Galbraith, Joseph Allen

Joseph Allen Galbraith (1818-1890)

It is not possible to speak of Joseph Allen Galbraith without mentioning his close friend and collaborator Samuel Haughton. With their collection of textbooks, in their capacity as examiners for different official bodies and in the classroom, Galbraith and Haughton educated a generation of Irishmen in technical issues that would make them skilled and employable. They sold an average of more than 6,000 books per year for many years all over the British Empire. Both men were excellent administrators and visionary reformers of third-level education. Galbraith in particular was a progressive accountant, which together with his honesty made him very helpful in the administration of several large public bodies. These and other aspects of their work gave the two men a high social profile, although both combined modesty with the confidence their success gave them. They were also effective leaders and exemplified high ethical standards at work and in their private lives, in success and in failure.

Joseph Allen Galbraith was the son of Richard Galbraith, of Scottish stock, and Rebecca Allen. Richard was a Dublin merchant and respected member of the Presbyterian church, St Mary’s Abbey. He died before Joseph’s graduation, having lost most of his wealth. Galbraith entered Trinity College Dublin as a pensioner on 3 November 1834, graduating with a BA in 1839, and was made a Junior Fellow in 1844, showing an exceptional talent for the application of mathematics to a wide range of everyday problems. He was admitted to Holy Orders in the Established Church in 1846, by Bishop Ludlow Tonson (later Baron Rivendale) of Killaloe and Kilfenora, but in later life he boasted of being a good Presbyterian. Joseph married Hannah Maria, daughter of Rev. John Bredon (or Bredin) of Cavan, on 16 July 1850, and they had three sons and four daughters. He joined the Council of the Dublin Statistical Society in 1853, and in the same year he read an able paper on the advantages of a decimal system of currency. He became Erasmus Smith Professor of Natural Philosophy in 1854, holding the chair for 20 years. He was a very popular lecturer, often gathering groups of students at his summer home in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, for Sunday dinner and afternoon discussions, accompanied by his inseparable and learned friend the Rev. Haughton. His wife Hannah died in 1867, and his older daughter took over the running of the household.

Shortly after graduating, Galbraith, Haughton and two other Junior Fellows began a course of lectures to prepare young men for the entrance examinations to the artillery and engineers branches of the military academy in Woolwich, and the Indian civil service. Their students were highly successful at obtaining these positions, but in 1851 the classes were discontinued at the request of the Board of Trinity College, and the two men focused their energies on the preparation of scientific manuals. The authors each had at the time 20 years experience in undergraduate teaching.

Galbraith’s life’s work can be divided into four notional phases which, aside from the first, ran in part concurrently. These were; first, the stage of preparatory work (1834-56), some aspects of which we have considered above, running from his entry into Trinity College to the Angeli case which we will see below; second, his involvement in the academic and administrative life of the College, as a scientist and member of many public bodies, concluding with his years as an innovative bursar during 1881-2, and as registrar of the college; third, his work with the Home Government Association from its foundation in the summer of 1869 to Galbraith’s death in 1890; and fourth, his career in the Church of Ireland, in particular his contribution to the orderly process of its disestablishment and disendowment in the early 1870s, and his charitable works, notably with the Masonic Orphan Girls School in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4

The Angeli case, like the scientific manuals, involved both Galbraith and Haughton, but it is clear from the proceedings that Galbraith was the leader of the small band of scholars who took action in defence of academic standards and the reputation of the university. The case was heard in 1856 at the Kildare Summer Assizes when Galbraith brought Signore Basilio Angeli, Professor of Italian and Spanish at Trinity College Dublin, before the Lord Chief Justice, accusing the plaintiff, among other things, of not knowing the Italian language but being rather ‘a stucco merchant’. Counsel for the plaintiff was Isaac Butt, QC. The trigger was the Italian translation that Angeli had made of a short speech that Professor Kane of Queen’s College Cork had requested before sending it to the printers. Galbraith, Haughton and Ingram detected 31 grammatical and spelling errors in Angeli’s Italian translation. Angeli’s written English appears to have been equally appalling, judging by the notices he posted for the students. Eventually after a second trial the three fellow defendants, of whom Galbraith was the most senior, won their case, but had to pay costs to the tune of £3,000. Signore Angeli was dismissed from his post. On his return to Trinity College, Galbraith’s students spontaneously rewarded him with a handwritten petition in support, with 500 signatures appended, which was presented to him at an informal ceremony in the Examinations Hall.

These early years were also dedicated to his career as a naturalist. In 1845 Galbraith was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, and he contributed four scientific publications to its Proceedings.  His active participation at the Academy lessened after 1856, well before his involvement in Home Rule began in 1869. His scientific papers are of a geological and meteorological bent, such as Haughton could have inspired.

Galbraith was elected Senior Fellow of Trinity College and bursar in 1880, and registrar in 1885. He did not regard these appointments as honorary, but made considerable and lasting changes in the practices of the College, especially in his post as bursar. Up to then the college had followed a medieval system of accountancy.

Galbraith and other Trinity College scholars, such as Rowan Hamilton, George Salmon, Reeves and Lloyd, were co-opted for the proceedings of the Dublin Diocesan Synod, to which Galbraith contributed extensively.  He was also requested to join the Representative Body, through which he helped to frame the whole scheme of the distribution of its endowments among the clergy, by calculating the income to which every Church of Ireland cleric was entitled. As secretary of the Synod, Galbraith duly reported the proceedings.

Joseph Allen Galbraith died at his home at 46 Lansdowne Road, Dublin 4 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in that city. He left assets of £7,185, 6s and 8d. The details of the will are lost. In the obituaries in the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette on 24 October 1890 both the Dean of St Patrick’s and the Dean of Christchurch mentioned that there had been differences in the past between each of them and Galbraith, but that all was then forgotten. It was proposed that a bust of Galbraith be commissioned for Synod Hall, but this brought fresh controversy, as some of Galbraith’s loyal friends were not satisfied with a mere bust bearing his name and dates, but sought an explicit apology from the official authorities. No bust or plaque can be found and, presumably, none was ever made.

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