Famous Names in Carlow Science & Engineering

Nicholas Vigors (1785 -1840)

Nicholas Aylward Vigors, zoologist, was born in Old Leighlin, Co. Carlow to a wealthy landowning family. After studying at Oxford and Lincoln's Inn, he joined the Grenadier Guards and was severely wounded in the Peninsular War. He was invalided home, returned to Oxford, and graduated BA in 1817.

As a gentleman of independent means, Vigors devoted himself to the study of birds and insects. He became a fellow of the Linnaean Society, but soon became critical of its botanical emphasis, slow publication rate and old methodology. With others, he formed the Zoological Club. The Club was less formal and socially stratified than the existing learned societies and became the forum for enthusiastic zoologists in the then rapidly-expanding Empire.

Vigors was a 'quinarian', believing in the geometric ordering of species, orders and families into sets of five. He employed his quinarian approach to overhaul the classification of birds. He wrote extensively on birds, mammals and insects in the Zoological Journal, which he edited from 1827 - 1834.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1826 and in the same year became secretary of the newly-formed Zoological Society. He showed great organizational flair, both in systematic science (particularly birds) and in filling the Society's zoological gardens and museum with exotic specimens from abroad (one of his collaborators was Sir Stamford Raffles, after whom the famous hotel in Singapore is named). He had problems, however, with the aristocrats who dominated the board of the Society's zoo. They saw the zoo's role as a game park, to provide exotic delicacies for the nobleman's table. In parliament (when an MP for Carlow) he deplored the lack of scientifically-trained commoners among the titled trustees of learned societies.

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