Kane, Robert

Robert Kane (1809 - 1890)

Robert Kane was born in Dublin. He was the son of John Kane, a United Irishman who set up a factory in Dublin to manufacture sulphuric acid. He studied medicine at Trinity College but never practised professionally. Subsequently he followed the familiar path taken by Irish chemists in the early 19th century, Professor of Chemistry at the Apothecaries' Hall and lecturer at the RDS. In 1836 while visiting Liebig's laboratory at Giessen he isolated acetone from the distillation of wood spirit. Back in the RDS he synthesised mesitylene from acetone. His three-volume textbook on chemistry became the standard one in use at Woolwich Arsenal.

In 1841 he became Director of the Museum of Irish Industry, an early example of a research association, which investigated such matters as the manufacture of sugar from beet. Simultaneously from 1845 he held the office of the first President of the newly established Queen's College Cork although he continued to live in Dublin. When the catastrophic potato famine occurred in the mid-1840s Kane joined the Commission, which was set up to try to find a solution to the potato blight under the chairmanship of the Manchester chemist Lyon Playfair. He was knighted in 1846.

Further reading: R. Kane The Industrial Resources in Ireland (Dublin 1844); B. Kelham, Robert Kane, Studies 56 297 (1967)

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