Kane, Robert John (DNB00)

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KANE, Sir ROBERT JOHN (1809–1890), man of science, born at Dublin on 24 Sept. 1809, was son of John Kane, a manufacturing chemist there, and was educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He afterwards studied medical and practical science both in Dublin and Paris; became clinical clerk at the Meath Hospital, and obtained the prize offered by Dr. Graves at Dublin in 1830 for the best essay on the pathological condition of the fluids in typhus fever. In 1831 he was appointed professor of chemistry to the Apothecaries' Hall, Dublin; and published in the same year ‘Elements of Practical Pharmacy’ (8vo, with five folding plates). He retained his professorship till 1845. Kane became a licentiate of the King and Queen's College of Physicians in 1832, and fellow in 1841. In the former year he originated the ‘Dublin Journal of Medical Science,’ but closed his connection with it in 1834. From that year till 1847 he was professor of natural philosophy to the Royal Dublin Society, and in 1836 he visited the chief laboratories and scientific institutions in France and Germany. Five years later a royal medal was awarded to Kane by the Royal Society of London for his ‘Contributions to the chemical history of archil and litmus,’ which he had communicated to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ in 1840. He had become an editor of the ‘Philosophical Magazine’ in 1840, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1849. He was in 1842 appointed secretary of the council of the Royal Irish Academy. Parts i. and ii. of his elaborate ‘Elements of Chemistry’ appeared in 1841, and part iii. in 1843. The work was well received. It was introduced by Faraday into the Woolwich course, and was used in the United States of America, where an edition was brought out in 1843 under the care of John William Draper. Kane brought out a second edition in 1849. The gold prize medal of the Royal Irish Academy was awarded to Kane in 1843 for his ‘Researches on the Nature and Constitution of the Compounds of Ammonia,’ published in the Academy's ‘Transactions,’ vol. xix.

Kane paid much attention to the development of industries in Ireland, and delivered a course of lectures on the subject in Dublin in 1843. In the next year he collected his materials in a volume, published in 1844, under the title of ‘Industrial Resources of Ireland.’ The work met with much success, and a second edition was published in 1845. Kane here directed attention to the various sources of wealth in the fuel, water-power, mines, agriculture, and manufactures of Ireland, and indicated the most economical modes of working them. On Kane's suggestion the Government established in 1846 the ‘Museum of Irish Industry’ at St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, of which he was appointed director. In 1845 Kane received the appointment of president of the Queen's College at Cork (opened in 1849), and passed some time on the continent in investigating methods of university education. He was knighted by the viceroy of Ireland, Lord Heytesbury, in 1846, and was a member of the commissions appointed in 1845 to inquire into the potato blight and the relief of Irish distress. In ‘The Large and Small Farm Question Considered,’ 1844, Kane urged the formation of small farms in Ireland. He was granted the honorary degree of LL.D. by the university of Dublin in 1868; was appointed a commissioner of national education in Ireland in 1873, when he resigned his post at Queen's College, Cork; and was elected president of the Royal Irish Academy in 1877. In 1880 he was made vice-chancellor of the newly created Royal University of Ireland. He died at Dublin on 16 Feb. 1890. A portrait of him by G. F. Mulvany has been lithographed. He married in 1838 Katherine, daughter of Henry Baily, esq., of Newbury, Berkshire, and left issue. His wife died 25 Feb. 1880.

Kane was a frequent contributor to scientific publications, including the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ Poggendorf's ‘Annalen,’ ‘Comptes rendus,’ Taylor's ‘Scientific Memoirs,’ the ‘Geological Journal,’ ‘The Chemist,’ ‘Silliman's Journal,’ ‘Reports’ of the British Association, and to ‘Transactions’ and ‘Proceedings’ both of the Royal Society, London, and of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.

[Personal information; Archives of the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Dublin Society; Philosophical Transactions; Proceedings of the Royal Society, London, 1890; Dublin University Mag. 1849; Burke's Knightage; Men of the Time, 1887.]

J. T. G.