Sir Robert J. Kane BA LLD MRIA FRS, President, Queen’s College Cork, 1845-1873
Sir Robert John Kane (1809-1890) was the first President of University College Cork, then Queen’s College Cork. A chemist of international renown he was appointed as President of Queen’s College Cork in the original Queen’s University Charter (1845).
Born in Dublin, Kane’s early scientific training was at his father’s chemical factory on Henry Street and he attended lectures at the Royal Dublin Society. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin (BA 1835, LLB and LLD, 1868). During his time as an undergraduate, he studied and worked at the Meath Hospital, qualifying as a medical doctor in 1843. Already in 1832, at the age of 23, he had founded the Dublin Journal of Medical and Chemical Science, which survives today as the Irish Journal of Medical Science. He published his first book, Elements of practical pharmacy in 1831, followed by a three-volume work Elements of Chemistry in 1841–1844, and a detailed report on the Industrial Resources of Ireland (1844). This included the first assessment of the water-power potential of the River Shannon, which was not realised until the 1920.
Kane had a succession of positions in Dublin at the Apothecaries’ Hall (1831), the Royal Dublin Society (1834-47), the Museum of Economic Geology (1847) (later Museum of Irish Industry from 1854 and Royal College of Science from 1867). He held the post of President of the Museum of Irish Industry and Queen’s College Cork at the same time.
He acquired an international reputation as a scientist and his description of the natural arsenide of manganese in 1828 resulted in a compound being named Kaneite in his honour. Kane was elected MRIA in November 1831 and received the Academy’s Cunningham Medal in 1843 for his work on compounds of ammonia. In 1849 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. His work was wide-ranging, from scientific enquiry to working as a government advisor on industrial and scientific matters. Kane’s prodigious work was recognised when he was knighted in 1846.
Kane’s career at Cork spanned twenty-eight years from the inception of the fledgling College to its consolidation as a key player in Irish education. During his lengthy presidency, the nascent College suffered from internal tensions as well as the unstable political and economic environment of nineteenth-century Ireland. Notwithstanding these problems, Kane brought his considerable prestige and abilities to bear on putting Queen's College Cork on as secure a footing as it was possible to achieve in difficult and sometimes hostile circumstances.
Following his retirement from Cork and the Royal College of Science in 1873, Kane took up the post of National Commissioner for Education and vice-chancellor of the Queen’s University in Ireland for its last two years. He was elected president of the Royal Irish Academy in 1877, holding the role until 1882. In 1880 he was appointed the first chancellor of the newly created Royal University of Ireland.
Kane married Katherine Sophia Baily (1811-86) in 1838, with whom he had ten children, of which seven survived infancy. The family resided at Cork between 1849 and 1852. Lady Kane, a botanist, before her marriage anonymously published The Irish flora: comprising the phaenogamous plants and ferns (Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 1833). ‘Conferva kaneana McCalla’ is named in her honour.
Sir Robert Kane died in Dublin in 1890 and is buried at Glasnevin cemetery. The inscription runs as follows:
"In loving memory of their parents Sir Robert Kane LLD. FRS. formerly President of Queen’s College Cork and of the Royal Irish Academy who died 16 February 1890 aged 80 years, and Katherine Sophia his wife daughter of Henry Baily of Newbury in the Co[unty]. of Berkshire who died 25 February 1886 aged 74 years. This monument has been erected by their children R.I.P."
An obituary was published in Nature. A detailed article about the life and work of Kane has been written by Dr T. S. Wheeler. The portrait of Sir Robert Kane is on display in the Aula Maxima, UCC.
Select bibliography of the publications of Sir Robert Kane
‘Analysis of yellow lead ore, or the native molybdate of lead’, Dublin Philosophical Journal, and Scientific Review, 2:6 (Nov 1826), 548-550
‘On the composition of the urine and blood in Diabetes Mellitus’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science 1 (Mar 1832), 15-24
‘Remarks on some properties of the hydracids’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science 1 (Jul 1832), 265-280
‘On the iodide of platinum and its saline combinations’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science 1 (Jul 1832), 304-313
‘Miscellaneous contributions to chemical science. 1. Composition of the blood in jaundice. 2. Theory of the others. 3. Action of iodides on hydriodic other. 4. Action of iodides ...’ Dublin Journal of Medical Science 2 (Jan 1833), 345-57
‘Note on the chemical action of the magneto-electric current’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science 2 (Jan 1833), 397
‘Remarks on the composition of the iodide of platinum’ Dublin Journal of Medical Science 3 (May 1833), 211-213
‘On the properties and composition of the compounds of chlorine with iodine’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science 3 (Jul 1833), 301-311
‘On some compounds formed by the action of Chloride of platinum and chloride of tin’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science 5 (Mar 1834), 1-8
‘On a series of combinations derived from pyroacetic spirit’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Science 18 (1839), 99-125
‘On the composition of certain essential oils’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Science 18 (1839), 135-148
‘Observations on the theoretical constitution of the others’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science 6 (Jan 1835), 361-371
‘Contributions to the history of pyroxylic spirit, and the derived combinations’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. 1 (1836-7), 1-2
‘On the composition of thebaine’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy , Ser. 1, 1 (1836-7), 12-13
‘Researches on the combinations derived from pyroacetic spirit’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. 1 (1836-7), 42-44, 58-59
‘On dumasine, a new fluid substance isomeric with camphor’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. 1 (1836-7), 61-63
‘On the composition of certain essential oils’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. 1 (1836-7), 83-86
‘On the sulphates and nitrates of mercury, particularly the basic salts formed by ammonia’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. 1 (1836-7), 154-157
