Graves did not notice; he did not regularly visit the Observatory, and soon after Hamilton’s wedding he moved to England. When they met each other, it was as an ‘honoured guest,’ as was customary in their times and for men of their status.


Quaternions and sipping porter

Something else is, that the very orderly and highly literary Graves abhorred the way Hamilton worked on his quaternions after he found them in 1843. Already before that time, when deep in a mathematical investigation, Hamilton tended to skip dinner and work through the night until he had finished what he was working on, something he once called his “mathematical trances.” That became more frequent after 1843, and Graves assumed that Hamilton’s now and then irregular life was the very reason Hamilton started to drink porter in the night, even though it is clear Hamilton did not so much ‘drink’ porter, he ‘sipped’ it, in order to stay awake and finish what he was doing. Which is not even illogical, because porter contains much sugar, and people then did not know anything about the long-term effects of alcohol.

Yet Graves believed, trusting on “authority,” that the regularity of sipping porter caused “cravings,” and that they led to the “occasional mastery,” the one-time ‘event’ in 1846 at the Geological Society, of which it is certain that Hamilton was not drunk. But the violence was indeed humiliating for Hamilton, and it started the local gossip about him. It is very unfortunate that Graves decided to write about what happened at the Geological Society but not to defend Hamilton, or relate what the violence was about, because it caused much speculation after the second volume of the biography was published in 1885, and it thus, posthumously, started Hamilton’s wide-spread reputation as a drunk. And when Graves, after Hamilton’s death preparing for the biography, read Lady Hamilton’s very down-to-earth letters, he decided to blame her for her husband’s public humiliation, therewith sealing her fate. But Graves’ character assassination of Lady Hamilton, meant as a defense of his friend, turned against that very friend; now the drunken genius had not even been able to choose a wife wisely.


Lady Hamilton’s two “nervous illnesses”

Both in 1840-41 and in early 1856, Lady Hamilton suffered from what was called “nervous illnesses,” which mostly means that, at that time when doctors still believed that bleeding with leeches was a good idea, they had no clue about what was wrong with her. But because Hamilton was very worried, and could hardly work without her, Graves blamed Lady Hamilton for it, and concluded that she had not only been weak of mind, but also of body. He never for a moment wondered whether Hamilton had anything to do with them, even though when reading his own biography, both times very obvious reasons presented themselves. But Graves had come to loath her because he had judged from her letters that she had not been cultivated enough for a man as Hamilton, and he again completely missed what happened in that marriage. Fortunately, the Hamiltons worked their way through these difficult circumstances, and both times their marriage seems to have become more stable, as often happens when married couples manage to solve their problems.


“Relaxation of Domestic Order”

As mentioned above, Graves blamed Lady Hamilton for not having made certain that, even when working on some marvellous mathematical discovery, Hamilton led an orderly life, went to bed early, and abstained from all alcohol. Hamilton’s now and then irregular behaviour having become more frequent after the discovery of the quaternions in 1843,* not being a mathematician Graves completely ignored the importance of the quaternions. He assumed that it had been Lady Hamilton’s 1840-41 illness which had made her unfit to what he called “govern” her husband, causing the “relaxation of domestic order,” which can be read to have applied only to Hamilton’s way of working so focused. Even though according to Graves the “relaxation” was a long process, lasting some years which included the discovery of the quaternions, and ending with the ‘event’ at the Geological Society in 1846, he simply assumed she could not do it because, as he suggested, she was ‘weak of body and mind.’

* It is, in fact, completely unknown how often Hamilton worked in such a way. He had many duties and obligations; he went to weddings and funerals, he went to church every Sunday, he gave his yearly course on astronomy, he was one of the examiners at Trinity College Dublin, he was president of some local societies even though it is not known of how many, and until 1846 he was president of the RIA. There is not any mention of him having neglected his duties, or having slept through meetings or sermons, to state it in some extreme way.

Yet Graves never indicated that it had anything to do with the rest of the household, as was claimed later; if Hamilton did not come to dinner and a chop was brought in, it was obviously freshly cooked. Apparently, Graves could not imagine that Lady Hamilton allowed her husband to live for his mathematics so intensely. Yet, she knew her husband well, she knew how important his mathematics was for him, and she doubtless trusted that he would not become an alcoholic. Which he indeed did not, not even remotely.


Catherine Disney

In his 1980 biography, Hankins very justly introduced Catherine Disney as a very important influence in Hamilton’s life. Yet the problem is that, following the gossip which already was rampant for nearly a hundred years, he turned her into an everlasting only love, which she definitely was not. I described what happened to her in my biographical sketch of her, and for how she influenced Hamilton, but not his marriage, see the chapter about her in my A Victorian marriage. Many people who lose a first love so suddenly and unexpectedly as Hamilton lost Catherine, would suffer when vividly remembering it, even though they are otherwise happily married. And in Hamilton’s case it was even worse, because he only learned the truth about her forced marriage when she had made her suicide attempt already, and was dying. She led a tragic life, and Hamilton therefore suffered a very understandable pain for her.


Hamilton’s illnesses and supposed “death by overwork”

Hankins claimed that “the general opinion in Dublin [...] was that Hamilton had worked himself to death.” He concluded that from Charles Graves’ éloge, “His diligence of late was even excessive - interfering with his sleep, his meals, his exercise, his social enjoyments. It was, I believe, fatally injurious to his health.” But there is a small difference between the éloge and Hankins’s remark, which seems to be related to Hankins’ suggestion that Hamilton only became really ill in Spring 1865, and alarmingly so in the Summer, therefore only shortly before his death.* Realising that Hamilton knew for quite some time already that he did not have much time left, changes the understanding of what Charles Graves wrote.

* Hankins 1980 p. 376. Unfortunately, Hankins’ biography is not available online.

Hamilton had suffered from bronchitis throughout his life, and from gout since 1856. In 1861 Hamilton wrote about being very kindly nursed, in the winter of 1863 his gout had become worse, and early in December 1864 he suffered from a very severe cold. He still had not recovered in the beginning of 1865; on 2 January 1865 he wrote to his son Archibald, “It is a solemn thing, but I do not find it a painful one, to enter on a new year. I wish you many happy returns. It was my hope to have gone to Castleknock [to church] yesterday, but my cough was by no means so far gone as to make that safe.” Graves comments, “These words may serve to indicate the religious ripeness of his spirit, and at the same time the shaken state of his bodily health, which from henceforth had to contend with a fatal combination of gout and bronchitis.” Hamilton was very well aware that his death was near, and worked as hard as he could to finish his book.

It therefore is true, Hamilton might have lived perhaps some weeks or even some months longer had he not desperately tried to finish his Elements of Quaternions. But having been deeply religious, feeling certain that he would go to heaven and therefore not at all afraid of death, he would rather die a bit sooner than linger while knowing what he still had wanted to add to his book. And Lady Hamilton did not really stop him; the family seems to have made only feeble attempts to keep Hamilton from his mathematics. They all may have known that he would die happier if he had finished his book, or at least had done what he could. He indeed nearly finished it before he died.


Photos, paintings, drawings and busts

I was overjoyed when at the last moment Kathy decided to use the 1845 photo of Hamilton which I had cut out for her, instead of the drawing I, in hindsight regrettably, used in 2014 for our student bundle. It made me realise again that there is something about how I see Hamilton’s photos compared with the drawings and paintings made after them, which I almost invariably find ugly. I do like the drawing of Hamilton sitting in the president’s chair of the Royal Irish Academy, even though he there does not really look like Hamilton, and I also like the busts, of which I like the 1833 one the least, and that by Max Power the best.

It is possible that my not liking the drawings and paintings is due to the fact that they all have been made at times when the gossip had already decided that he was an alcoholic and unhappy man, something I think I see in them. Or it has to do with how I see faces, never recognising any composition drawing, and not believing I could help in making one. If the Purser painting would not have had that conspicuous collar, exactly the same as on the 1859 photo, I would not have known it was supposed to be Hamilton. In the same vein it is, for me, a bit sad that in the video Lady Hamilton ‘lost’ her light blue or green eyes, which together with her dark hair were so characteristic of her. But that being my only criticism, I obviously am very happy with this biographical sketch, or ‘fun biography’ as Kathy calls it.



Utrecht, 14 November 2022


Gossip - correcting errors but maintaining conclusions

Rewritten 27 December 2022


Today is the two-hundreth anniversary of Hamilton’s first two original mathematical papers. Next to celebrating this remarkable event, it also made me think about a general problem, prompted by visualising the seventeen year old Hamilton working on his two papers while every now and then staying at his uncle Arthur’s house in Dublin.

Having found, in 2014, that the current generally accepted, very negative view on Hamilton’s married life is incorrect, I had started my researches assuming that everyone agreed on what his private life had looked like before the 1840s, when the marriage was generally seen as happy. I therefore had not given Hamilton’s early years, as described in Graves’ enormous biography, as much attention as the descriptions of his later life. And when some years ago I searched for Hamilton’s astronomy shortly before he entered college and browsed the chapters about his life in Trim, I had the impression that he then lived a sheltered and rather secluded life.

Only when rewriting my unpublication about Hamilton’s 1832 visit to Coleridge and actually reading these first chapters, I started to realise that already in his youth Hamilton knew very many people, amongst whom the many members of his maternal family. I had hardly noticed it in the biography because Graves only every now and then made a short remark about them, mostly when he needed it to shine a light on someone he considered important; members of the peerage, famous literary men, eminent scientific men, or perfect examples of Victorian womanhood. It means that, even though in the end it is all there, readers have to be prepared to read very carefully, because even Graves’ subordinate clauses can contain information outside the context of the main clause, and such information is very easily missed.

That the distorted view on Hamilton’s private life nowadays is one of the most intricate cases of gossip in biography I am aware of,* is precisely because of Graves’ enormous biography, in which he discussed nearly all aspects of Hamilton’s life in minute detail. Graves’ often quite coloured opinions, then and now valued as those of a close friend and therefore hardly scrutinised, led to many distortions in the story about the Hamilton family.

* There certainly are even more negative views on historical people, but this is about distortions formed by a long train of, in principle, well-meaning authors.

But even though Graves was generally precise when giving facts, every now and then he did make an error, as I already discussed in my blogs of 4 November 2021 and 31 July 2022. In the November 2021 blog the error discussed was Graves’ assumption that Arabella Lawrence had been the eldest Lawrence sister, from which it was later concluded that she had played a role in Hamilton’s visit to Coleridge in 1832, which she did not; and in the July 2022 blog, that young William Hamilton had met the ‘mental calculator’ Zerah Colburn in 1818 when he was twelve, instead of in 1813 when he was eight. I had copied the latter error in my celebration article, and then even more erroneously gave 1817 for the first meeting. When after publication I saw my own error, I started to search for what really had happened, and found that also Graves’ 1818 was wrong, that it should have been 1813.

Because I now had read Colburn’s Memoir, I began to see that in the twentieth century conclusions had been drawn from meeting Colburn in the erroneous year, 1818, which thereafter were repeated even on pages where the actual year, 1813, was given. Then I wondered if the ‘theory of gossip in biography’, which I mused about in the conclusions of my article about the 1832 visit to Coleridge, could be built on some postulates, of which the first just had presented itself, gossip emerges when errors are corrected, but the conclusions drawn from these errors are maintained. Such conclusions having lost their basis, they become loose ‘facts’, and repeating these false facts without checking where they came from can be called gossip, no matter how well-meant the repetitions were.


Example: Zerah Colburn, and an eight-year-old William Hamilton who could not decide yet what to study

That Graves had concluded that Hamilton had met Colburn in 1818, when he was twelve, instead of September 1813, when he had just turned eight, can be seen in his 1842 ‘portrait’ of Hamilton. Graves wrote, “At the age of ten, having accidently fallen-in with a Latin copy of Euclid, he became rapidly and deeply immersed in the study of geometry; and a little before this he had acquired a liking for arithmetical calculation, and was beginning to take an interest in the elements of algebra, a taste which had become fully confirmed when he had reached the age of twelve. In testimony of this we may introduce the anecdote that it was at this time that Zerah Colburn, the American boy was exhibited in Dublin, as an arithmetical prodigy, and that opportunities occurred for trials of skill between him and Hamilton, in which, rather in play than otherwise, they exchanged questions and fought arithmetical duels; but we have heard Sir William declare, that in these encounters his competitor was usually the more expert of the two combatants.”

To assist Graves in writing the ‘portrait’, Hamilton supplied Graves with written information, and it seems possible that he read parts of it before publication; the achronicity in the first sentence of the ‘portrait’* leaves room for the suggestion that he made a remark, or perhaps a note in the margins, about his first ‘acquired liking’. Although Graves apparently did not realise it because he repeated his error in the biography, the sentence to connect with meeting Colburn “at this time” is, “a little before this [when he was eight] he had acquired a liking for arithmetical calculation.” As Hamilton indeed wrote in 1822 to Cousin Arthur, Colburn first gave him an interest in arithmetic, in “everything that related to the properties of numbers.”

Thereafter the idea that Hamilton had been twelve when he met Colburn for the first time was widely adopted. With this notion in mind it could easily be concluded that Hamilton’s 1822 remark that he believed “it was seeing Zerah Colburn that first gave me an interest in those things” meant that Colburn had been the reason Hamilton turned from languages and the classics to mathematics. But it is incorrect; in 1821, when he was sixteen, Uncle James gave him Bartholomew Lloyd’s Analytic Geometry, a tract about the application of algebra to geometry; in 1822 Hamilton called it an “Ill-omened gift”, and only then he began to turn to mathematics, nine years after having met Colburn for the first time, and two years after having met him again.

Knowing that Hamilton met Colburn in 1813 indeed changes everything; Hamilton was eight, he still was deep into languages and the classics, and had not encountered Euclid yet. Both his parents and aunt Sydney were still alive, and what we know about him in 1813 comes from three letters given by Graves and written by family members; the letters mention ‘history’, languages, Nature and Art. It was not the young boy’s privilege then, to decide what he was going to spend his time on.

It can safely be assumed that in the Hamilton papers there are no extant letters from the time he met Zerah Colburn, because in that case Graves would have known the correct year. It thus seems plausible that the correct year became known either via authors interested in Colburn and mental calculators, or when in 2007 Colburn’s Memoir came online. And when it became obvious that Hamilton had met Colburn in 1813 instead of 1818, also the phenomenon of corrected errors and remaining conclusions emerged, when the date of the first meeting was corrected in many places, but not the conclusions. Hamilton’s current Wikipedia page indeed correctly gives September 1813 as the date of the first meeting, yet the conclusion remained, “In reaction to his defeat, Hamilton spent less time studying languages, and more on mathematics.”

Yet Colburn was introduced in Hamilton’s Wikipedia page much earlier, when in August 2003 it was added,* “At the age of twelve Hamilton engaged Zerah Colburn,” but then no conclusion was drawn. That was only added ten years later, in April 2013, when the date was corrected, accompanied by the erroneous conclusion in nearly the same wording as it still can be read on the current page, and given above. As a reference a 2013 book by Robert Fountain and Jan van Koningsveld was given, The Mental Calculator’s Handbook. Describing Colburn’s 1813 visit to Dublin and encountering Hamilton, they comment, “the Irish prodigy, not accustomed to being outwitted by someone his own age, subsequently devoted less time to studying languages and more time to studying mathematics and physics.” It therefore was their book from which the phenomenon entered the Wikipedia page, where at present the last part of the sentence still is, almost unaltered. The only difference is that now as references Graves’ ‘portrait’ and the MacTutor page are added, apparently to give it more credibility, but factually making it even harder to see that it is not true.

* The addition was part of a long train of quotes taken literally from an entrance in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittannica, written by Peter Guthrie Tait. He had died in 1901; it therefore was either from an earlier edition, or it was taken as a summary of his 1866 obituary article about Hamilton in the North British Review. Traces of it are still roaming Hamilton’s Wikipedia page; which may point to the fact that that people do not feel free to erase sentences which have been added, even when they contain obvious errors. As for instance Tait’s erroneous claims about Hamilton’s descent, which was erased again in December 2004, but only by a user later found to have been a sock puppet.

Such a process can also be recognised in the writings of the train of authors we discussed in our 2018 gossip article. Not knowing about Graves’ error, the idea that Hamilton had met Colburn in 1818 was, in some form, repeated by the first five of the six subsequent authors. The first author, Alexander Macfarlane, did not give a year in his 1916 ‘Lectures’, but he mentioned that Hamilton had been twelve years old, while correctly stating that meeting Colburn gave Hamilton “a decided taste for arithmetical computation.” E.T. Bell, in his 1937 Men of Mathematics, also did not specify a year yet he wrote that at that time Colburn attended Westminster school in London, which he did from 1816 to 1819. In his openly gossipy chapter, called ‘An Irish Tragedy’, Bell ironically stated that Colburn was “selected by Providence to turn Hamilton from the path of error,” i.e., leaving the languages and turning to mathematics. Edmund Whittaker wrote in his 1957 Lives In Science that Hamilton met Colburn when he was fifteen, and following Bell, that meeting Colburn completely changed Hamilton’s life. Hankins, in his 1980 biography, gave 1818 as the year of the contest. He correctly did not claim the contest as a turning point in Hamilton’s life, he just wrote that Hamilton was impressed. John O’Connor and Edmund Robertson, here treated as the ‘fifth author’, mention on their MacTutor webpage about Hamilton, which was printed in 2003 in Physicists of Ireland, that Hamilton was twelve when he met Colburn, that it was a turning point in his life, and that “it appears that losing to Colburn sparked Hamilton’s interest in mathematics.”

