Jones, John Viriamu (DNB12)

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JONES, JOHN VIRIAMU (1856–1901), physicist, born at Pentrepoeth near Swansea on 2 Jan. 1856. was second son of Thomas Jones (1819-1882) [q.v.]. His elder brother, Sir David Brynmor Jones, K.C, has been M.P. for Swansea district since 1895. John was named after John Williams, missionary of Erromango [q. v.], 'Viriamu' being the pronunciation of 'Williams' by South Sea natives. He was educated successively at a private school at Reading, at University College School, London, at the Normal College, Swansea, at University College, London, and finally at Balliol College, Oxford (1876-81). He had a distinguished university career. At London he was first in honours at matriculation, graduated B.Sc. with honours, and became university scholar in geology, being elected fellow of University College. At Balliol, where he matriculated on 24 Jan. 1876 and was the centre of a circle of singularly able undergraduates, he was elected Brackenbury scholar in natural science in 1876, and won a first class in mathematical moderations in 1877, and a first class in the final schools of mathematics in 1879 and of natural science in 1880. He graduated B.A. in 1879, and proceeded M.A. in 1883. In May 1881 he was appointed principal of Firth College (now University College), Sheffield, acting as professor of physics and mathematics. In June 1883 he was selected as the first principal of the University College of South Wales at Cardiff, and in a few years collected the sum of 70,000l. for building, obtaining a grant of the site from the corporation. From that time much of his energy was devoted to the movement for creating a national university of Wales, and when the charter was granted in 1893 he became the first vice-chancellor of the new Welsh University. In this capacity he had a preponderating influence in determining the course of studies in the arts and sciences, and in giving the new university's degrees a standard value.

His position in the scientific world was one of high promise and of substantial achievement. His researches were mainly directed towards the precise determination of electrical and physical standards, and to the construction of measuring instruments which should satisfy the utmost demands of engineering theory. His first paper appeared in the 'Proceedings of the Physical Society' in 1888 and treated of the mutual induction of a circle and of a coaxial helix; in 1890 he published in the 'Electrician' a determination of the ohm by the use of a Lorenz apparatus. From this time forward a series of more and more accurate determinations of this constant occupied his leisure. He was elected F.R.S. in 1894, and in 1897 he laid before the Royal Society a simplification and more general solution of the problem attacked in his first paper. In 1898 a description was given of a new ampere balance, which he did not live to see constructed. Jones's sympathies were wide and his personality attractive. He was an expert mountaineer and was a member of the Alpine Club from 1887 till death. He died at Geneva on 2 June 1901 and was buried at Swansea. A statue by Sir William Goscombe John, R. A., stands in front of the college at Cardiff. The Physical Research Laboratory at the new college buildings in Cathays Park, Cardiff, was erected in his memory. He married in 1882 Sarah Katherine, eldest daughter of W. Wills of Wylde Green, near Birmingham. She survived him without issue, and was granted in 1902 a civil list pension of 75l. a year.

[John Viriamu Jones and other Memories, by Prof. E. B. Poulton (with portrait), 1910; The Times, 4 June 1901; Nature, 13 June 1901; Alpine Journal, Feb. 1902.]

R. S.