Hamilton, William Rowan

William Rowan Hamilton FRS (1805-1865)

William Rowan Hamilton was born in, and lived for most of his adult life in Dublin. As a child he had remarkable linguistic gifts. Under his uncle's special tuition while living at Trim, County Meath, was able to read Greek, Latin and Hebrew by the age of four. He was also acquainted with some 15 languages by the time he was ten. As a student in Trinity College, he was unbeaten in every examination in both Classics and Science, achieving the highest grade in every case.

He was a habitual scribbler and would jot down his ideas on literally anything. His most famous "scribble" was done in October 1843, while walking to the Royal Irish Academy along the Royal Canal. Passing Brougham Bridge, the idea of Quartnions suddenly came to him, whereupon he took out his penknife and on the stine parapet of the bridge, scratches the fundamental formula of his quartnion algebra.

He became Andrews Professor of Astronomy at Trinity College Dublin, Royal Astronomer of Ireland at Dunsink Observatory, President of the Royal Irish Academy, and he received the Royal Medal of the Royal Society for his work in optics.

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