With the last of our six authors a culmination of the foregoing can be recognised. In his 2007 Why beauty is truth, Ian Stewart wrote a chapter about Hamilton called ‘The Drunken Vandal’, as gossipy yet more incorrect than that by E.T. Bell. He did not give any time frame, but he stated that having met Colburn, Hamilton had “finally found a topic worthy of his astonishing brainpower.” That Stewart did not specify any time frame is most remarkable, because Hamilton having turned to mathematics after having met Colburn has now become a loose fact without any traceable basis; in order to verify everything Stewart asserts* one would be tempted to start looking for letters, which do not exist. This seems to be the most difficult gossip to refute; erroneous conclusions which have become facts on their own.

* Stewart even fantasised further, but that was, as far as I know, never repeated.

The first suggested postulate for a ‘theory of gossip in biography’ having been gossip emerges when errors are corrected, but the conclusions drawn from these errors are maintained, a somewhat easier to recognise variation can be derived from the foregoing discussion, gossip emerges when originating facts disappear, but the conclusions drawn from them are maintained. But also a variant which is much more difficult to recognise, and much more damaging, pure gossip emerges when errors were made, conclusions were drawn from them, but then the originating errors disappear while the conclusions are maintained.


Intentional gossip in seemingly scientific biography

Until now it was assumed that in evolving gossip all authors were well-meaning. But it becomes even more difficult when one of them is deliberately writing gossip. And in the evolving gossip about Hamilton it is known that one of them was exactly doing that. Here Stewart can be left out because the gossip he added does not seem to have been repeated, and for the same reason I have always left out the quite extreme biography, written in 1983 by O’Donnell.

But E.T. Bell was a different case. He asserted that Hamilton’s tragedy had been “neither alcohol nor marriage” but the quaternions; Bell believed that Hamilton had thrown away his last decades working on a futile subject, writing about Hamilton’s belief in his quaternions, “Never was a great mathematician so hopelessly wrong.” His general view on Hamilton’s private life was based on the most dramatic lamentations in Graves’s biography, and perhaps also on Macfarlane’s 1916 summary of them; a negative view which was further exacerbated by the, according to Bell, failed focus on the quaternions, and presented without any reservation because his goal was to write entertaining stories. Bell’s view on Hamilton’s life has been repeated over and over, perhaps not in its most extreme form, but certainly in the view on Hamilton as having been burdened with an unhappy and difficult private life. Of Graves’ otherwise careful nuances, hereafter nothing was left.

But already soon after the publication of Bell’s book people started to doubt its credibility. On the Wikipedia page about Bell’s book it is written, “Clifford Truesdell (1919-2000) wrote [in 1984]: “...[Bell] was admired for his science fiction and his Men of Mathematics. I was shocked when, just a few years later, Walter Pitts (1923-1969) told me the latter was nothing but a string of Hollywood scenarios; my own subsequent study of the sources has shown me that Pitts was right, and I now find the contents of that still popular book to be little more than rehashes enlivened by nasty gossip and banal or indecent fancy.””

Nevertheless, Bell’s views on the mathematicians he described remained to be taken seriously; even Hankins, in 1980, did not shy away from discussing Bell’s mathematical opinions [Hankins, 1980, pp. 251 (433), 266 (436), 325 (446)] without making any critical remark about Bell’s view on Hamilton’s private life. Hankins’ book comprises of 474 pages, the Index starting on p. 465, and only on p. 457, in his biographical essay, a very useful but very dense listing of authors, books, and papers, Hankins called Bell’s chapter “the best-known biographical sketch,” and then remarked, “this account is unreliable, however.”

Also Hankins’ more nuanced views on Hamilton’s private life did not last very long, one of the reasons having been that he hardly criticised Graves and Bell, but the main reason being that he introduced Catherine Disney as a life-long only love of Hamilton. It seemed to explain everything; the sadness, the drinking, and the unhappy marriage. Even though in the end the quaternions were saved, Bell’s presentation of Hamilton’s private life was now completed.

Bell’s gossip having replaced the view on Hamilton’s private life with a ‘Hollywood scenario’, even a bad one because it is illogical and by far not as dramatic as the real story as seen from Catherine Disney’s point of view, biographies and biographical sketches of Hamilton cannot be called scientific any more. And this paints the problem: how can we take care that when, in general, details are proven to be different, also the conclusions drawn from these details are changed. At least, and to start with, on the same pages. The only possible solution I could find was to go back to the most original sources, and that led to a terrible lot of work.

But being realistic, that I found it was a coincidence, and it is not to be expected that many such erroneous views will change in the near future, even when they are less intricate as in Hamilton’s case. Which is why I would like to have a general ‘theory of gossip in biography’, for which I think the strange phenomenon and the postulates could form a part of a basis. The idea is that it might help to prevent new cases to get so out of hand as Hamilton’s. What would help in his case, and I therefore want to repeat my plea for it, is a brand new biography of Hamilton, written by someone with knowledge of mathematics, physics, astronomy, metaphysics, theology and religion, and political, social and cultural history in early ninenteenth century Ireland. Of course, with my findings as the guideline for his private life. 😶



Utrecht, 1 October 2022


Alice without quaternions


On 25 September my article about Alice and the mad tea party came online, as a prepublication for this year’s third issue of the BJHM. The article changed considerably since I started it in 2018, and without some marvellous reviewers it would not have been what it is now.

It all began when I saw the Alice film by Tim Burton, and searched for some background information. I only knew the Alice books* as children’s stories; being non-English I miss most of the language puns, and for instance twisted words are just new words for me. But searching I found the 2009 article by Melanie Bayley,** and because it had been published in New Scientist, I figured her ideas were already accepted as truths; indeed, some of them were very appealing.

* Only now noticing the The complete works of Lewis Carroll, I see that Dodgson already wrote `Hints for Etiquette’ in 1849 instead of in 1855, as I thought he did.
** The article caught my eye because ‘Bayley’ is one of the ways Lady Hamilton’s maiden name could be spelled.

Bayley wrote that the nineteenth century had been a “turbulent time for mathematics,” and she mentioned the work of the historian Helena Pycior. Because I hardly knew anything about the development of mathematics then, Pycior’s articles were a revelation for me; it was great to catch a glimpse of how mathematics had evolved to the point where Hamilton could find the quaternions. Reading Pycior’s 1984 article about Mathematics and Humor was also strange somehow; the name of Augustus De Morgan was already very familiar to me because he features prominently in the third volume of Graves’s biography of Hamilton, and his humour had been so evident from his letters. Thus also having learned a bit more about De Morgan’s private life, when in the meantime writing my unpublication about Hamilton’s unexpected 1832 letter of introduction to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, I found that De Morgan and his wife Sophia Frend had played a role in the life of Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace. And when also William Frend became a person to me I started to see how closely connected they all were, even though I doubtless encountered only little parts of it.

Yet the best part of preparing for the Alice article was to finally understand what exactly is meant by the word ‘algebra’. I had asked for a definition every now and then but always forgot again, because there did not seem to be anything in it to hold on to. I now felt I finally had some understanding of the evolution of mathematics from arithmetic without negatives or complex numbers, to algebras which did not even obey all rules of arithmetic. And because I saw that something was wrong with how Bayley used the quaternions while arguing they were the subject of Lewis Carroll’s chapter about the mad tea-party, I decided to turn what I had until then into an article. I started with an overview of the developments in mathematics at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, and why that, according to Pycior, led Dodgson to write his Alice books.

Even though I knew that Bayley’s treatment of the quaternions, and what Hamilton had done, was not correct, I did not feel I could contradict the idea itself; I am not a mathematician. Moreover, it had been great fun to play with Bayley’s ‘quaternionisation of Alice’,* by turning Alice into the scalar part of the quaternion and arguing why there still were clean cups on the table, even though it had been tea-time since March. But always was the end a problem; putting the Dormouse into the teapot would not release the Hatter and the March Hare, as Bayley claimed.

* I did not come up with this great expression myself, but borrowed it from an email I received.

Having submitted the paper, a reviewer remarked that if I had found that Bayley’s treatment of the quaternions was not right, I could have concluded that Bayley was wrong, and pointed to an article in which Francine Abeles had already shown that Bayley’s quaternion interpretation could hardly be true. It appeared that Abeles’ article was published in the Carrollian, a paper journal which does give the titles of articles they publish, but they do not give the text, not even the abstracts. And because my focus is Hamilton instead of Alice, I had never heard about it.

Which leads me to a plea: Dear Paper Journals which do have websites, no matter how small, please provide at least abstracts!

Happily, I received a scan of Abeles’ paper which allowed me to completely revise mine, and the loose ends now disappearing, everything fell into place. Yet unfortunately, after some very wise words of two perhaps new reviewers, I had to throw out everything I had written about mathematics and humour and De Morgan. But now that the article is online, it occurred to me that I could turn that part into an unpublication about Pycior’s descriptions of the developments in of mathematics in England in the early nineteenth century, hoping that it will help fellow non-mathematicians to get a glimpse of those interesting events, as writing about it helped me; I now finally understand what ‘algebra’ is.



Utrecht, 31 July 2022


Meeting Zerah Colburn, the ‘mental calculator’, in 1813 and 1820

Rewritten 18 August 2022


In the autumn of 1813, Hamilton had “engaged in trials of arithmetical skill” with Zerah Colburn (1804-1839), an American ‘calculating boy’ who was able to make enormously long calculations in his head, answering many different arithmetical questions in very short times. His amazing skills had been exhibited since 1810, when he was six years old. Graves wrote about the contest between Hamilton and Colburn, who then just had turned eight and nine respectively, in his 1842 ‘portrait’ of Hamilton, “Zerah Colburn, the American boy, was exhibited in Dublin, as an arithmetical prodigy, and [...] opportunities occurred for trials of skill between him and Hamilton, in which, rather in play than otherwise, they exchanged questions and fought arithmetical duels; but we have heard Sir William declare,* that in these encounters his competitor was usually the more expert of the two combatants.” From the description it does not seem that these ‘encounters’ had been held in public.

* Graves met Hamilton when the latter befriended his elder brother John T. Graves in 1823 or 1824 while at college, in 1841 Graves researched and wrote the ‘Portrait’.

In 1820 Colburn and his father visited Ireland for a second time, and in April Hamilton and Colburn met each other in the house of Cousin Arthur Hamilton in Dublin. Colburn then shared his methods with Hamilton, and returned the following morning to have breakfast with them. Telling his sister Eliza about the meeting in a letter, Hamilton described Colburn as “the wonderful American boy who used to calculate with such astonishing rapidity when here some years ago.” The last time they met, again in Cousin Arthur’s house, was early in June. Hamilton wrote to Eliza, “Zerah Colburn dined with us lately, and acted a little in the evening, - “Pierre” and “Zanga”. I conversed with him on his Tables.”

In my celebration article, written because this year it is exactly two hundred years ago that Hamilton turned into a mathematician,* I mentioned their two meetings in a footnote, erroneously stating that they had met in 1817 and 1819 instead of 1813 and 1820. After the publication of the article I started to doubt the years I had given for the contest, and rereading Graves’ remarks about it I saw that I had made a mistake; Hamilton and Colburn did not meet for a second time in April 1819 but in April 1820. Graves wrote about their second meeting on a page with in its heading ‘[1819. aetat. 14.]’, and the biography generally being divided in chapters which each describe a different year, I had erroneously assumed it was a chapter about 1819. On these pages Graves also remarked that the contest had taken place “two years” before Hamilton and Colburn met for the second time, and therefore I had concluded that the contest had taken place in 1817 instead of 1818, the year Graves thought it had.

* One of the nice finds of this article was that Hamilton’s entrance class had exactly a hundred candidates, while this was not the case for the earlier entrance exams he could have taken had his family not worried about his health. The exam on 1 July 1822 was attended by 95 candidates, the one on 14 October by 127, and the exam on 4 November 1822 by 118 candidates, as was found in the Trinity College Dublin Admissions Records, 1769-1825. For Hamilton numbers were important: in May 1838 he wrote to Lord Adare, godfather of his eldest son William Edwin, “Your godson [...] was four years old on the 10th of this month, at which same time it happened curiously that his younger brother, Archibald Henry, was exactly a thousand days old.” If Hamilton therefore knew about the numbers of candidates of the entrance exams, he will have been very happy with his class of exactly a 100 candidates.

In Graves’s biography, Hamilton’s early years were described using letters written by family members; the first letter written by Hamilton himself was given in the chapter called ‘His Childhood’. The next chapter, called ‘His School-time’ describes 1816-1819 and contains letters by Hamilton and by his father, but not anything relating to Colburn. Wondering why the contest, supposedly held in 1818, was not mentioned I decided to search online for Zerah Colburn, and readily found Norman Redington’s weblog, Zerah Colburn’s Saga. It appeared that in 1833 Colburn had published an autobiography, A Memoir of Zerah Colburn, and that it is available online. In his Memoir Colburn does not mention Hamilton, and I became curious whether the time of the contest could nevertheless be derived from it.

The Memoir is quite difficult to search through because Colburn only now and then gives dates. The first thing I therefore noticed was that the earliest likeness of Colburn was made late in 1810 or early in 1811, when he was only six, by Rembrandt Peale in Philadelphia and “placed in the gallery of the Museum.”* The most well-known likeness of Colburn was made early in 1813 when he was eight years old; the drawing was made by Thomas Hull, and it was engraved by Henry Meyer. Somehow this likeness seems kinder than the copy published by R.S. Kirby and shown on Colburn’s Wikipedia page; I could not find its engraver. Remarkably, the copy Colburn gave in his Memoir as a frontispiece is yet another one, and it is unfortunate that Colburn did not give any information about it. The main difference is that in this copy there is no trace of Colburn’s sixth finger which is clearly shown in the original likeness, and somewhat less conspicuous in the copy published by Kirby; Colburn had inherited his twelve fingers and twelve toes from his father.

* It was, unfortunately, not found online, and I do not know if it still exists.

Through Colburn’s polydactyly it is certain that the contest was held in 1813; Hamilton wrote to his sister Eliza about meeting Colburn again in 1820, “He is greatly grown and much improved in manner. He has lost every trace of his sixth finger.” Indeed, having visited Ireland and Scotland in 1813 and early 1814, Colburn returned to London in March 1814, and soon thereafter his extra fingers were taken off by Anthony Carlisle.* The contest therefore took place before the operation, hence during Colburn’s 1813 visit to Dublin. Even though Colburn “was generally the victor,” the often drawn conclusion that Hamilton thereupon decided to give less time to his studies of the classics and more to mathematics is not true; in 1813, having been only eight years of age, that was not for him to decide.

* In 1813 Carlisle wrote an Account of the polydactyly of the Colburn family, containing an overview of the trait within the Colburn family.

Yet in 1822, then seventeen years of age and about to write his first original mathematics papers, Hamilton openly acknowledged Colburn’s influence on him in a letter to Cousin Arthur. “I was amused this morning, looking back on the eagerness with which I began different branches of the Mathematics, and how I always thought my present pursuit the most interesting. I believe it was seeing Zerah Colburn that first gave me an interest in those things. For a long time afterwards I liked to perform long operations in Arithmetic in my mind; extracting the square and cube root, and everything that related to the properties of numbers.” This enjoyment stayed with him; even in his last years Hamilton saw doing enormously long calculations, often without pen and paper, as relaxation, and Graves remarks that it “was in a sense play to him.” But the ultimate incentive for becoming a mathematician was the book he received from Uncle James in August 1821, Bartholomew Lloyd’s Analytic Geometry. In September 1822 Hamilton called it an “Ill-omened gift!” because it had “in so great a degree withdrawn my attention, I may say my affection, from the Classics.”


Colburn’s autobiography

The Memoir appeared to contain so many surprising details that I decided to extend this blog(post) into an unpublication. I added a short biographical sketch, and the question I had asked myself, whether Colburn would have been able to become a mathematician. It seems possible to conclude from the Memoir that he could have become one if circumstances had allowed it, and that after his exhibitions he may have lost his extraordinary speed in calculating, but not his ability for calculating itself. When Colburn wrote the Memoir he was a Methodist preacher, and in 1835, two years after the publication, he became professor of languages at the then recently established Norwich University in Vermont. In 1839 he died of tuberculosis, only thirty-four years old.

Note added 23 August 2022: coincidentally I found a Dutch article about Colburn, published in 1812. There are two reasons to mention it here, of which the first is that it explains why Abia Colburn believed they would have much success in Europe; the article appeared to be an indirect translation of an American article written in 1811, when Zerah still lived in America, but was found (almost astoundingly easy) to exist in English, French and Dutch, and I did not search for other European languages. The second reason is that I understood from the article that Zerah, then still six years old, was described as very funny, and I was thinking about happily adding that somewhere. It appeared to be incorrect; a result of translations and a modern interpretation of words written two hundred years ago.
In the Dutch article it is mentioned that it was translated from French, and that the source was Mr. MacNeven. Searching, it appeared that the original article was written by William James MacNeven (1763-1841), a physician and former member of the United Irishmen, who emigrated to America in 1804. The article was published in the New York Medical and Philosophical Journal and Review, and reprinted, partly rewritten, in The London Chronicle in 1812. Subsequently the article was translated into French and published in the Annales de l’éducation, then into Dutch and published in the Vaderlandsche letteroefeningen.
The Dutch sentence which caught my attention was,“Zerah Colburn [...] is zeer geestig; hij is zeer gevat, en somtijds scherp, in zijne antwoorden.” I interpreted the word ‘geestig’ in the modern sense as ‘humorous’ or ‘funny’ and was surprised. Google translate and the Dutch dictionary suggest for ‘geestig’: witty, humorous, lively, smart, salted, keen-witted, ingenious, imaginative, elegant; for ‘gevat’: witty, smart, quick-witted, sharp-witted, ready, apt, quick, mercurial, lively. Translating it back into English could therefore give, for instance, “Zerah Colburn [...] is very humorous; he is very witty, and sometimes sharp, in his answers.” But just like the word ‘gevat’ the word ‘geestig’ is slightly old-fashioned, and the humorous association of the word ‘geestig’ must have been absent when the Dutch article was written. The original article reads, “Little Colburn is prompt at repartee, and sometimes sarcastic.” The London article, “Zerah Colburn [...] exhibits a great deal of mind; he is ready at repartee, and sometimes pointedly severe.” The French article appeared to be a translation of the London version and reads, “Zerah Colburn annonce [...] beaucoup d’esprit; il est prompt à la repartie, et quelquefois mordant.” ‘Esprit’ is ‘geest’ in Dutch indeed, yet neither the English sentences, nor the French one, sound ‘geestig’ in the sense of humorous or funny, alas.