‘On the theory of ammoniacal compounds’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. 1 (1836-7), 171-174
‘On the ammoniacal and other basic compounds of the copper and silver families’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. 1 (1836-7), 182-186
‘On the Theory of the Ethers’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. 1 (1836-7), 223-2
‘Substance formed by precipitating in the cold a solution of salalembroth by carbonate of potash, or by boiling white precipitate in a strong solution of sal-ammoniac’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. 1 (1836-7), 254
‘On the action of arseniuretted hydrogen on sulphate of copper, and on the manganese alum analysed by Dr. Apjohn’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, Vol. I (1836-7), 193-194
‘Observations on the present state of pharasey in Germany’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science 11 (Jul 1837), 358-365
‘On the production of audible sounds’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 2 (1840), 13-19
‘On the colouring matters of the Persian berries’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 2 (1842), 222-226
‘On the heat developed during the formation of the metallic compounds of chlorine, bromine, and iodine, With note by Robert Kane’, by Thomas Andrews, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 2 (1842), 292-293 and 400
‘Researches on the nature and constitution of the compounds of ammonia’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 19 (1843), 1-90
‘On the chemical composition of the plants of flax and hemp’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 2 (1843), 437-445
‘On the chemical composition of the different kinds of fuel found in Ireland’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 2 (1844), 526-539
‘Report of Proceedings during 1843, with special mention of members who died during the year’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 2 (1844), 549-557
‘On the composition of the essential oil of the Laurus Sassafras, and of certain compounds derived from it’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 3 (1847), 425-427
‘On maps illustrative of the value of land in Ireland, with special reference to Griffith's valuation. With observations by T. Oldham’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 4 (1848), 230-235
‘On the analysis of the waters of the streams from the Dublin mountains, with a view to illustrate the process of decomposition of the granite masses of those rocks, and the conversion ...’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 5 (1853), 349-350
‘On the nature and relative proportion of the alkalies occurring in the granite of the vicinity of Dublin. With note by Sir Robert Kane’, by James Apjohn, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 5 (1853), 379-383 and 418-421
‘On the relative quantities of potash and soda in the felspar of the Dublin and Wicklow granites. With notes by Sir R. Kane and Rev. S. Haughton’, by Rev. Joseph A. Galbraith, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 6 (1854), 134-144
‘Presentation of Cunningham Medal to Howard Grubb’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 2, 2 (1879-88), Polite Literature and Antiquities, (Appendix), 179-82
‘Address on the occasion of the presentation of the Cunningham medals to Aquila Smith, J. Casey, E. Dowden and G. J. Allman’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 2, 3 (1877-83), Science, (Appendix 2), 44-54
‘Address delivered in presenting Cunningham medals to R. S. Ball and W. Archer’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser.2, 3 (1877-83), Science, (Appendix 2), 114-19
Elements of practical pharmacy, Dublin: Hodges & Smith, 1831. Online at https://archive.org/details/b21521323
Elements of chemistry, theoretical and practical: including the most recent discoveries and applications of the science to medicine and pharmacy, to agriculture, and to manufactures, Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 1841. Second edition, 1849 – online at https://archive.org/details/elementsofchemis00kanerich/page/n5/mode/2up
The industrial resources of Ireland, Dublin: Hodges & Smith, 1844. Online at https://archive.org/details/industrialresou00kanegoog
The Queen’s University in Ireland, and the Queen’s Colleges; their progress and present state. An address delivered at the distribution of prizes in Queen’s College, Cork, on November 27th, 1856. Dublin: Hodges, Smith and Company, 1856. Online at https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/60232676
 A catalogue of graduates … in the University of Dublin (Dublin: Hodges, Smith & Foster, 1869), pp311 and 462. G. D. Burtchaell and T. U. Sadleir (eds), A register of the students, graduates, professors and provosts of Trinity College, University of Dublin between 1593 and 1860 (Dublin: A. Thom and Company, 1935), p.452.
 Patrick M. Geoghegan, 'Kane, Sir Robert John', Dictionary of Irish Biography. Kane may have become a licentiate in 1832 and a fellow of the 'King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland' in 1841, see 'Our portrait gallery. No. LIII Sir Robert Kane, M. D., Director of the Museum of Irish Industry, and President of Queen’s College, Cork' (with etching by C. Grey), Dublin University magazine 33 (May 1849), 626-637 (628-9).
 For the history of this journal, see https://www.rami.ie/irish-journal-medical-science/history/.
 R. J. Kane, 'On the Existence of Chlorine in the Native Peroxide of Manganese', Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature & Art 28 (1828): 381. See also, Charles Palache, Harry Berman and Clifford Frondel, The System of Mineralogy of James Dwight Dana and Edward Salisbury Dana Yale University 1837-1892, Volume I: Elements, Sulfides, Sulfosalts, Oxides (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1944), 7th edition, revised and enlarged, p.208.
 Sir William Rowan Hamilton, 'Dr. Kane's researches on the nature of ammonia for which he was awarded the Cunningham Medal', Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 2 (1843), 411-419
 John P. Cullinane, 'Katherine Sophia Baily (Lady Kane)’' UCC Record 46 (1971), 19.
 E. Charles Nelson, 'Katherine Sophia Baily (Lady Kane) and The Irish Flora (1833)', Archives of Natural History 46:1 (2019), 44-57.
 South Section (E), grave Jc / 69, 70 (section 13 on map of the cemetery).
 27 Feb 1890, pp398-9 [https://archive.org/details/paper-doi-10_1038_041398a0].
 T. S. Wheeler, 'Sir Robert Kane: life and work', Studies: an Irish quarterly review 33:130 (Jun 1844), 158-168; 33:131 (Sep 1944), 316-330.
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