Perceval, Robert

Robert Perceval (1756 - 1839)

Robert Perceval was born in Dublin on 30 September 1756. He was the youngest son of a Dublin barrister William Perceval. He was educated at Dr Darby's school in Ballygall (Finglas). A bright and precocious boy he entered Trinity College at sixteen and took the course in Arts which included Latin, study of natural laws, chemistry, botany and mathematics.

After graduating B.A. he went to Edinburgh to study medicine where his teachers included the distinguished chemists William Cullen and Joseph Black. Having completed his M. D. degree by thesis he began the third phase of his education, a European tour, which started in Leyden, took in attendance in hospital clinics in Paris as well as A. F. Fourcroy's 70-lecture course in natural history. Later he visited Dijon, where he visited L. B. Guyton de Morveau, with whom he established a life-long correspondence.

He moved on to Switzerland visiting hospitals and laboratories, not returning to Dublin until late in 1782. In the following year he was appointed lecturer in chemistry in Trinity College. For the next two years he was extremely active and involved in scientific matters, being a founder member of the Royal Irish Academy and its first secretary. He also persuaded the College that his post should be a Professorship rather than a lecturer. His scientific publications were meagre. He designed a lamp furnace for the controlled heating of chemical reactions, one of which may be seen in the Playfair Collection of chemical apparatus in the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh.

Although he must have been aware from his extensive travels in Europe of the new ideas in chemistry his lectures are a strange mixture of the old Stahlian notion of Phlogiston with those of new thinking in France, perhaps because he had come to these new ideas at too early a date. He believed strongly that chemistry should be regarded as a subject in its own right and not just as an adjunct to medicine. However, as time went on the pressure from the Dublin establishment forced him more and more into the medical fold; he worked both in Dublin Hospitals and in private practice. He was a man full of humanity, and took man active part in improving conditions for prisoners in Irish jails.

Further reading: William J. Davis Robert Perceval (1756 - 1839) First Professor of Chemistry at Trinity College, Dublin R.I.A. National Committee for the History and Philosophy of Science 3rd Annual Lecture Dublin 1997.

previousPrevious - Parsons, William
Next - Petty, Williamnext

Upload to this page

Upload to this page

Add your photos, text, videos, etc. to this page.

Map Search


Life & Society

Popular Sections