Note added 21 December 2022: I noticed that Colburn’s Memoir, uploaded to the Internet Archive in 2007, has been taken by Amazon and sold by them, while even claiming it is copyrighted material, which it is not. This time they did not use the Internet Archive’s full-text version to make a Kindle version, they just took the scans (which in turn were ripped in 2018 by Forgotten Books). That it really is the IA copy can be seen in Amazon’s Kindle version, for instance, on the page after the title page where a part of the library stamp can still be seen, identical to the one in the IA copy. Of course, it is allowed, companies can trick customers into paying for material which already is in the public domain. But I do hope that soon all customers will know there is no copyright on books this old; will learn to recognise the texts which have been ripped off the Internet Archive (and therefore already paid for by us all); and will search the Internet Archive for their free copy. For downloading Colburn’s Memoir: open this link, scroll down, and freely choose how to download it; as the scanned pdf, as full text, as an epub, and yes, even as a Kindle version.



Utrecht, 15 July 2022


An 1820 flag book semaphore, and fellow school boys in Trim


Some days ago my brother Rein was telling me about the flag signal system he had learned to use when he was in military service. When he described how the marine used the system I recognised it from Graves’ biography; in August 1820, when Hamilton had just turned fifteen, together with his friend Tommy Fitzpatrick he had invented an almost similar system. I remembered it because it is accompanied by an “amusing story” about their use of the system (although it may not have been amusing for the fighting people).



Hamilton’s and Fitzpatrick’s 1820 semaphore

Hamilton’s and Fitzpatrick’s book semaphore.


In 1820 Hamilton wrote in his journal, “Friday, July 21. - Walked to Fairy Mount* with T. F. Had previously set up a mark on the tower in steeple-field; took telescopes and saw it. The idea of a telegraph then occurred. I was at Fairy Mount after six. T. F., Grace, Uncle, Ann** and the children were watching for us. I understood and answered him, to their great amusement. ... Saturday. - Went about eight to Fairy Mount. I then ascertained that a large straight or curved line could be distinguished from one place to the other, and made such. Read Gregory’s account of telegraphs.*** ... Monday. - ... At half-past twelve we went out about the telegraphs. He went to Fairy Mount. In our plan every letter consists of a combination of two out of five signs. ... Tuesday, half-past twelve. - I went to Fairy Mount and astonished some men there by my silent gesticulations and signs. Slightly altered our plan. Friday 28th. - I talked by the telegraph, he at Fairy Mount, and we understood each other perfectly.” In August Hamilton wrote to Eliza, “Tommy Fitzpatrick and I invented a plan by which, one being at home and the other at Fairy Mount, we are capable of maintaining a conversation. Fairy Mount is the hill covered with furze which you, Grace, Sydney, James Byrne** and I were so fond of walking to. Had anyone then told us that we would ever be able to converse from that post to the steeple-field we would have considered it incredible; yet such is the fact; by a telegraph which I contrived myself, each having a telescope, we have repeatedly transmitted questions and answers correctly. It is somewhat on the plan of our secret language.”

* I could not find Fairy Mount; Google Street view is focused on cars, and Ireland seems to be rather good at shielding the land from the cars. Yet Fairy Mount cannot be very far from the Yellow Steeple; if the boys could start running and be in time for the fight (see below), it must have been somewhere within a two kilometre radius from the steeple field.
** It was also not found who Ann and James Byrne were.
*** Apparently in 1819 Hamilton had read A Treatise of Mechanics by Olinthus Gregory.

Note added 19 August 2022. Anthony O’Farrell wrote, “Regarding the fairy mount, perhaps it was the rath at Kiltoome [...], about 1700m northeast of the tower. These raths are often called ‘fairy forts’ or something similar.” When I suggested the old cemetery, because on one of the photos made there and given in Google street view the Yellow Steeple can be seen, or at least something vague which could be it, O’Farrell answered, ““Fairy” refers to the legends of the Tuatha De Danann, and is applied to any prehistoric mound or structure. It is not applied to obviously Christian ruins.” With Google street view I could not find another view of the Yellow Steeple from Kiltoome; it appeared necessary to really be there and look for it, something we unfortunately cannot do now. Searching for another possibility there appeared to be an elevation map for Meath, showing an elevation north of Trim. On Google maps it can be seen to include a mound, coincidentally also about 1700 metres from the Yellow Steeple. To my surprise, with Google street view for that mound it appeared to be possible to see it together with the Yellow Steeple in one view; on the left the Yellow Steeple can be seen, on the right the mound. It does make the mound a very good candidate for the “Fairy Mount”.

Graves adds, “An amusing instance of the success of this mode of communication is remembered by Dr. Fitzpatrick. Hamilton had sent him to Fairy Mount with his telescope for the purpose of holding a telegraphic conversation. He then went into the town, and found a conflict beginning between soldiers and the towns-folk. He ran up to the steeple-field and telegraphed the fact to T. F., “the soldiers and the people are fighting.” The news was immediately told by T. F. to a cluster of boys and men who surrounded him, watching his manoeuvres, “run, boys, as quick as you can, and you will be in time for the fight.” His word was acted on with the result predicted. Next day he was left alone at his telegraph; and on inquiry, the reason discovered that yesterday’s band of curious spectators were now afraid to be present, supposing him to be in league with the evil one.”

Mechanical telegraphs were of course known already; also called optical telegraphs, it is can easily be argued that signalling, especially in the form of fire or smoke signals, was already used by very early civilizations. In 1794 an extensive mechanical telegraph network became operational. But a semaphore, from the Greek words for ‘sign’ and ‘carry’, is a special form of mechanical or optical telegraph; it is “a system of sending messages by holding the arms or two flags or poles in certain positions according to an alphabetic code.” In the Wikipedia article ‘Flag semaphore’ it is stated that that system originated in 1866, which means that Hamilton and Fitzpatrick invented their semaphore forty-six years before the generally accepted date, even though they did not use flags but books for visibility.

It is not too obvious who of the two friends attributed what, but reading Gregory’s section on Telegraphs, it seems that what Hamilton did is combine two systems described by Gregory. The first one was invented by Cleoxenus, “and very much improved by Polybius;” the latter used an array of five letters divided into five columns. The letters are signalled by first holding up, on the left side, the number of torches corresponding with the column the letter is in, followed by holding up on the right side a number of torches corresponding to the place of the letter in the column.* A problem was to discern what is left and what is right, and Gregory remarks that the system does not seem “to have been brought into general use.”

* Because it is unlikely that Gregory would call the horizontal rows ‘columns’, he seems to describe an array which is transposed as regards the modern reproductions of Polybius’ square. The rho is then indeed the scecond letter in the fourth column, and if for kappa instead of ‘left’ is read ‘last’, also the description of the place of the kappa is in order.

The second system is from 1684, when Robert Hooke introduced the use of telescopes, and the exchange of the signals from high places for visibility. He used simple characters to convey the message, and the simple characters consisting of straight lines and semi-circles, that might be what Hamilton was writing about on Saturday 22 July; that he had “ascertained that a large straight or curved line could be distinguished from one place to the other, and made such.” In the following week Hamilton and Fitzgerald adjusted their plan to the use of the letter array signalled by five postions of the arms, and, apparently, by Friday 28 July their system had become satisfactory. What they did not take from Polybius is using the left and right differently and, as is done nowadays, signal a letter at once with different positions for the left and right arm; they used both arms to signal the row first, then the column. Fitzpatrick remarked, “One arm would suffice, but the use of both arms is perhaps less liable to mistake; a book or some such article held in the hand makes the sign more easily observable.” Perhaps their telescopes were not that good.


Fellow schoolboys in Trim; Thomas Fitzpatrick (1806-1898), John Butler (1803/4-1890), Matthew Maine Fox (1804-1844), Abraham Bradley King (1811-1836). And a short overview of the school in Talbot Castle.

Having become curious who Tommy Fitzpatrick was I decided to try a search. Graves mentioned that he was a medical doctor. Not having found him in the Alumni Dublinenses, it appeared that he graduated in Edinburgh, in 1833, on ‘De Bronchite Acuta’. He thereupon returned to Ireland, and in 1835 he lived in Dublin, at Park Street. Also in 1847 he lived at Park Street; in 1852 he lived at Lower Baggot street. From that entry it also appears that in 1840 he had become a licentiate of The King and Queen’s College of Physicians (K.Q.C.P.). The dagger before his name means that in any case in 1847 he was a practitioner in midwifery, which is in accord with being associated with the Lying-in Hospital, as mentioned in the Medical Directory for 1856. In 1842 Fitzpatrick published Observations on Scarlatina, in 1850 Cases of Thoracic Disease, or ‘On the Diagnosis of Thoracic Disease’, and in 1852 a Case of Scarlatina, with remarkable Recovery, by then he was Secretary to the Association of the Members of the K.Q.C.P. He would become the first medical officer of St. Vincent’s Asylum, which was founded in 1857. Thomas was from a Catholic family, and on 24 September 1834 he married Mary Clare Kearny. They had at least one son, Bartholomew, who was baptised in 1847, became the Very Reverend Monsignor B. Fitzpatrick, parish priest and vicar general of the Church of the Three Patrons at Rathgar-road (p 1641), and president of Clonliffe or Holy Cross College. He died in 1925, seventy-eight years old, which agrees with having been born in 1847. Bartholomew Fitzpatrick, Abbot of the Abbey at Mount Melleray, was a brother of Thomas. From his death announcements it appears that he was born in April 1813 and died December 1893, and that Thomas and Bartholomew were sons of Thomas Fitzpatrick, Esq. from Trim. In his brother’s death announcements Thomas was called “probably the senior physician at present”. He remained active until his last years; in 1895, an Honorary Fellow of the K.Q.C.P., he still was a Medical Attendant at St. Vincent’s Asylum. He was born in 1806 and died on 9 June 1898, in his “ninety-second year”, he therefore was less than a year younger than Hamilton.

I then also searched for other fellow pupils who were mentioned by Graves; in June 1820 there were “four head-boys in the school, himself, T. Fitzpatrick, J. Butler, and Matthew Fox.” Pupils mentioned in the 1821 census were John Butler who then was seventeen, and Abraham Bradley King who then was nine years old.

John Butler is in the Alumni Dublinenses; he was a son of the clericus Richard Butler, had been educated by Mr Hamilton, and had entered, with seventeen, on 15 October in 1821, half a year after the census. He thus was a son of the Richard Butler (.. -1841) who in 1818 became vicar in Trim, and he was a younger brother of the Richard Butler (1794-1862) who succeeded his father as vicar in 1819 and spent many evenings at the Hamilton home, until in 1826 he married one of Maria Edgeworth’s younger half-sisters, Harriet Edgeworth. John is also in The Peerage, but unfortunately the sons without known birth year are given first; having been 17 in 1821 John was born in 1803 or 1804, clearly younger than his brother Robert instead of older. John Butler Esq., JP, lived at Maiden Hall, Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny. He married Mary Barton on 7 October 1854. Their son George was born in 1859, he married Rita Clarke, and died in 1941. John Butler died 21 May 1890; he was eighty-six, which is in accord with having been born in 1803 or 1804. Nothing further was found about his adult life.

Matthew Maine Fox was from the Fox family who lived at Foxbrook, in the townland Ballymulmore. In 1810 Aunt Sydney Hamilton wrote to Hamilton’s mother Sarah that “Mrs. Fox of Foxbrook” in Meath had paid a visit to try “if she could prevail on James to take her eldest son, who is a year older than Willy, as a boarder, she having heard so much, she said, of Willy’s progress, that she would give anything to have him under James.” Her eldest son was called James, but in the Trinity College Admission records there is no James Fox, son of James Fox, yet their younger son is the Matthew Fox mentioned by Graves; he entered Trinity College Dublin on 15 October 1821. Born in Meath, he was a son of James (Jac.) Fox, educated by Mr Hamilton, and just like John Butler he was seventeen when they entered on the same day (pp 302 and 303, respectively), together with 105 others; it was one of the main exam days. Matthew’s grandfather Matthew Fox ‘The Fox’ (1745-1808) from Foxbrook, Co Meath, and Galtrim near Trim, married Elizabeth Grierson of Doolistown. Their eldest son, James (1773-1850), also called The Fox, married in 1803 Harriet D’Arcy of Hyde Park, Westmeath and lived at Foxbrook and Galtrim. Their youngest son, Matthew Maine Fox, who in accord with the data in the Alumni Dublinenses was born in 1804, married in Dublin on 6 September 1832 Hannah Boyce; she died without issue. On 28 July 1835 Matthew married Eleanor Anne Armstrong (as they wrote their names in the record), their son James George Hubert Fox, The Fox, was born on 1 January 1842. Matthew was a reverend; he was curate of Clonard in 1837 and vicar of Galtrim from 1838 until 1843. The headstone in Laracor Church cemetery shows that he died in May 1844, only thirty-nine years old. His wife Eleanor died in April 1845, their infant daughter Louisa in August 1845.

Abraham Bradley King is not in the Alumni Dublinenses, but he appears to have been the younger son of Sir Abraham Bradley King (1774-1838), who in 1793 married Anne Oulton, and had two sons and six daughters. James was born in 1796, and Abraham in October 1810, which is not in accord with the data in the 1821 census which was held on 28 May, and states that Abraham then was nine. Burke suggests that in 1836 Abraham accidentally drowned while travelling in America, but this newspaper article suggests suicide, perhaps combined with neglicence. According to Burke his mother had died on 8 March 1836, and the article placed on 26 July 1836 reads, “By the Toronto Albion, we learn that the son of Sir Abraham Bradley King, of Dublin, has been drowned in Upper Canada. The deceased was seen running down the wharf and plunging into the water with his clothes on; it was only ten Minutes until he was got out; but no means, it is said, were taken to resuscitate the unfortunate person, although he gave a sigh when brought ashore, and a medical gentleman was on the spot immediately after. The rash act is alleged to have been to have been perpetrated in a fit of despondency on hearing of the death of his mother.” Hamilton must have heard about Abraham’s death; a terrible story to hear about someone you knew as a young child.

* A small note just because of the connection between Dublin and Utrecht: a member of the Oulton family, apparently a very close relative because he was called Abraham Bradley King Oulton, married the Dutch Marij Anne Waters. Their daughter Jane Beyon Oulton, who was born in Dublin, married in 1875, in Rotterdam, James Anne Christiaan Raven. She became a widow in 1878, and died in Utrecht in 1894.

Searching for Fitzpatrick, whose adult life was not easy to find, I came across the Irish Historic Towns Atlas, containing a succinct historical description of Uncle James’s Diocesan school in Trim. Combining pp 13 and 14 it reads, “Diocesan or district free school, Abbey Lane, E. end, in Talbot Castle, probably former part of domestic buildings of St Mary’s Abbey. Talbot Castle 1708; possibly residential late 17th-early 18th cent. Leased for use of diocesan school in 1718; free school 1738. Diocesan schoolhouse, ‘large but very old house’, in need of repair 1788. Unnamed 1806. School closed, converted back to private residence in 1824. Attic storey added in c. 1909. Private residence 2004.”



Utrecht, 10 July 2022


In 1822, exactly two hundred years ago, Hamilton became a mathematician


At some time during the revision of Illnesses and Astronomy it suddenly dawned on me that Graves had made a remark about Hamilton’s first mathematical papers, “These papers mark the year 1822, when he attained the seventeenth year of his age, as that in which Hamilton entered upon the path of original mathematical discovery.” That was exactly two hundred years ago! I therefore interrupted my work and wrote a short celebration article, now published in the Bulletin of the Irish Mathematical Society, about Hamilton’s transition from the orientalist, theologian or statesman he was expected to become, into the famous mathematician he would become.

The most intriguing part of the preparations for this article was searching for what exactly Hamilton had been thinking of when he mentioned the hyperboloid of revolution which was formed by the places of synchronicity of the emersion of Io and the middle of the eclipse of our moon on 26 January 1823. Not only because having made this observation at such a young age “shows talent and imagination,” as someone rightly commented, but also because it gave extra data about his predictions, which he did not always specify very precisely in letters to his family members. Fortunately, some time ago Miguel DeArce had raised my interest for Hamilton’s early astronomy, and then Rob van Gent had explained to me how to read the Nautical Almanac, which was a great advantage now. It enabled me to compare Hamilton’s predictions of the times of Io’s emersion and the various stages of the eclipse of our moon with the data given in the Nautical Almanac, of which it is almost certain that he used it, and with modern astronomical data. The precision was impressive, and is given in this overview. The main conclusion is that the prediction interval for the emersion of Io from Jupiter’s shadow, the emersion of the moon from the earth’s shadow, and Saturn crossing the meridian, given by the Nautical Almanac, EclipseWise, Stellarium, and Hamilton, was less than four minutes.

