Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Townsend, Richard (1821-1884)

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TOWNSEND, RICHARD (1821–1884), mathematician, born at Baltimore, co. Cork, on 3 April 1821, was the eldest son of Thomas Townsend (d. 1848) of Smithville, a commodore in the royal navy, by his wife Helena, daughter of John Freke of Baltimore, deputy governor of co. Cork. Richard was educated at local schools at Castletownsend and Skibbereen. He proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin, in October 1837, graduating B.A. in 1842 and M.A. in 1852. Distinguishing himself in mathematics, he was elected a fellow in May 1845, and in October 1847 he succeeded to a college tutorship. On 7 June 1866 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and on 25 June 1870 he was appointed professor of natural philosophy at Dublin, after acting as assistant from October 1862. Between 1863 and 1865 he published ‘Chapters on the Modern Geometry of the Point, Line, and Circle’ (Dublin, 8vo), which contained the substance of lectures given by him in Dublin University, and was a treatise of great importance in the history of pure geometry. While Townsend ranked among the most distinguished mathematicians of his day, his most valuable work was probably accomplished as a teacher, a capacity in which he was unrivalled. To him is owing no small part of the modern mathematical reputation of Trinity College. He showed singular kindness to his pupils, and ‘counted thousands of personal friends throughout the world who had passed officially through his hands.’ After the disestablishment of the Irish church, by an appeal to former students he raised about 2,500l. to endow his native parish.

Townsend died on 16 Oct. 1884 at his house, 54 Upper Leeson Street, Dublin, and was buried at Mount Jerome cemetery. He married his first cousin, Mary Jane Barret, who died on 28 Aug. 1881. He left no issue. A mathematical exhibition was founded in his memory at Trinity College, Dublin.

Besides his book on geometry, he wrote numerous mathematical articles to the ‘Cambridge and Dublin Mathematical Journal.’

[Richard and Dorothea Townshend's Account of Richard Townesend, 1892, p. 218; Athenæum, 1884, ii. 532; Irish Times, 21 Oct. 1884; Times, 18 Oct. 1884; Biograph, 1881, vi. 164–7; Calendar of Dublin University; Catalogue of Graduates of Dublin University.]

E. I. C.