I felt a bit sorry that, in order to keep the article readable, I had to abstain from again lauding Hamilton’s uncle John Willey, a Moravian minister and amateur astronomer who was largely responsible for young William’s great skills in astronomy. He regularly came to Trim to prepare with his nephew for astronomical events, and Uncle James took care that whenever he came, William had studied the relevant theoretical astronomy. When shortly before the solar eclipse of 7 September 1820 William “received from his uncle Willey the plans and map of the central path of the moon’s shadow over the earth, with Tables of various kinds,” he recorded in his journal that they were “all most ingeniously, accurately, carefully, neatly, skilfully, obligingly, and beautifully executed.”

While describing the year 1828, when Hamilton lived at Dunsink Observatory for about a year already, Graves writes about Uncle Willey, “His letters prove him to have been a most laborious calculator of celestial phenomena. He constantly resorted to his nephew for extrication from difficulties, for information and advice, and on his part was always willing to do anything in his power for the Professor. On the recent [1828] occasion of the Professor’s Lectures, for instance, he supplied him with a planisphere of his own construction, calculated for the meridian of Dunsink, to serve as one of the illustrations of the course. This correspondence continued to be actively carried on to a late year of Hamilton’s life.” Uncle Willey died in 1847.

Graves was not an astronomer, he had met Hamilton only after the latter had entered College and had befriended his elder brother John T. Graves, and in order to show how wonderful Hamilton had been he was strongly focusing on ‘eminent people’ which Uncle Willey clearly was not; Graves therefore may not really have understood Uncle Willey’s early importance for Hamilton. And perhaps having read Graves’ comments, but not having noticed the traces of William’s intensive training with Uncle Willey in the letters given in the earlier chapters, in 1980 Hankins commented that “Hamilton always showed extraordinary kindness and patience for his Uncle [John]. Even when he became Royal Astronomer and had more elevated occupations to take up his time, he was willing to undertake long calculations and to send lessons of instruction to [John].” But realising that a large part of Hamilton’s early astronomy was acquired under the guidance of Uncle Willey, it does not seem in any way “extraordinary” that Hamilton valued his uncle so highly.

One of the nicest finds during the writing of this paper was that it appeared that the Library of TCD had scanned, and placed online, the “ill-omened gift” which “in so great a degree” withdrew Hamilton’s attention, or affection, from the Classics: Bartholomew Lloyd’s Analytic Geometry, in Hamilton’s narrative the most well-known book hardly anyone had seen before. The scanned copy clearly was intensely studied by a previous owner.



Utrecht, 12 June 2022


The importance of contexts and minute details


The last few weeks I have been revising my Illnesses and Astronomy, and comparing the new version with the 2019 one I am amazed about how much my view on Hamilton’s youth has changed in the three years between the versions. It is perhaps not too apparent from the text except for some deletions and many added little details, but for me precisely these amendations represent the difference. They mainly stem from having been provided with many historical facts and insights by Finbarr Connolly, having discussed Hamilton’s early astronomy with Miguel DeArce, and having written my unpublications about Hamilton’s descent, his grandmother, father, uncle and godfather, the ‘flaw’ in Laplace and the thirteen languages. When writing about the Misses Lawrence and Hamilton’s introduction to Coleridge, all these discussions and searches slowly led to finally realising the enormous influence of the Hutton family on Hamilton’s life. And to the conclusion that also without Sarah Lawrence’s letter Hamilton would have visited Coleridge; it was very kind of her, but not necessary.

Not that I think I now have or have given a complete picture of Hamilton’s private life, but with the addition of the very many details about his youth the picture again became more coherent, and even many of Graves’ often seemingly unimportant or almost hidden remarks started to fall into place. Such as the subordinate clause that after having received his two optimes at college and having become a Dublin celebrity Hamilton was able to remain to be the steadily industrious student he had been before. To me this had sounded like sudden fame which he could cope with because of his stable character and because he had been surrounded by a caring family who already since his childhood had helped him not to become vain, but then I started to see how many people Hamilton already was acquainted with even before his college years; people who now have Wikipedia pages, portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, or entries in the Dictionary of Irish Biography. Contrary to my earliest impressions, Hamilton was in no way a simple, secluded country boy who suddenly rose to fame, and Graves was fully aware of that.

Now recognising many short sentences, subordinate clauses and minute details, despite in fact only a few what could be called ‘flaws’ which were caused by Graves’ emotional involvement with his subject, his biography became even more awe inspiring because of its utter completeness, at the same time explaining its enormous impact upon publication; even though today it costs much time to become familiar with all the nuances of the text, the readers in Graves’ time will have recognised most of the details easily. And when even the ‘flaws’, notwithstanding their unintended yet enormous later influences, became easy to understand by placing both Hamilton’s and Graves’ lives in the contexts of their time, for me a circle began to close.


Honesty and optimes

In the 2014 seminar about the History of Vector Analysis in which I encountered Hamilton’s distorted reputation, two fellow students wrote their essay about ‘Contexten’; the last sentence (p. 87) of their essay reads, “Nevertheless, it is important not to judge history with contemporary terminology and ideas.” It stuck with me, even though I then hardly knew anything about history, and could not foresee how important it would become. After the seminar having written, as editor, the preface and then my first chapter about Hamilton (in which I should have credited my fellow students for my use of their “Contexts”), I started my Hamilton quest in which I often encountered it. Revising my ‘Illnesses and astronomy’, I more and more realised how utterly important the minute details are because they often throw, unexpectedly, a different light on events by showing contemporary context. And that not placing Graves’ biography, and therewith the description of Hamilton’s private life, in the context of his time is the main problem of Hankins’ otherwise authorative 1980 biography.

One such detail concerns Hamilton’s honesty, as discussed in my AVM and again in the introduction to Coleridge unpublication. From 1847 Hamilton tutored Catherine Disney’s eldest son, James William Barlow, and Hankins suggests that in 1850, when James William competed for Fellowship,* Hamilton ‘gave James Barlow the same information about quaternions that he was giving to Charles Graves who was lecturing on them,’ and that, for Hamilton, James William’s success ‘was a gift for Catherine and revenge against her husband;’ he thus accused Hamilton of dishonesty. When I was writing my AVM I found that hard to believe, yet I did not have much more than claiming that it did not fit the extremely honest image Hamilton’s friends sketched of him. But when revising ‘Illnesses and Astronomy’ I decided to search for the exact circumstances of Hamilton’s two optimes, and that led to a surprise.

* In 1850 Hamilton did not know yet that Catherine’s marriage was forced upon her; he did know she was extremely unhappy.

Optimes were very rarely given at Trinity College Dublin; around 1780 Thomas Elrington received an optime, around 1805 John Henry North received one, then Hamilton received even two optimes. Although therefore especially the second optime was a very extreme event Hamilton’s optimes were never doubted; Graves even wrote that they led to an ‘embarrasing number of invitations.’ Yet the same doubts Hankins casted in James William Barlow’s case could be casted in that of Hamilton.

The first optime was given to Hamilton in 1824, by Charles Richard Elrington, the son of the earlier recipient of an optime; even though some hidden motive might be unclear, it shows in any case how small that academic world was. But in 1826 the second one was given by Charles Boyton, the son of a family friend, and that could have been a problem. Hamilton had been in close contact with him since in any case the summer of 1822, when still sixteen, and Boyton had been his tutor since July 1823; that certainly could have been regarded as conspicuous, yet there is nothing to imply that that was the case. It may therefore be assumed that the social control was so large, and the academic world so small, that such connections were always watched closely.

Peter Guthrie Tait wrote about Hamilton, “his examination papers were the despair of the ‘crammers’. In them there was such an intense novelty and originality, that the experience of forty years could give no inkling of what was coming; the venerable crammers gave up the attempt; and the victory was won by the real intellect of the deserving candidate, not, as it too often is, by the adventitious supply of old material forced into the mere memory of the crammed.” Having given James William ‘the same information as he gave to Charles Graves’ would therefore not have helped, and examination assignments less novel and original than usual would have been food for gossipers.

Knowing that in 1847 James William Barlow had already won a Bishop Law’s prize for mathematics, that he received premiums in 1848 and 1849 for his Fellowship Examinations, and knowing how Hamilton received his second optime, it can be concluded that for their time and circumstances there was nothing out of the ordinary with James William Barlow winning the Fellowship in 1850, and that Hankins’ remark was just an assumption which fitted in with his idea that Hamilton had a life-long infatuation with Catherine Disney. Yet without again minute details it was impossible to convincingly contradict the suggestion that Hamilton had been dishonest.



Utrecht, 20 January 2022


Hamilton and Coleridge, networks and the internet


In 2008 Waka Ishikura published an article in Coleridge Bulletin about Hamilton’s introduction to Coleridge by Miss Lawrence, from which I have gratefully used some remarkable quotes in my biographical sketch of Catherine Disney. But I felt that a small part of her article was in need of a defense, because suggestions were made about Hamilton which were based on the still very wide-spread negative view on his private life. In 2019 I had written an article about it, but I was unable to write it down both convincing, and as short as the Coleridge Bulletin needed it to be. When in October and November 2021 I was rewriting my reply to the article, it began to show that still something was missing in my general views on Hamilton’s private life. When I started my Hamilton researches in 2014, I had assumed that everyone agreed on the view on Hamilton’s younger years, and that I only had to focus on the years after he was alleged to have developed a drinking problem (which appeared not to be true), therefore after 1840. While writing my AVM I did understand that I also had to write about earlier years, but at the time I did not research them in so much detail as the later years, and I did not read the first volume as thoroughly as I did especially the second, which described Hamilton’s life between 1833 and 1853.

Because in her 2008 article Ishikura suggested that in 1832 Hamilton needed the Lawrence sisters to become introduced to Coleridge, I now started to wonder if there would have been alternative ways for him to become introduced. I decided to search in Graves’ first volume for information about Hamilton’s early networks of eminent people and “men of science,” with in the back of my mind the question whether or not he knew enough people to just trust that in London, where Coleridge lived, he would find someone to introduce him to Coleridge or to his friend Dr. Green. Wordsworth had suggested to become introduced to Green as an alternative, because Green would know whether Coleridge’s health was strong enough to receive guests.

The search led to a myriad of new details, of which I will give some hereafter.* And to the conclusion that Hamilton knew so many people with close connections to people in London, that planning a visit to the Lawrence sisters to try to procure an introduction was in fact completely unnecessary.

Most importantly, it led again to contemplations about gossip. In Hankins’ biography Hamilton’s private life is described in only about one-fifth of the book, yet my AVM, of which I felt every page was necessary to counteract suggestions Hankins had made in his 1980 biography, consists of more than five hundred pages. The same happened now; although Ishikura’s article was only six pages long, my reply became a dense article of thirty-one pages. As a mathematician, at the remote location of Dunsink Observatory, Hamilton lived large parts of his life in a very quiet manner, and the problem is that proving that someone like him did not do something is often impossible, only be shown to be very unlikely. And to show how unlikely, costs very many arguments, reasonings, words and pages.

Especially my first, thick, book, A Victorian Marriage, and the long unpublication about the introduction to Coleridge I placed online today, have been written as a defense against the wide-spread negative view on Hamilton, and I hope they will be regarded as such. But it still does not feel good, arguing so extensively that someone who meant well might have been wrong. Hankins’ biography was written before the coming of the world wide web, and Ishikura’s article before libraries uploaded their treasure troves of books from before 1900 to the Internet Archive. The web, the IA, and the effective search engines changed everything, and information can now be found easily on subjects which earlier would not even have seemed to be connected. These altered circumstances, and my uneasy feelings about this article as a dense yet necessary reply to Ishikura’s 2008 article, made me decide that it should not stand on its own, and I placed it here on my website as one of my unpublications. It belongs within the context of this website; the overview of my struggle against the gossip about Hamilton, and my efforts to restore his shattered reputation.


* Some loose details which during the searches attracted my attention.

-- The most surprising find was Edward Hincks (1792-1866), an Irish reverend, Egyptologist and Assyriologist, who had appeared to be related by marriage to Hamilton. He was “one of the great pioneers” in the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform. In 1822 Edward Hincks had received an inscribed copy of Coleridge’s 1816 The Stateman’s Manual, “27 March 1822. Reverend Edward Hincks - with sincere respect of the author S.T.C.” Because in 1822 Hincks was not famous yet, I did not know whether or how Hincks and Coleridge knew each other.
I then asked Kevin Cathcart, emeritus Professor of Near Easter Languages at University College Dublin, whether he knew why Coleridge had sent his book to Hincks. He answered, “Coleridge is not mentioned in Hincks’s correspondence and publications. Hincks (1792–1866) was a young anglican clergyman in 1822 when Coleridge sent him a copy of that pamphlet. Two things strike me: One, Hincks was interested in poetry and for relaxation he composed poems and verse. [...] Two, Hincks was also a clergyman and would have been interested in Coleridge’s theological writings. Although Edward Hincks and his four brothers and three sisters were born in Cork, and their father was born in Dublin, the family was originally from Cheshire in England. The Hincks family was Unitarian by religion. Hincks’s father was a Unitarian/Presbyterain minister. Two of Edward’s brothers (William and John) were Unitarian ministers, but Edward and Thomas were Anglican ministers. This caused tension in the family. As you know, Coleridge was Unitarian in the early part of his life, but Anglican later on. I have little doubt that in Unitarian circles, Hincks family members and Coleridge had contact. I should mention that the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell was Edward Hincks’s second cousin. She was Unitarian.”

-- The question has often been asked why Hamilton did not become a member of the Royal Society even though it was proposed to him; in March 1832 Sir John Lubbock, who at that time was Treasurer of the Royal Society, wrote to Hamilton, “I trust it will not be long before the Royal Society will enrol so great a mathematician as Professor Hamilton among its members. I should have particular pleasure at any time (being on the spot) in preparing your certificate and procuring any signatures you might wish, if the distance renders it inconvenient to you to do this yourself.” But Hamilton wrote to Adare, “[Mr. Lubbock] expresses a wish to propose me as a member of the Royal Society. I believe it would be rather rude to decline, though I should never have applied for the honour.”
In 1825 Hamilton had been elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy, in 1828 of the (Royal) Astronomical Society in London, and in October 1831 of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Due to the highly theoretical nature of his work Hamilton did not travel much; many astronomers and mathematicians were also members of the Astronomical Society; whenever he could he attended the yearly meetings of the British Association which generally lasted a week. The combination might indicate that he simply did not need it.

-- The University of Minnesota Library owns the copy of the fourteenth volume (1825) of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, which was inscribed by Hamilton for Maria Edgeworth. It may have been presented to her when she became an honorary member of the RIA; she had great interest in the various scientific reports, and in November 1838 Hamilton “present[ed her] with whatever volumes of the Irish Transactions [had] been published since [her father’s] death [in 1817], and to continue the same presentation as future volumes [appeared].” Her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth had been one of the original members of the RIA.

-- In 1831 Maria Edgeworth spread happy gossip about Hamilton.* It was gossip indeed; not in the sense in which the term it is used here, as ever more distorted stories, but real-time gossip. Apparently in the summer of 1830 Maria Edgeworth had assumed Hamilton was in love with Helen Bayly, and in the winter of 1830-1831 she had concluded that he was going to marry.** In January 1831 the gossip had reached Wordsworth in England; he wrote to Hamilton that he had heard Hamilton was going to be married. In February 1831 Hamilton answered Wordsworth, “Miss Edgeworth’s intelligence of my marriage or engagement is erroneous. I wonder that she did not ask myself whether it was true before she circulated it: perhaps she may have thought she did so by sending me a note last summer [1830] in which she said “My dear Professor, I hear glad tidings of your double happiness:” I did not understand what she meant, until I received your letter as a commentary, and answered at the time, “It is very true, I am very happy with my pupil [Adare].” But I intend to undeceive her, as I hope soon to have an opportunity of sending her a letter.”
Yet in the summer of 1831 he spoke to Arabella Lawrence about Helen Bayly with the same enthusiasm as he perhaps did to Maria Edgeworth; it is not known if this was a part of the same gossip. In February 1833 Hamilton wrote to Helen Bayly, to whom he then was betrothed, “You may perhaps remember my telling you that I was so much and so agreeably struck by your sincerity in saying, in the summer before last [1831], that you preferred my sister’s poems to my own, as to mention it to an English lady, Miss [Ar]abella Lawrence, with whom I had for many years been intimate, our intimacy having begun in a similar instance of candour on her part. Perhaps I expressed myself too warmly, for she took it into her head that I was attached to you at the time, which of course was a wild idea, and one that I soon dispelled.”*** But Hamilton continued the letter, ‘giving a holiday to his modesty,’ that to their upcoming marriage Arabella Lawrence had reacted, “I do indeed congratulate you most heartily on the prospect of happiness which is opening for you, and in which I most cordially sympathise. I can scarcely admit a doubt that the lady will know how to value those qualities in you which I place far above those that have justly gained for you worldly distinction, and for whose deficiency no intellectual eminence could compensate.”

* It was not easy to see; the biography being largely chronological, every now and then, and for several reasons, Graves would deviate from the chronology.
** In the winter of 1830-1831 Hamilton did not know Ellen de Vere yet. That is why it must have been about Helen Bayly; in the summer of 1831 the same thing happened with Arabella Lawrence. Moreover, Hamilton wrote in 1855 that he had been in love three times, not four.
*** That was not unkind as it might seem to be; it was necessary in those strict times. Both men and women had to be very careful not to damage each other’s reputations.

-- On 14 October 2021 the Cabra Historical Society placed a plaque of Hamilton on Broombridge, next to the 1958 plaque. It was officially unveiled on Saturday 23 October. Its likeness seems quite good! The plaque cannot be seen yet in Google street view because the current image was captured in 2019, but hopefully it will show soon, for the world to see.
At first I thought there was a spelling error on the plaque; it reads ‘Quarternions’. But like ‘Brougham Bridge’ that may be a joke; in 2001, Neil Hallinan wrote, “Mr. Hamilton was quite a famous person and Dublin people came to know the ideas of quaternions even though they referred to them as ‘quart ‘er onions’ - a quart being a standard measure of beer or porter and they could never quite make out why onions had to be measured like this. (James Joyce also referred to quarts but called them quarks and quarks have become famous as elementary particles of atoms in the theories of physics).“



Utrecht, 4 November 2021


Hamilton, Coleridge, Arabella Lawrence and nonconformist families


In his biography, Graves made a small mistake; he assumed that Hamilton had befriended the eldest of the ‘Miss Lawrences’, as Hamilton called them; five sisters who lived together and ran a girls’s school in Gateacre, Liverpool. Graves wrote highly admiring about them, albeit in the Victorian sense of women’s greatness, “The three sisters were women of sound judgment and much culture, and two of them are highly spoken of by Miss Edgeworth in letters written by her in July, 1820, from Paris, where she was in intercourse with them. So highly did she esteem the elder, that she desired to secure her as governess for the children of the Duchess of Orleans [(1782-1866)]; but the post was wisely declined by Miss Lawrence. This lady became to Hamilton, for some years, a valuable friend and adviser, as letters from her still in existence amply prove.”

What is clear is that Hamilton’s friend was the sister whom Maria Edgeworth held in high esteeem, and who was asked to become governess. But completely in the style in which he wrote the biography Graves did not explain what he considered ‘wise’ about Miss Lawrence’s decision, and because he did not give first names, nor any individual descriptions of the sisters, he allowed his readers to see the Miss Lawrences as a bunch of marvellous yet interchangeable women. It made it nearly impossible to recognise his error, which therefore only became apparent when in 2009 the Lawrence family tree came online; as far as I know Graves’ mistake was never noticed by Hamilton biographers.

In 2008 Waka Ishikura published an article about Hamilton and “Miss Lawrence” in the Coleridge Bulletin, in which Graves’ mistake became embedded in the then generally accepted extremely negative view on Hamilton’s private life; she concluded that Hamilton had deliberately visited the Miss Lawrences to procure an invitation to Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) yet without telling them the purpose of his visit, and that thereafter he lied about it in a letter to his sister Eliza. In 2018 I wrote an article about Graves’ mistake and its consequences from my new point of view, but the Coleridge Bulletin of course not focusing on Hamilton’s private life, only a very short article could be accepted. Because in Ishikura’s article Hamilton’s alleged lifelong infatuation with Catherine Disney played a prominent role but his melancholy about Ellen de Vere around the time of his visit to the Miss Lawrences was missing, I was unable to convincingly show how different the context was around that visit, and how out-of-character it would have been for Hamilton to do something like that, within the restrictions of the Coleridge Bulletin, and I withdrew the article.

But slowly learning more about the people around Hamilton, lately I decided to start a new search for Arabella Lawrence, Hamilton’s friend. To my surprise it appeared that she had been a governess of Ada Byron, later Lady Lovelace, who now is celebrated for having written the first computer program. What I had not at all realised is that in 1832 Hamilton met Charles Babbage and saw his ‘Differential Engine’; that his mother’s cousin Robert Hutton was a friend or a correspondent of Charles Darwin; that the coach-building family of Thomas Hutton, brother of Robert, has a window in the Unitarian chapel at Stephen’s Green. To mention some of the first details I encountered.

I already knew that Archibald Hamilton Rowan and his son Sydney, who was sponsor at Hamilton’s baptism, were Presbyterian, and that Rev. Mathias, who baptised Hamilton at Bethesda Chapel, a Church of Ireland congregation, was called a ‘dissenter’. Searching further for Unitarians, Presbyterians, and nonconformists, I found that more members of the Hutton family, the family of Hamilton’s mother, were Unitarian, as was Lady Byron, Ada Lovelace’s mother, and Sophia and William Frend, wife and father-in-law of Augustus De Morgan* who became Hamilton’s friend in 1841. And then, as already happened often during my Hamilton searches, again unexpected details fell into place.

In 1827 Hamilton had received an introduction to William Roscoe from one of the members of the Roscoe circle, whom he met in Liverpool at the house of Peter and Mary Crompton, friends of Coleridge, and the parents of Caroline Crompton, who in 1821 had married Robert Hutton, a first cousin of Hamilton’s mother Sarah Hutton. I had never before recognised the names Hamilton mentioned in his 1827 letter from Liverpool, nor realised who the Roscoes were. In 1832 Hamilton visited the Roscoes with Arabella Lawrence; William Roscoe had died the year before. In 1851 Hamilton’s second cousin Richard Holt Hutton married Anne Mary Roscoe, a daughter of William Roscoe, and and after her death in 1853 her cousin Eliza Roscoe. And then, surprise, also the Lawrence sisters appeared to be distantly related to the Huttons.

But for me even more surprising was that also Coleridge had been Unitarian for some time. In September 1827 Hamilton met William Wordsworth for the very first time at the house of friends of Wordsworth, John and Alice Harrison, who lived near Ambleside.** Harrison, who was born at Gateacre near Liverpool (where later also the Lawrence sisters lived), was a Unitarian minister at Kendal Chapel. During Harrison’s ministry Wordsworth and Coleridge occasionally worshipped at Kendal Chapel, the latter apparently before he returned to the Church of England in 1814.

Graves did mention that Hamilton’s mother’s sister Susan married a Moravian minister, John Willey, but until now I had assumed he was the exception, and that the people in Hamilton’s biography, and the scientists*** around him, had all been members of the Established Church, as Graves perhaps not mentioned literally, but certainly implied. Of course, the majority of people and scientists around Hamilton were members of the Established Church, but far more than I expected were nonconformist. George James Allman, from whom Hamilton, at a grand ball in 1852, ‘picked up a little botany and embryology’ was Unitarian, as was Newton; Michael Faraday became a Sandemanian. What exactly the consequences were in historical context I do not know, but for Graves it may have mattered. I had always more or less assumed that the Huttons were not academic enough for Graves, but members of the Hutton family did graduate at TCD, allowing for the possibility that for Graves their having been nonconformist played a larger role than it appears from the biography.

* Augustus De Morgan and Sophia Frend did not marry in a church, but at the registrar’s office, “by a form of words differing from that in the prayer book only by the omission of the very small part to which we could not assent with our whole hearts, and of the long exordium of St. Paul on the duties of husbands and wives.” Having read many of De Morgan’s letters in the third volume of Graves’ biography I would not at all be surprised if the omitted very small part was her having to promise to obey him.
** Robert Housman, a brother of Alice Harrison, was “intensely evangelical.” According to Graves, even though from 1839 until late 1845 or early 1846 Hamilton leaned towards High Churchism, he “adhered firmly to most of the principles not unmeritedly called Evangelical; those, namely, identified with salvation through faith, with free forgiveness, and with the sole mediation of Christ.” In 1858 Hamilton indeed referred to himself as an Evangelical Anglican.
*** In 1833 Coleridge attended, for three days, the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Hamilton spent an evening with Coleridge; it would be the last time they met. But at that meeting also the word ‘scientist’ was coined by William Whewell (1794-1866) “in response to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s strongly expressed objection to men of science using the term philosopher to describe themselves.”

Something else which became apparent in my searches is how, like Lady Hamilton, in the course of time some of these women were judged. Arabella Lawrence, but more so Lady Byron and Sophia Frend, have been described, to put it crudely, as cold keepers of the Victorian restrictions which the marvellous, or in other versions overrated, Ada Lovelace had to endure. It seems that only in recent years these women have been described as individuals, for instance in Seymour’s In Byron’s Wake, therewith also shedding a much brighter light on Ada herself. And Watt’s Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760-1860 places the Miss Lawrences within the Unitarian beliefs, with their “far more pronounced egalitarian views on women and their education than was the norm.” It makes something more of the Lawrence sisters than just a bunch of interchangeable spinsters who ran a girls’ school, and provides a framework for Seymour’s calling Arabella Lawrence “an impressive young educationalist.”

What these women had in common with Lady Hamilton, who doubtless was and remained a most true member of the Established Church, was that they did not adhere to the strict requirements for women in the Victorian era; supposed to be warm and soft and obedient by nature, loving music and literature and poetry, and most happy when all family members were at home. They were instead independent women, and they had their own opinions, which made them vulnerable for criticisms which, however honest they may have been to begin with, became ever more distorted because society changed but the criticisms did not.

The searches led to so many for me new details, mainly concerning people connected to the Hutton family, that the article I was writing about the letter of introduction to Coleridge was evolving into a myriad of footnotes. I therefore could choose to split it into two halves, one about the hitherto undiscussed parts of the networks Hamilton lived in, and one about the deceit or honesty around the letter of introduction to Coleridge. I decided not to split it, and not submit it anywhere, but place it here as an unpublication, and upload it to the WayBack Machine, to be able to refer to it when useful.

The combination of all the tiny details shows the complexly intertwined group of people around Hamilton. Every now and then it can be seen in Graves’ biography that Hamilton had many ‘local friends’, but it was never clear who these people were. It is therefore surprising how familiar Hamilton sounds about his mother’s side of the family, and how they were connected with the people he met in Liverpool; Caroline Crompton having been married to Robert Hutton, and the Lawrence sisters asking for information about Hamilton’ aunt Mary. It is not known how often Hamilton saw his mother’s family and information is not easy to find; I still do not have any idea who his maternal grandparents were, I just know their names and personal data, nothing else.

But the story of a large dinner party in Dublin, Hamilton’s visits to Belfast, Liverpool and London, where he spoke with an enormous amount of people, again shows a new part of Hamilton’s character, how easily he intermingled with many people with almost incompatible opinions while remaining to be his extremely honest self. This character trait would allow him to become president of very different organisations, official and large or local and small; correspond with eminent men and lay persons at the same time; give celebrated lectures at College and evening presentations in people’s own homes; judge people if he thought he had to, and apologise to a cat.



Utrecht, 16 October 2021


Young William Hamilton as a hyperpolyglot


Today is my seventh Quaternion day; I started this website in September 2015, on Hamilton’s 150th death day, and walked the Hamilton walk in October 2015. From then on I have researched many myths about Hamilton’s private life, and found more erroneous assumptions than I had expected.

In 2014 I wrote a chapter about Hamilton’s marriage for a students’s essay about the History of Vector Analysis because I could not believe that such a peaceful walk as that on 16 October 1843 could be made in such an unhappy marriage as it was claimed to be. But I then still accepted the idea that while writing the Lectures between 1848 and 1853, Hamilton had had a very difficult time in connection with Catherine Disney, and that he then, temporarily, leaned towards alcoholism. That changed when I was writing my AVM and started to recognise the many connections and nuances in Graves’ enormous biography. It changed even further when I was preparing my biographical sketch about Catherine and looked at what happened from her point of view. Hamilton had been distressed about her indeed, but who would not be, discovering that someone who once was so close is so terribly unhappy, betrayed by her own family and imprisoned by forced promises at the altar.

But there are many more myths to go. One of the myths is whether or not Hamilton was, “when thirteen years old” “in different degrees acquainted with thirteen languages,” as was claimed by Hamilton’s later biographer Graves, in a ‘portrait’ he wrote about Hamilton in 1842.* Although indirectly, it is also mentioned by Hamilton’s father Archibald by giving, in a letter to a friend, the languages his son was studying. Yet his claim has been doubted, as just having come from a father boasting about his “prodigy of a son.”

* The Dublin University Magazine had decided that Hamilton “must take his place in the series of memoirs of distinguished Irishmen,” and although Graves then lived in England for six or seven years already, Hamilton “requested me to undertake the friendly office, and gained my consent.”

I started a search in Graves’ biography, to find who exactly said what and when. It appeared that the claim by Hamilton’s father only seemed to be extravagant because Jane Sydney Hamilton, called aunt Sydney, had died in 1814, while she was the writer of most of the letters about young Hamilton’s progress. She died in Dublin, where she had been taken care of by Hamilton’s parents, in October 1814; her last given letter was from June 1814. But later biographers may not have been aware of her death at that time because Graves only mentioned it when introducing aunt Sydney in the first chapter of his biography.

Strangely enough, the list of languages in the 1880s biography appreared to be not exactly the same as that in the 1842 portrait, which led to the realisation that there was indeed a difference in how the biography and the portrait had come about. When Graves published the first volume of his biography in 1882, he had read all Hamilton’s personal correspondences including those with his family, and therefore also the letter from Archibald Hamilton to his friend. But that was not the case in 1842, when Graves published the portrait, about which he wrote that preparing it “led to my paying [Hamilton] a visit at the Observatory for the purpose of gathering facts.” The portrait therefore gives Hamilton’s own account of his youthful studies.*

* Hamilton had no final say in the text. He mocked the list of languages, but did not deny or correct it.

Now adding up the languages Graves mentioned in his ‘portrait’ and the languages in the biography, I unexpectedly found even sixteen languages. I wrote an unpublication about it, with as I hope enough references to be convincing about my conclusion, that in our times Hamilton would have been a hyperpolyglot.



Utrecht, 2 October 2021


William Edwin and the Chatham Market Guide


For William Edwin see also 2 February 2018, below

Lately Miguel DeArce sent me some scans of letters from the Hamilton collections in Trinity College Dublin Library, and to my utter surprise I recognised the handwriting in one of the letters; it was the handwriting of the first of the drafts in which Lady Hamilton thanked for the continuation of Hamilton’s pension, shown below, and appeared to be that of William Edwin Hamilton. Before having seen this letter I had supposed that the first draft had been written by his sister Helen Eliza because the pension would be shared with her, and because writing out Lady Hamilton’s full name seemed to indicate someone very close by. I adapted the text to this new find.

Strangely enough, searching in my files it appeared that I already had an 1865 letter by William Edwin, which was sent to me by one of the TCD Librarians. Wondering why I nevertheless had not recognised his handwriting in the draft, I compared it with the 1865 and 1882 letters of which it is certain that William Edwin wrote them. As a weak excuse, the draft and the 1882 letter do seem to me to be more similar to each other than to the 1865 letter.*

* The drafts and both letters are kept at Trinity College Dublin Library; the drafts together as 7762-7772/1698, the 1865 letter as 7773-7776/642, the 1882 one as 4015/117.

The letter was written in 1882, in Chatham, Ontario, at the offices of the newspaper Planet,* where William Edwin was a journalist and editor. In 1914 Sheriff J.R. Gemmill, then president of the Chatham Historical Society, wrote, after mixing him up with his father, that William Edwin “came to Canada in middle life, settling in the Muskoka District. Later he came to Dresden and edited the local paper there for a time; then to Chatham, where he directed the Tribune** until its demise. Failing regular employment on either of the existing papers, he published a small advertising sheet, “The Market Guide”, which appeared on Saturdays, and which the Editor faithfully distributed to the patrons of our far famed market for the benefit of his advertisers.”

* Starting as The Chatham Planet in 1851, the name of the newspaper seems to have changed a few times. In William Edwin’s time its proprietor was Syd Stevenson.
** About the Tribune, officially called the Chatham Tribune, Gemmill wrote that it was “started by Dobbyn, B.A., in or about 1880, and existed only a few troublous years.” It existed from 1877 until, apparently, 1882. William R. Dobbyn was a “Universalist clergy-man from New England,” later owner of the W.R. Dobbyn & Sons printing and publishing company. In my AVM I wrote that he was born in 1850 and died in 1922, but I cannot find the exact source any more. Yet he may have been this Dobbyn, the birth and death locations of his wives matching what is known about him.

Gemmill clearly did not know about William Edwin’s time at the Planet, and in his strange autobiography Peeps at my life William Edwin is neither elaborate nor always chronological. Combining the scarce facts about his early years in Chatham: he mentions that he came to Chatham in October 1880. He then was editor of the Tribune for eighteen months, that is until April 1882, which would be in accord with Gemmill’s account. Then for again eighteen months editor of the Planet, which would be until October 1883, and in accord with having written the letter at the offices of the Planet in November 1882. But he may have taken the periods very roughly, because it appears that he was still working at the Planet in 1884.

William Edwin started the Market Guide in September 1885. But Gemmill having called it a “small advertising sheet,” I had not expected to find it in the Chatham list, let alone that some issues would be online. William Edwin published it from 1885 until, most likely, his death in 1902. That it really is William Edwin’s paper can be seen on the first pages of this 1896 issue; “The Market Guide, 1000 Circulation Weekly. Personal Saturday distribution by W.E. Hamilton, B.A., T.C., D. Editor and Proprietor.” Volumes would be mailed to subscribers in Canada and the US, yet he also had subscribers “from Vancouver to Nova Scotia, and even beyond the ocean.”

Alexander Macfarlane wrote that for a time William Edwin drank too much, yet without giving any indication of when that was. Drinking more and more may have been a slow process, taking years, but if he lost the Planet editorship in early 1884, the time of really drinking too much may have started in early 1884. He took the gold cure, and according to Macfarlane he “was able to master his alcoholic enemy.”

William Edwin also features as an old alcoholic called Burnham in the 1924 autobiography of Augustus Bridle, but it is not known how accurate that is. It was suggested that the descriptions were from the late 1880s, and I had accepted that because the Chatham Market Guide had been described as next to nothing. But now having seen the three issues, it is hard to believe that writing and making such a paper, including collecting the advertisements, every week all by himself, can be done next to a day job and just sitting in bars being drunk, as the autobiography suggests. If William Edwin therefore took the gold cure before he started the Market Guide, his most alcoholic time must have lasted from early 1884 until early 1885.

It seems safe to suggests that Bridle combined William Edwin’s most alcoholic time with his later years, when he was selling the Chatham Market Guide. Temperance became very strict in Canada in 1878, and although apparently the gold cure was succesful, it has not been claimed that William Edwin became a teetotaller. The strict laws were only repealed in the 1920s; if Bridle was himself very temperate he may have been unsatisfied with the level of drinking William Edwin maintained.

That also holds for Macfarlane. Writing that William Edwin had ‘wasted years’ by his drinking, he suggested that totally being overcome by alcohol lasted much longer. Macfarlane having written his 1902 obituary of William Edwin in those very temperate times, a pattern can be recognised which also ruined the reputation of Hamilton Sr.: biographers writing about drinking in times of Temperance without giving details about how long it lasted. But the difference is that in Hamilton Sr.’s life not any sign of drinking can be found. No missing years, or months, or periods without hard work, not even missed meetings; the only information comes from his biographer Graves. That is different for William Edwin. He lost his job with the Planet in some undefined way; the time between early 1884 until the summer of 1885 does seem to be missing;* and there were first-hand witnesses, Macfarlane and Bridle, who wrote about it.

* In 1884 his Muskoka Sketch was published, by the Dresden Times Printing Company. But William Edwin must have written the Sketch earlier, perhaps even as early as the late 1870s when he still lived in Dresden, writing about his time in Muskoka.
The Muskoka Sketch was called “a pleasant and entertaining sketch.” About his Guide book & atlas of Muskoka and Parry Sound Districts it was said that he “described the Muskoka waterfalls in the most sublime terminology.” Apparently, I am not the only one who enjoyed his writings.

Added 12 April 2022. Late in March I asked the National Library of Scotland for a copy of William Edwin’s “Scenes in the life of a Planter’s Daughter”, a pamphlet rather than a book, having only twenty pages, and containing three ‘scenes’. Not only did I receive a scan, but I was also allowed to upload it to the Internet Archive, which I did: Scenes in the life of a Planter’s Daughter, 1865; I corrected the text, and made epubs, epub 2, epub 3. It is again a strange and surprising story. In 1862 William Edwin had travelled to Nicaragua with his aunt Sydney Hamilton and because, as I theorised in my AVM, pp 373-375 he was more an observer than a philosopher, I would guess that somehow the last scene really happened, and that the two earlier scenes served to explain how it could have come so far, or, even, that someone told him about what had happened earlier. It would completely agree with the subtitle: “fact 25 per cent, fiction 75 per cent”. Moreover, William Edwin mentions that Edith and Jubal would travel by boat from New Orleans to N-a, G-n, and indeed Aunt Sydney and William Edwin lived for some time in Greytown, Nigeria, which was well connected by boat with New Orleans.

William Edwin’s alcoholic image clung to him, in an even more extreme way than in his father’s case. Although he had, before he became alcoholic, quite an influence as a journalist, his alcoholic image seems to have had as a consequence that not many people took the claims he made in his Peeps seriously. Much is unclear about William Edwin’s later years; what I could find is in my AVM, pp 360-376. Although he was defended by some people, others wrote quite condescending about him. It therefore was a surprise to see that he published the Chatham Market Guide apparently without interruption for in any case sixteen years.

Also surprising is that from his paper his later ‘respectabe life’ can be inferred, and he clearly enjoyed it. Only some months before his death he wrote, “After the council meeting, at the hospitable invitation of the Mayor, the Aldermen present and reporters of the Planet, Banner and Market Guide together with Mr. Cockburn of Toronto, enjoyed a feast of bivalves and other delicacies together with various games ad interchange of anecdotes. Mayor Sulman and his amiable consort, show the model host and hostess with that rare indefinable power of making their guests thoroughly at home. Viewing the spacious semi-circular entrance porch, the handsome rooms en route with their mantle pieces of rare and harmoniously blended marbles, and above all, the extensive library of well selected and handsomely bound books, we were tempted to break the 10th Commandment [Thou shalt not covet any thing that is thy neighbour’s], more especially when we entered a cosy little sitting room which could have made an ideal editorial sanctum whence to throw darts at the enemy. Before leaving, our host showed us one of his stamp albums which $1000 wouldn’t buy. Ald. Marshall does it next time.”

What I still would like to know is whether or not William Edwin wrote the text of the unofficial national anthem of Canada Maple Leaf, as he seems to claim on p. 8 of his Peeps. “In 1869, appeared my national song, written in Marbleton, and called the “Maple Leaf,” published first in the Belfast Newsletter, then in the Sherbrooke Gazette and Montreal papers, and which was set to music and sung at concerts in the eastern townships. A phrase in another of my Dominion songs, “For this is our Natal Day,” has been quoted by [Nicholas Flood] Davin and other patriotic orators. I got a very cordial letter from Sir George Cartier, approving of the “Maple Leaf.” Coincidentally, William Edwin was buried at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Chatham.



Utrecht, 29 August 2021


The word ‘Quaternion.’


In 1841, having searched in vain for triplets to describe motion in three-dimensional space, in the first letter of the correspondence with Augustus De Morgan which would continue until Hamilton’s death, Hamilton wrote, “If my view of algebra be just, it must be possible, some way or other, to introduce not only triplets but polyplets.” He later mentionedsingles, couples, triplets,” to which quadruplets would seem to be a natural addition. Still, Hamilton called the objects he found on 16 October 1843 ‘Quaternions,’ and he even decided very quickly what to call them; it took him less than an hour.

Hamilton had started a new search in the second half or the last week of September 1843, and every morning in early October, on his coming down to breakfast, his sons asked him, “Well, Papa, can you multiply triplets?” Whereto he “was always obliged to reply, with a sad shake of the head: “No, I can only add and subtract them.”” On Monday 16 October he was walking along the Royal Canal on his way to a meeting of the Royal Irish Academy when Lady Hamilton joined him. She had perhaps driven to meet her husband at the Canal,* and she talked with him now and then. Yet an ‘under-current of thought was going on in his mind,’ and he suddenly realized what the solution should be. Apparently still walking he pencilled, just as he reached Broom Bridge, the basic formulae in the notebook she had given him in 1840, and happily or in any case ‘unphilosophically’ scratched the general formula on the bridge.

At the next bridge, Cross Guns Bridge (Westmoreland Bridge),** he apparently took a car and drove from the “neighbourhood of the turnpike to the Academy,” while Lady Hamilton may have returned home to tell the children that Papa had found his answer. They certainly will have sympathised; next to having asked him every morning, they would from then on call the bridge the ‘Quaternion Bridge.’*** During the ride in the car Hamilton examined whether the law of the moduli held for the new system (which he “wished for as a child might wish for the moon”). In the 1865 letter to his son Archibald he wrote, “Less than an hour elapsed before I had asked and obtained leave of the Council of the Royal Irish Academy, of which Society I was, at that time, the President - to read at the next General Meeting a Paper on Quaternions; which I accordingly did, on November 13, 1843.” And indeed, the word ‘Quaternions’ is in the Minutes of 16 October 1843.

* She may have let someone take her to the Canal; if she had had her horse with her Hamilton would have known.
** I heard about the second bridge, Cross Guns Bridge, at the Hamilton Walk in 2015, when Anthony O’Farrell told us about the turnpike and the ‘hackney stand’ at the bridge.
*** Calling Broom Bridge ‘Brougham Bridge’, as Hamilton did, may have been a family in-joke. Hamilton apparently admired the British statesman Lord Brougham, and members of Hamilton’s family-in-law, the Huttons, had a coach-building firm in Dublin which became famous for building Queen Victoria’s Irish state coach. In 1838 or 1839, only a few years before Hamilton found the quaternions, Lord Brougham had given specifications for a light, four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage which then was built in London. It became known as a brougham, which is pronounced the same as Broome, and it is said that also the Hutton firm built broughams.

But it is not known why he chose to call them quaternions. Because of Hamilton’s poetic mind John Milton’s 1667 epic poem Paradise Lost is often mentioned as a possible source; Milton uses the word quaternion in line 181 of book 5. Also the Bible is suggested; Hamilton was deeply religious, and he already loved reading the Bible when still very young. The word quaternion is used in The Acts, 12:4.

Wondering how common the word was around 1843, the year of discovery, I did an Ngram search, which starts with 1500. Such a search is of course never complete; this one searches the titles in Google Books. Before Milton in 1667, the word quaternion was most often used around 1640; three times by Ben Jonson and two times Thomas Fuller in 1640 or rather, in publications from 1640. Clicking on the 1718-1828 box yielded 188 results, of which some are counted multiple times, and some are later publications. The list contains a surprise; the first books in the list are from the mathematician Charles Hutton who was supposed to be a relation of Hamilton’s mother Sarah Hutton, which he was not. In his 1785 Mathematical tables he used the word quaternion very straightforward, signifying the boxes in the logarithm table on p. 63, ‘spaces of four lines or numbers.’

Also in the list is Sir John Leslie, who wrote in 1817, in The Philosophy of Arithmetic, “But four, or the tetrad, was the number which Pythagoras affected to venerate the most. It is a square, and contains within itself all the musical proportions, and exhibits by summation all the digits as far as ten, the root of the universal scale of numeration; it marks the seasons, the elements, and the successive ages of man; and it likewise represents the cardinal virtues, and the opposite vices. The ancient division of mathematical science into Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music, was four-fold, and the course was therefore termed a tetractys, or quaternion.”

Apparently, the word quaternion was such a common word that the question how Hamilton knew about the word does not have to be answered further, leaving the question why he chose the word. The only time Hamilton did give something of an explanation was a rather general remark in a footnote; on p 111 of the Elements of Quaternions, written between 1858 and 1865, he writes, “As to the mere word, Quaternion, it signifies primarily (as is well known), like its Latin original, “Quaternio,” or the Greek noun τετρακτυς, a Set of Four: but it is obviously used here, and elsewhere in the present work, in a technical sense.” Not really an answer to the question posed here.

Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher who lived around -500, and his connection with the tetractys or quaternion, as mentioned by Leslie, was well-known; clicking on the 1500-1639 NGram box yields almost 700 hits, including the 1549 English translation of Desiderius ErasmusThe praise of Folie who also mentions, on p. 10, “Pythagoras quaternion,” in the original 1509 Latin “Pythagoricus quaternio.” In the 1641-1717 box is a book by André Dacier, The life of Pythagoras, with his Symbols and Golden verses, published in 1707, in which Dacier explains the origin of the Greek word tetractys. The book starts with a Life of Pythagoras. Having given Pythagoras’ Golden verses, in a footnote Dacier writes, “We have shewn in the Life of Pythagoras, that this Philosopher having learnt in Egypt the Name of the true God, the mysterious and ineffable Name, Jehovah, and finding that in the original Tongue it was compos’d of four Letters, translated it into his Mother Tongue by the Word Tetractys, the Quaternion, and gave the true Explication of it, saying that it properly signify’d, the Source of Nature that perpetually rolls along; for so the original Word signifies.

Also Hamilton knew about Pythagoras. In his younger years he was educated in the classics and was interested in mathematics and astronomy; already in 1820, when he was fifteen, he read Joanne Keill’s 1718 Introductio ad Veram Astronomiam. In the Preface Keill writes, in his own English translation, “Diogenes Laërtius [around +300] owns, that Thales [around -600], Pythagoras [around -500], Eudoxus [around -400], and many others went to [Egypt] to be instructed in the sidereal science. These men were not only the first but the greatest philosophers whom Greece produced; and from the same writer we know, that they who staid longest in that country, were most famous for their skill in Geometry and Astronomy after they returned home. So Pythagoras, who lived in society with the Egyptian priests seven years, and was initiated into their religion, carried home from thence besides several geometrical inventions, the true extent of the universe; and was the first who taught in Greece, that the earth and planets turned round the sun, which was immoveable in the center; and that the diurnal motion of the sun and fixed stars was not real, but apparent, arising from the motion of the earth round its axis. [...] Nicolas Copernicus was not only a diligent observer, but also a restorer of the ancient Pythagorean system.” The general view being that Copernicus in his 1543 De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium was the first to propose an heliocentric solar system, Hamilton will doubtless have been interested in such a claim.

What is certain is that Hamilton associated the word quaternion with Pythagoras. In 1846 he wrote a poem which Graves introduced, writing “This [...] sonnet [Hamilton] valued himself, and it will be valued by the reader, as one having a distinct individual character, uniting as it does Herschel and Hamilton in converse on Quaternions, and connecting this recent offspring of his mathematical thought by some imaginary lineage with the tetractys of Pythagoras.” The sonnet was preceded by lines from another sonnet which Hamilton later did not like too much, but Graves remarks that these lines were needed as a ‘grammatical introduction’ to the second poem. The sonnets together were called Recollections of Collingwood; John Herschel lived with his family at Collingwood, Kent,

Where all things graceful in succession come;
Bright blossoms growing on a lofty stalk,
Music and fairy-lore in Herschel’s home.

II.

The Tetractys.

Or high Mathesis,* with its “charm severe
Of line and number,” was our theme; and we
Sought to behold its unborn progeny,
And thrones reserved in Truth’s celestial sphere;
While views before attained became more clear:
And how the One of Time, of Space the Three,
Might in the Chain of Symbol girdled be:
And when my eager and reverted ear
Caught some faint echoes of an ancient strain,
Some shadowy outline of old thoughts sublime,
Gently He smiled to mark revive again,
In later age, and occidental clime,
A dimly traced Pythagorean lore;
A westward floating, mystic dream of Four.

* Hamilton may have alluded to mathematics in general, or to the idea by Leibniz and Descartes, of a universal science, or to the Mathesis universalis of John Wallis, published in 1657 in the first volume of the Operum Mathematicorum.

Yet here another concept is added, Truth. For Hamilton, Truth was one of the most important values in his life, which he connected with Science, and later with his wife. He called Poetry ‘Beauty’ and Science ‘Truth’, and in a poem he called Catherine Disney ‘Sweet Piety’, Ellen de Vere ‘Enthusiasm’, and Helen Bayly ‘Truth’. He felt that his epitaph should be “a labour-loving and truth-loving man,” he ultimately chose Science, and married Helen Bayly.

Searching online for these three concepts, Pythagoreanism, Quaternions and Truth, I found this ten-volume set, Ante-Nicene Fathers. It was published after Hamilton’s death, but it “brings together the work of early Christian thinkers.” On p. 241 of the fifth volume it is stated that “The Quaternion Exhibits “Truth”,” within the Hamilton narrative a remarkable connection. But it was said by Marcus, a contemporary of Irenaeus; they lived around +200. Marcus was a Gnostic, for the Christian thinkers a heretic, and on p. 235 Irenaeus calls him a “mere impostor.”

Hamilton and his Dublin colleagues knew about Marcus; George Salmon wrote the entry about Marcus in A dictionary of Christian biography and literature to the end of the sixth century A.D.. The question is therefore whether Hamilton would reject Marcus or gnosticism so fundamentally that he would not want to make a connection between his discovery and such a sense of Truth. But that certainly does not have to be the case; he wrote openly, “I do not feel in the least afraid, for myself, of reading anything. I have read atheistical books, infidel books, Socinian books, Protestant evangelical books, books by the Archbishop of Dublin, Protestant High-church books, Romanist books.”*

* This list is obviously partly in jest, and the context shows that De Vere’s conversion to Catholicism in 1851 did not cost him Hamilton’s friendship.

Concluding, Milton and his impressive poem does not seem to be necessary at all, because in Hamilton’s time the word quaternion was a quite regular word, connected to Pythagoras and the tetractys. What is left is the connotation with Truth. Hamilton decided for the word quaternion less than an hour after the discovery; obviously not having known beforehand what he would find it was a quick decision. The fact that Lady Hamilton had been with him at the moment of discovery, and that Hamilton explicitly mentioned that he wrote down the equations for the first time in a notebook which was given to him by her, allows for the idea that he associated them with her, and that his choice for Quaternions was connected with Truth. A totally unproven statement, but perfectly fitting the always romantic Hamilton.

Yet even though not proof, there are two enigmas which would hint at such a suggestion. Hamilton did not explain his choice for the word quaternion, and he kept silent about the last part of the walk, even though the distance between Broom Bridge and Cross Guns Bridge is two kilometres; twenty minutes are missing. He wrote that he “did actually pencil at the time, and just as I reached the Bridge here mentioned, the notes [in the pocket-book]. Then in a jolted handwriting, the same pencilled page contains these other notes, which were inserted while I was driving on that (to me memorable) Monday from the neighbourhood of the turnpike to the Academy.” There is nothing about the walk between the bridges, and Hamilton did not already start to check the law of the moduli even though he could have; he often enough read while walking. That might mean that he was not alone, which leaves room for a further possibility; that Lady Hamilton walked with him to Cross Guns Bridge, that they ecstatically talked about the discovery, and that she knew that he would call them after her before she returned to the Observatory.* It would certainly have been a loving reward for all the effort she had made, and as he “foresaw, immediately,” would have to make for many years to come, to allow for her husband’s intense studies, and tolerate his disappearing from her sight so often when he was in one of his mathematical trances.

The “Quaternions exhibiting Truth” would indeed be an answer to the enigmas why Hamilton never explained his choice for the word Quaternion,** and why he did not say anything about the last part of the walk. Telling people that it was a Gnostic association would perhaps not be appreciated too much, and having chosen it to honour his wife was doubtless not something he would like to explain. Giving some other beautiful reason was out of the question; it is known that Hamilton could not lie, but he could keep silent if he had to.

* When I asked Daniel Doyle about the sand sculpture, he explained that because Lady Hamilton was present at the moment of discovery he had assumed that she was her husband’s muse. He may have been more right than I had imagined before this search.

** This search reminded me of the word ‘Nabla’, the name for the Hamiltonian operator ∇ which Hamilton wrote as , without giving it a name. The word was coined by William Robertson Smith, who suggested it to Peter Guthrie Tait ( here on the left) because it resembled an. Tait’s friend James Clerk Maxwell wrote a poem for Tait, called ‘To the Chief Musician upon Nabla, a Tyndallic Ode’ (‘Tyndallic’ refers to John Tyndall). Together with a nabla being defined as “an ancient stringed instrument probably like a Hebrew harp,” although grammatically not entirely exact this title does have both associations; the Scotsman Tait was working with the Irish Quaternions. Smith and/or Maxwell may have looked at Tait as an Alban playing on the Irish harp, hence Nabla for the symbol ∇.


Note added September 2021: I completely overlooked a ‘popular account of the principles on which the Quaternion Calculus was founded,’ given in the appendix of the third volume of Graves’ biography in the form of an ‘Elementary Sketch.’ It was written after the publication of the Lectures on Quaternions in 1853, and in this sketch Hamilton writes about the naming of the Quaternions. “The word ”Quaternion” requires no explanation, since, although not now very commonly used, it occurs in the Scriptures and in Milton. Peter was delivered to “four quaternions of soldiers” to keep him; Adam, in his morning hymn, invokes air and the elements, “which in quaternion run.” The word (like, the Latin “quaternio,” from which it is derived) means simply a set of four, whether those “four” be persons or things.”

This explanation is similar to the above-mentioned remark in the Elements of Quaternions, and as dry as an explanation can be. Even though Hamilton mentions the Bible and Milton, he does not in any way connect his choice to them. As was also suggested above it is easy to imagine that that was intentional, to avoid having to tell a lie; it is hardly credible that such a deeply romantic man as Hamilton would, on such an extraordinary day, for the discovery about which he “foresaw, immediately” that it would profoundly influence and change his life, choose a name just for its literal meaning.



Utrecht, 7 August 2021


Hamilton’s godfather, Sydney Hamilton Rowan


Some years ago, I do not remember when exactly, I found Archibald Hamilton Rowan’s death record. And I was surprised; he died in November 1834. I knew that Graves had written a quite indignant piece about a letter, as he supposed written by Rowan, in which Hamilton had been congratulated with his knighthood. Clearly, that was impossible; Hamilton was knighted in 1835, and Rowan died in 1834. An enigma which I thought would be beyond my reach, and in my blog post of 11 February 2018 I described the problem and suggested that someone should read the letter.

When we were in Dublin in 2019, we made photos of that letter, but it appeared quite difficult to read, and for a long time I did not look at it any more. Lately having found a Hamilton genealogy while at the same time slowly becoming more used to reading such handwritings, I decided to make a new effort. Having deciphered the letter, it all fell in place very smoothly.

There did not appear to be any reason to assume it must have been written by Archibald Hamilton Rowan himself; it can be surmised that seeing the name Hamilton Rowan, Graves reacted as if stung by a wasp, therefore not thinking about checking the dates. Searching the Hamilton genealogy which was published in 1867, around the same time that Graves started to write the biography, the only Hamilton Rowans were the members of Archibald Hamilton Rowan’s family. Rowan’s eldest son Gawin died in the same year as his parents, 1834, before Hamilton was knighted. The writer of the letter mentioned his sons, which means that he cannot have been Rowan’s third or fourth son; they died without issue. Having been born in 1801 the youngest son was only four at the time of the baptism, which means that the only Hamilton Rowan who could have stood as a sponsor at the baptism was Sydney Hamilton Rowan. Finally, reading in the letter that he was “father of ten children” which appeared to be in complete accord with the genealogy, did not leave much further doubt.

I wrote a short non-publication about it, and while writing and reasoning, taking into account how children were named then, I again arrived at the conclusion that Sir William Rowan Hamilton was most likely named after his early deceased uncle, Arthur Rowan Hamilton.



Utrecht, 14 July 2021


Hamilton’s Scottish or rather Irish descent, and Dr. James Hutton


When searching for the family of Hamilton’s mother Sarah Hutton I found something unexpected; that Peter Guthrie Tait (here on the left), when he claimed that Sarah had been a relative of Dr. Hutton, will not have had the English mathematician Charles Hutton (1737-1823) in mind as Graves assumed (although he had his doubts), but the Scottish geologist James Hutton (1726-1797). Mentioning a relationship between Hamilton’s mother and ‘Dr. Hutton’ while claiming Hamilton for Scotland, having been related to the English Charles Hutton would not contribute to that claim, but one with the Scottish James Hutton would. It is shown in my unpublished Hamilton’s descent and Dr. James Hutton that the assumption that Tait was writing about Charles Hutton seems to have come from a train of earlier assumptions, as most of the errors in Hamilton’s story did, and still do, as shown in our 2018 gossip article.

Next to the assumption that Tait thus may have been right about ‘Dr. Hutton’ (the Scottish records should be searched), the conclusion about Hamilton’s descent is that both the Hamiltons and the Huttons came to Ireand in the 1600s. His paternal grandmother Grace MacFerrand was Scottish, and his maternal grandmother, Mary Ann Guinin, appears to have been French. It was marvellous to find her marriage record and therewith her last name, which was supposed to have been Guinant or Guissand. But I did not look at her descent yet.



Utrecht, 26 September 2020


The error or flaw in Laplace’s Mécanique Céleste


A well-known story about Hamilton’s early mathematics is that in 1822, when he was sixteen years old, he discovered an error in the Mécanique Céleste by Pierre-Simon Laplace, and that showing his find to John Brinkley, who in 1788 he had graduated from Cambridge as Senior Wrangler and now was Royal Astronomer at Dunsink, the latter was impressed.

In my AVM I had not given much attention to such stories, on the one hand because I did not write about Hamilton’s mathematics, and on the other hand because it was generally agreed that Hamilton had a happy childhood; to discuss the contemporary view on his married life I therefore had not much need for it. But lately searching for his youthful astronomy, I found that the story about Laplace’s “error” was not so straightforward as it seems. The problem here is that when Hamilton’s biographer, Robert Graves, became emotional, indignant or in awe, he neglected the general chronology of the biography, causing much confusion.

In the first volume of his biography, while describing 1819, Graves writes that Hamilton, thirteen years old and celebrating holidays at his father’s house in Booterstown, wanted to remain there a bit longer. “One of these grounds was, that he might have the opportunity of repeating a visit to the Observatory which he had made on the day before [8 July 1819]. This was his first sight of the house which was to be his future home. He had walked out there with two apprentices of his father, carrying a lease as a letter of introduction to Dr. Brinkley, the Astronomer Royal; but to his disappointment the great man was absent, and he had to be contented with being shown the instruments by the assistant, and receiving some information respecting the comet which was then visible [the Great Comet of 1819]. The prayer of the petition [to be allowed to extend his stay at his father’s house] was granted, but it does not appear that the Observatory was again visited by him during his stay at Booterstown. When he did revisit it, years subsequently, he carried in his hand a more appropriate introduction, in the form of an original mathematical paper and a letter from his friend Mr. Kiernan.”

* From what Hamilton and Graves wrote about Kiernan it appears that he lived at Henry Street, and knew the astronomers Brinkley and John Herschel well. In January 1808 George [Shirley] Kiernan, sixteen years old, born in Dublin as a son of George Kiernan, Pharmacopola, entered Trinity College Dublin. In 1819 Kiernan, indeed living in Henry Street, became State Apothecary. In Wilson’s almanac it can be seen that in 1783 there was a John Kiernan, living at 8 S. Anne Street, also an Apothecary; he may have been close family. In 1783 also Hamilton’s grandfather, William Hamilton, was an Apothecary, at 30 Jervis Street, and it is reasonable to suggest that these people knew each other. If these connections are right, George Kiernan and his father may have known Hamilton’s father as well as Cousin Arthur, after all, the letter was left at Cumberland Street. How Kiernan knew Brinkley was in any case through the RIA; in 1818 Kiernan was a member of the Royal Irish Academy, and Brinkley was its president from 1822 until 1835.

In May 1822 Hamilton was staying in Dublin with a cousin of his father and uncle James, called by Hamilton “Cousin Arthur”, who lived at Cumberland-street. Graves writes, “we find him studying the Differential Calculus in the Treatise of Garnier, and making acquaintance with the Mécanique Céleste of Laplace. He signalised the beginning of this acquaintance with a great masterpiece by detecting a flaw in the reasoning by which Laplace demonstrates the parallelogram of forces. He wrote out his criticism at the instance of a friend, Mr. G. Kiernan, by whom it was shown to Dr. Brinkley; and thus was the seed sown of personal acquaintance with an elder of Science which had a most happy influence upon the future career of Hamilton. It will interest the mathematical reader to see a criticism which led to these results, and I am enabled by the kindness of Professor Hennessy to commit it to print from the original document, which was found by him inserted at the pages it refers to in the copy of the Mécanique Céleste which belonged to Dr. Brinkley, and which subsequently came into the possession of Mr. Hennessy. It is given in the Appendix.”

In these two paragraphs, when not reading very carefully, Graves seems to suggest that the “appropriate introduction, in the form of an original mathematical paper” was the “criticism” of Laplace, and that this paper was the direct cause of Hamilton’s personal acquaintance with Brinkley. But that is not exactly what he was saying, and it is not what happened.

As can be seen in the Appendix, Hamilton had found the ‘flaw in Laplace’s reasoning’ on 31 May 1822, and apparently Kiernan asked Hamilton to write it out so that he could show it to Brinkley. On 31 October 1822, Hamilton wrote from Trim to Cousin Arthur, “When was Mr. Kiernan’s letter left at Cumberland-street? He tells me that “I forgot your ‘queries about Laplace’ for a long time,* but at last I laid them before Dr. Brinkley, who said he thought them ingenious, and he was so good as to say that he would write an explanation for you. [...]” And in a postcript: “I will have Dr. Brinkley’s answer for you when you call.” As my calling for it is out of the question [Hamilton then was in Trim], and I am rather anxious to see what Dr. Brinkley says - Do you know Mr. Kiernan? or would you like to call some day you are passing through Henry-street, and get it in my name? or should I write a note to him on Monday? In short I wish you would tell me what you think I had better do, as Mr. Kiernan’s politeness requires a return of civility.” Obviously, Hamilton was writing about the queries, not about the flaw in Laplace.

* Graves comments that he was “not able to supply any information” about the ‘queries’.

Then, still describing 1822, almost hidden between other letters Graves writes, “I find among the early mathematical manuscripts of Hamilton one entitled ‘Example of an Osculating Circle determined without any consideration repugnant to the utmost rigour of Analysis,’ and dated November 14, 1822; a second, without date, entitled ‘Osculating Parabola to Curves of Double Curvature’; and a third, dated December, 1822, of which the title is, ‘On Contacts between Algebraic Curves and Surfaces.’ These papers mark the year 1822, when he attained the seventeenth year of his age, as that in which Hamilton entered upon the path of original mathematical discovery. With the second and third of them in his hand, availing himself of the kind permission of Dr. Brinkley, he paid his first visit to him at the Observatory. Dr. Brinkley was impressed by their value, and desired to see some of the investigations in a more developed form.”

Although Brinkley indeed received Hamilton’s “criticism” of Laplace, having put it into his copy of the Mécanique Céleste, it must be concluded that nothing is written here about Brinkley’s opinion about it; Brinkley reacted to the “queries” and was impressed by (the value of) the articles.


The ‘flaw’ and Hamilton’s very short proof

In William Hamilton and the ‘flaw’ in Laplace, the flawed story about it, and William’s proof I discussed how a part of this story changed and started its own life, similar to changes in the story of Hamilton’s private life, as described in our 2018 gossip article. Then I discussed the much shorter proof Hamilton gave about the parallelogram of forces, where the forces x and y are equal to the sides of the parallelogram, and the resultant force z is equal to its diagonal.


Parallelogram of forces

This ability to generalize, while even staying strictly within the boundaries of physics when needed, is what would define Hamilton as a mathematician; he knew the general quaternion formula on his walk along the Royal Canal before reaching the bridge, and De Morgan alluded to it when he wrote that whenever he sent Hamilton some work, the latter ‘generalized it at a glance.’ It is also why his work is still blossoming today; it is so generalistic that his mechanics easily lived on from Newton through Einstein and Schrödinger up to modern physics, and this quaternions are handled more easily by computers than linear algebra and vector analysis.



Utrecht, 23 August 2020


Lady Hamilton’s grave

Updated 15 October 2020


Finally I found Lady Hamilton’s final resting place; she is buried at Mount Jerome, together with her husband. Strangely enough, although I am not religious, for me that is a relief because for such a pious couple, believing that through marriage they became one, I had been somewhat worried that she was buried somewhere else.

Every now and then searching for her grave, I had noticed that I could not find anything using her own name, I had to use her husband’s name, and then I in any case I found the advertisements announcing her death. So trying such a search again I found a remarkable advertisement in the Dublin Evening Mail of Tuesday 06 July 1869: “We are requested to state that Mr. W. E. Hamilton, eldest son of the late Sir William Hamilton, was prevented, by absence in the province of Quebec, Canada, from attending the funeral of the late Lady Hamilton, last month, at Mount Jerome Cemetery.”

Thereupon I contacted Mount Jerome Cemetery, and almost immediately received the confirmation that “The late Lady Hamilton was buried 05/06/1869” in the grave “which also holds her husband.” But something was unclear about the number, and to be certain in September Miguel DeArce contacted Mount Jerome again, to ask for Lady Hamilton’s burial record. Next to confirming that the Hamiltons are buried in the grave with number C116-3489 it appeared to hold a surprise; her cause of death was given, which until now I still did not know, “Disease of the heart.”



These photos have been made by Finbarr Connolly. The tree on the right is standing on the other side of the path the grave is on. It is a beautiful old tree, together with the other trees at Mount Jerome ‘adding greatly to the romance and atmosphere of the cemetery.’


Another surprise was in the registry page for the grave, which was also sent by the contact person of Mount Jerome. The page shows that Archianna, Hamilton’s sister, was not buried in this grave.* That makes it even stranger that Lady Hamilton is not inscribed on the tombstone. The transcription of the gravestone reads:


Here lie
the mortal remains
of
Sir William Rowan Hamilton LL.D.
Royal Astronomer of Ireland.
He was born Aug. 4. 1805
He died Sept. 2. 1865
in the love of God looking for the mercy of
our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life
.
                                                  Jude 21
Also of his sister
Archianna P. H. Hamilton
Also of his daughter
Helen E. A. Hamilton
wife of the venerable John O’Regan
born August 11. 1840
died June 21. 1870.
And of her husband
the venerable John O’Regan
Archdeacon of Kildare
born Christmas Day 1817
died Good Friday April 8. 1898
Concordia Animae
Love is the fulfilling of the Law

Erected by his surviving family


The registry page further shows that in 1867 Archibald, the second son of the Hamiltons, bought the “perpetual right of burial in this plot of ground” for about £8. Also, that in this grave were buried Sir and Lady Hamilton, their daughter Helen, and her husband Archdeacon John O’Regan. In 1900 their son, the Hamilton’s grandson John O’Regan signed the Derivative Assignment Declaration (DA) form. That seems odd, because in 1900 Archibald was still alive: “Where there is no will in existence for the deceased original owner (or surviving spouse) of a grave, then the Mount Jerome DA declaration form applies. ... This DA form may only be signed by the nearest surviving relative (NSR) of the deceased original owner.”

Then it is written, “13Th July 1920 J. R. H. O’Regan, Esq. Killycoonagh Marlborough, Wilts. paid by cheque £15 for Care in Perpetuity to this plot. Y’ly planting Blue & white Violets in Summer & Double white Daisies, Forget-me-nots, in Autumn keeping Stone clean & reset & Inscription renewed. / 13 July 1920. ??” The initials of the writer could not be identified, and not all words may have been transcribed correctly. If anyone knows who in 1920 wrote such notes, please contact me. It is unfortunate that ‘perpetuity’ did not last very long, there is no trace of yearly flowers.

Remark. The transcription at Find a Grave reads, “Love is the following of the Law.” Having become curious about such a strange sentence for a gravestone I did a search, assuming that it was, like the earlier sentence, a Bible quotation. With ‘fulfilling’ instead of ‘following’, it appeared to be from the King James Bible, the letter of Paul to the Romans, chapter 13 verse 10 (left column): “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.” The previous sentences in Paul’s letter give the context, “8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for hee that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adulterie, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steale, Thou shalt not beare false witnesse, Thou shalt not covet: and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

Addition. February 2023: this is indeed what is written on the gravestone, see the follow-up below. I therefore now also changed the word ‘waiting’ into ‘looking’, and added the missing word, ‘Concordia’. I had assumed that the line in italics was about the Hamilton marriage but I now think it was written when Helen or John O’Regan was buried; Graves does not mention it in the third volume of his biography, which was published before the death of John O’Regan.

Searching for what may have happened, causing Hamilton’s sister Archianna to be inscribed in the stone but not Lady Hamilton, it seems of importance that, describing Hamilton’s funeral, Graves wrote that “the grave appropriated to Hamilton, on the north side of the cemetery, is marked by a head-stone, subsequently erected by his family.” That thus seems to have happened not very long after the burial. Archianna Hamilton had died in 1860, five years before Hamilton, and she therefore may have been added to the gravestone while Lady Hamilton was still live, and even though she was not buried there. Was she perhaps added to the stone as a remembrance? And was then an error made, because the inscription suggests her “mortal remains” were buried there? Also strange is that her name was given without date of birth or death, even though Lady Hamilton and her daughter Helen doubtless knew these dates.

And if she should have been added only as a remembrance, did perhaps the inscriber of the stone leave too little space to include Lady Hamilton? If that was the case, it may have led Lady Hamilton to decide that she did not want to be inscribed below her sister-in-law and preferred to be seen as one with her husband; she was very pious, and doubtless took the biblical unity of marriage very literally, as also her husband did.

I have never seen the last sentence in any photo, ‘Erected by his surviving family,’ which specifically seems to indicate Hamilton. But if that transcription is in order and is at the bottom of the stone, then that would seem to indicate that the various inscriptions were indeed made at different times, with space between them to allow for later inscriptions. Hence giving room for errors.

Why Archianna is on the stone is an intriguing puzzle indeed, and if any one knows something about this, I would love to hear about it.


Follow-up February 2023.

In October 2022 Colm Mulcahy sent me some very sharp photos of the tombstone, and for the first time I could read the last line, “Erected by his surviving family.” But even on these photos the word before ‘Animae’ could not be read, which led to interesting discussions with Finbarr Connolly about possibilities. Next to very helpful suggestions, one is that indeed, contrary to the other texts which seem to be related to Hamilton, this text seems to belong to Helen Eliza Amelia Hamilton (1840-1870) and Archdeacon John O’Regan (1817-1898), whom she married 1 September 1869. And that we hoped someone would visit Mt Jerome “on a suitably clear day.”

In February 2023 Colm and I received an email from David Malone of Maynooth University; he had visited Mount Jerome cemetery, and had taken several photos of the unknown word, from several angles. Moreover, he suggested the word ‘Concordia’, and that seems exactly right if compared with the best photo. But even more striking is what ‘Concordia Animae’ means: ‘Harmonious Spirits’, or ‘Agreement of the Spirits’. In 1862 Helen Hamilton wrote in her diary about John O’Regan, who was twenty-three years her senior, “I understand that glorious nature. I could play on his heart as on a harp, it should answer to my least touch and he loves me – I am his friend, his eye rests with pleasure on my face when he looks at me. Oh how glorious and how gentle should I be to be worthy of the love of such a man.” ‘Concordia Animae’, followed by ‘Love is the fulfilling of the Law’, would seem to describe their far too short relationship perfectly; she died in 1870, three weeks after the birth of their son.



Utrecht, 3 May 2020


Graves’ opinion about Lady Hamilton, and apparent disagreements


Ever since our gossip article, I wondered when exactly the negative stories about the Hamilton marriage started to become so wide-spread. Usually, local gossip does not completely overshadow someone’s legacy; not many people would have a good public image if the gossip would mostly win from nuanced views. Therefore, every now and then I search for earlier gossip outside Dublin.

Lately, at first to my happiness, I found a book, published in 2012, For Better or For Worse? Collaborative Couples in the Sciences, in which it was noted that in a book by Samuel Smiles, called ‘Character’ and published in or around 1877, Helen Bayly and William Rowan Hamilton were mentioned in a chapter called ‘Companionship in Marriage.’ That could have meant a first glimpse of a positive view on the Hamilton marriage from before Graves’ biography. But having found Smiles’ book on the Internet Archive, it appeared to be about the marriage of Sir William Hamilton of Edinburgh, and therefore alas no ante-biography view on the Hamilton marriage. But very unfortunately, the 2012 authors felt compelled to add a footnote, 52 on p. 53: “Despite Smiles’s inclusions of the Hamiltons, historians noted the strife in their marriage; see Thomas L. Hankins, Sir William Rowan Hamilton (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), pp, 114-126,” and that is of course about Sir William Rowan Hamilton.

The Oxford Dictionary gives as a description for ‘strife’: “Angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict. Australian, New Zealand: Trouble or difficulty of any kind.” Assuming that the word is not used here in the second meaning but in the bitter one, and having read Hankins’ biography, this is certainly not what Hankins wrote. Although he was not very positive about the marriage, he also was not this negative. Hankins did believe that Hamilton only loved Catherine Disney, and that Helen Bayly was no match for both Catherine and Ellen de Vere, the first two women Hamilton had been in love with. Indeed, both Graves and Hankins missed Hamilton’s psychological discovery in 1832, and without it that could be concluded. But as shown in A Victorian Marriage, Hamilton did discover how to handle his melancholy feelings, and thereafter fell in love with Helen Bayly. He clearly and openly loved his wife, and did not in any way see her as less than his former loves.

This is no place to discuss all the pages from Hankins’ biography mentioned in the 2012 footnote, but in A Victorian Marriage I have quoted from each of these pages, 114-126, as can be seen in the footnotes, and placed them in context. The last page, p. 126, contains Hankins’ conclusion about the marriage, that “[Helen] remained the central figure in Hamilton’s life. [...] Hamilton never wrote a word of complaint about his wife.” Which is perhaps not jubilant, but can also hardly be abbreviated to Hankins having “noted the strife in their marriage.”

But one quote is too important to leave unmentioned as it has not yet been discussed here. On the first page given in the 2012 footnote, p. 114 of Hankins’ biography, Hankins gives a letter containing Graves’ opinion about Lady Hamilton, which was indeed extremely harsh. But as has been shown, it was not because she was not a good woman in Graves’ eyes, but because he judged her as weak because she should have “governed” her husband and therewith saved his Dublin reputation. Which is of course a contemplation, not a fact from the marriage itself. Graves also wrote that the Hamiltons “remained attached to each other,” so although he felt compelled to openly judge Lady Hamilton, it was a judgement about the theoretical possibility that things would have been different if she had acted differently, not about what these two people felt for each other. And of course, it can easily be stated that knowing what Hamilton did in his scientific life, it is hardly imaginable how in any scenario he could have done even more.

The letter given by Hankins, in which Graves gave his opinion about Lady Hamilton, was written in 1873, when Graves was preparing the biography of which the first volume was published in 1882, and was directed to Ellen de Vere, then Mrs. O’Brien. In the letter Graves wrote, “After marriage the poverty of her mind and the whole nature must soon have revealed itself to him as not to be ameliorated by all the riches of cultivation which he could bestow upon it.” A very harsh opinion indeed.

Yet Graves’ suggestion about Hamilton’s view on his wife was denied by Aubrey de Vere. In the on this page aforementioned letter he wrote to Graves in 1879, De Vere had written that “up to that time, A.D. 1837, Hamilton’s affection for his Wife had not waned. Indeed I do not know that it ever did [...].” I had not given the rest of De Vere’s sentence because that was not important in that blogpost. But as can be seen here, De Vere’s complete sentence was, “Indeed I do not know that it ever did, or that he ever discovered how little she approached to his early ideal of her.”

Not having seen other letters of the 1879 correspondence between Graves and De Vere, from this sentence it seems very likely that De Vere knew about Graves’ opinion about Lady Hamilton, and this may have been a cautious attempt to contradict Graves. That even if he agreed with Graves that she was not highly learned and literate enough for Hamilton, as they both were, Hamilton himself did not see her at all as they did. And that makes it a question which of these two friends knew Hamilton best. Although that will perhaps never been known for certain, there clearly are arguments to conclude that De Vere knew Hamilton better than Graves did because the friendship between Hamilton and De Vere had been very close, even to the point of spending, throughout the years, many subsequent days with each other, making excursions together, and having had very intense correspondences.

Of course, never discovering that one’s partner does not live up to the early ideal must signify a very happy marriage, and the question thus is where Graves’ harsh opinion came from. During Hamilton’s marriage Graves did not live in Ireland, but every now and then he visited Hamilton at the Observatory, and Hamilton visited him in England a few times. But Graves thus did not really see Hamilton live his daily life; he was received as a guest, and during his stay Hamilton will not have locked up himself to work out some mathematical idea. Graves only came back to Ireland the year before Hamilton died; Hamilton then was very ill already. It thus seems possible, as it has been argued in A Victorian Marriage, that Graves was positive about the marriage until, preparing for the biography, he read Lady Hamillton’s letters.

Having had a goal for the biography, namely counteract the Dublin gossip by showing what a wonderful man Hamilton had been, he then may have judged her, the letters not having been at all learned and metaphysical as he perhaps had hoped, or even had concluded from Hamilton’s positive remarks about the piousness and spirituality of his wife. The letters gave room to the possibility that it had been her weakness which had been the cause for Hamilton’s bad Dublin reputation.

De Vere was not the only one who did not agree completely with Graves’ opinions; after the publication of the first volume brothers of Catherine Disney tried to persuade Graves not to write so openly about events in Hamilton’s personal life. As it seems, they fully understood what could happen when so many people, very near but also far away, would read such emotional stories in such an authoritative biography. And what they feared for indeed happened, Graves’ emotional outpourings now completely define Hamilton’s reputation. But Graves continued to do what he thought he had to do, be honest and mention it all, but conceal the details as well as possible. Which of course even made it worse, because consequently the hints Graves gave to ‘unfortunate circumstances’ were given without detail, leaving them to the imagination of the reader.

Graves obviously hoped that if he would wrap his criticisms in blankets of warmth, people would read his biography as nuanced as he meant it to be. But what people read between the few kind sentences about Lady Hamilton was his very harsh opinion about her. It may be wondered what might have happened if Graves would have had an editor, or had reacted to the remarks from Hamilton’s close friends.

In any case, searching for the start of the spread of the gossip, so far it thus still has to be concluded that it really started with Graves’ biography. That with blaming and denigrating Lady Hamilton Graves achieved the opposite of what he had been aiming for because also Hamilton, as her husband, was therewith regarded a lot less positive. Graves certainly can be felt sorry for, having worked for twenty-five years on his biography, trying to show how wonderful and marvellous his friend had been. A man of extremely high moral standards who, as Graves observed, until the end of his life was “ready to burst out into a genial laugh.” Yet what is left from all Graves’ hard work is a depressed alcoholic in a deranged marriage. If Graves would have known what has been concluded from his biography, he would have turned in his grave.



Utrecht, 25 April 2020


Lady Helen Hamilton’s crushed reputation


Having published about the private life of the Hamiltons, and thereafter about Catherine Disney, I realised that almost everything I wrote about Lady Hamilton was derived from what others wrote about her. Unfortunately, that also holds for Catherine Disney, but as far as I know the only example of her handwriting is the shaky and smeared out signature on her marriage record, looking very sad and perhaps desperate indeed. I have never heard about still extant letters written by her. That is different for Lady Hamilton; letters by her are kept in the Trinity College Dublin Library.

Still, in their respective biographies both Graves and Hankins only gave a few sentences from Lady Hamilton’s letters, which made us very curious about the rest of what she wrote. We therefore visited Trinity Library last summer, and saw the majority of her letters. Her correspondence is indeed not very extensive as Hankins already remarked in his biography, but they certainly show a glimpse of who she was which is in itself interesting, she was after all the wife of a famous genius, who worked very hard, and mostly at home.

I am now preparing a third book, about Lady Hamilton’s correspondence. The reason I want to do that is because of the extremely negative view on Helen Bayly, later Lady Hamilton, which is nowadays even far more negative than the view on Hamilton himself. That started in the 1880s, when Graves wrote his biography about Hamilton, and blamed Helen Bayly for Hamilton’s bad Dublin reputation. She had already been gossiped about in Dublin, just as people gossiped about Hamilton, yet the wide-spread view on Helen Bayly as an overall “weak wife” originated in the biography.

Hamilton has been described as an overeating alcoholic, and the deterioration of his reputation is still going on, yet about his character everyone has remained to be positive. But Helen Bayly has been sacrificed on the altar of Science; to save Hamilton’s reputation, hers was damaged beyond recognition. Graves firmly believed that it was her ‘weakness’ which prevented her to stop Hamilton from drinking; he does not even seem to have considered for one moment that, like Hamilton, she just did not have a problem with it. Still, he otherwise did not write negatively about her as a person; he called her an “attached wife” and a “good woman,” who “won the good opinion of [Hamilton’s] friends,” and he never claimed that the marriage was unhappy, even on the contrary. But the emotional tone with which Graves put the blame about Hamilton’s Dublin reputation on her dripped into everything that was written about her afterwards.

The blame Graves laid upon her led to what comes close to character assassination. Completely ignoring the positive remarks Graves made about Helen Bayly, and ever further extending his negative remarks, she has been described as having been a “pathologically shy and timid” “semi-invalid” “hypochondriac,” a “local lass” from “across the fields from the observatory,” a “country preacher’s daughter” who “absented herself for long periods of time.” She is said to have been “mentally limited” and ‘unable to look after the children,’ a “frustrated young girl” [jeune fille frustre] with “neurotic and probably slovenly tendencies”, “a totally disorganized woman” [une femme totalement désorganisée] who was “unable to provide an orderly domestic regime” causing her husband to live in “squalor.” Sometimes an attempt at kindness is made, that she could be ‘pitied’ for “having to stand by and watch her husband have his self-absorbed ‘moment of genius’,” i.e., finding the quaternions.

It is of course not known for certain how she felt when Hamilton found the quaternions, but from what is known about them she must have been very proud, having been present while her beloved husband found such a delightful solution for the problem he was working on, which had occupied him so much that in the two weeks prior to the discovery they had asked him at every breakfast if he could multiply triplets already. It must have been wonderful to watch him scratch the formulae on ‘Brougham Bridge’ out of pure happiness.

Reading Graves’ biography, and the letters by Hamilton given in it, it is indeed obvious that the ‘facts’ about Lady Hamilton as quoted above do not fit Hamilton’s remarks about his wife at all. And using our ‘gossip article,’ the sources of these claims can be traced back to their origins, the contemporary gossip apparently having started in the early twentieth century.

Last summer, when we were in Dublin, we saw Lady Hamilton’s letters, and I am slowly transcribing them. Helen Bayly clearly did not like writing letters, and indeed did not write many; she only did it because Hamilton liked receiving letters from her. All that is left of people from those times are letters and notes, hence there is not much which can be used to easily disclaim everything which has been written about her. Yet there is enough to show a very different woman than how she is depicted in the gossip.

What I have read in her letters until now completely fits the picture of her as it emerged from Hamilton’s letters and some remarks made about her by Graves, Hamilton’s Uncle James, and her granddaughter-in-law. Combining them all, Helen Bayly was regarded as an “amiable wife” of “lady-like appearance,” who apparently was truthful and direct, used to speaking her mind, sometimes grumpy and able to get angry, proud of her family and her husband, funny and amused, fashionable while seemingly able to understand (some?) technics. She read and talked about poetry, in any case Shakespeare, Chaucer and “poets of lore,” and the poetry of her husband and of her sister-in-law Eliza Mary Hamilton. Helen Bayly did have a weak health but she certainly was not always ill; she rode a horse, and in later years had her own ‘Arabian’. She made “her own independent excursions” and frequently visited, and was visited by, members of family from both Hamilton’s side and her own. And not the least, she provided a household which made it possible for her husband to do all the work he became so famous for.

Preparing for the book about her, perhaps consisting of annotated letters, it will take a long time to finish because we have to go back to Dublin, which this summer will be impossible due to the corona virus. We have, for instance, to visit Bloomfield in Donnybrook where Lady Hamilton died, and see her original letters in Trinity College Library; due to a miscommunication, of most letters we saw only the xerox copies, which are not good enough for a complete transcription. I therefore decided to already give interesting facts here when I encounter them.

The first one, which then immediately disproves the idea that Helen Bayly was some unfortunate local girl, as I indeed also had concluded from pieces on the internet before starting to read Graves’ biography, is Lady Hamilton’s descent. It has been claimed that she was no match for Hamilton’s earlier two loves, Catherine Disney and Ellen de Vere, who came from important and rich families. Yet next to Helen Bayly’s father having been rector of Nenagh and Knigh, and curate of Kilkeary, Dromineer and Ballinaclough, the Baylys were a large, prosperous and influential land-owning family* in Tipperary, the “main landlords of Ballinaclough in the 19th century. Unlike the national stereotype of the time of landlords being part of an elitist landed gentry, the Bayly’s were known in Ballinaclough as good and fair landlords. They were considered to be the poor man’s friend.”

This sounds like a kind and attached family and indeed, within the Bayly family many members seem to have had close ties. Helen Bayly was an openly beloved daughter, sister and relative; that was the woman Hamilton fell in love with.

* Being Dutch myself, it often feels strange to almost brag about families of the landed gentry in Ireland in the Ascendancy, just like it would about Dutch influential families during the colonialization of Indonesia. Yet Hamilton was a member of the Ascendancy, and this is about those families themselves. I found a for me very enlightening blog post of the Silvermines Historical Society, about the “Buck Gate” of Kilboy House where the Prittie family lived, who were directly related to the Baylys. It describes the history of the house from the perspective of the children who “grew up around Dolla and Silvermines in the [nineteen] fifties,” and greatly helped me to place some things into perspective. It can be read here, Beyond the Buck Gate.



For blogposts written between 2015 and 2019, see theVictorian Marriage archief’.







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