Robert S. (Robert Stawell) Ball.

Reminiscences and letters of Sir Robert Ball online

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Zoological Gardens. It is manifest that his brilliant conversa-
tion did much to enhance the pleasure of those who attended
the Saturday morning breakfasts. My father had noted down
some recollections of the famous Doctor :

Various anecdotes concerning Dr. Haughton come into
my mind. He was a man of great versatility. He was not
only a Doctor of Laws and a Doctor of Divinity, but a Doctor
of Medicine, too. As a medical man, however, his activities
were not confined to ministering to his fellow-mortals. On
one occasion when a tiger at the Zoo was indisposed Haughton
volunteered to act as veterinary surgeon. The great beast
it was one of the largest in the Gardens was suffering agony
from an ingrowing claw. Dr. Haughton decided that the claw
must be removed. He immediately set to work to devise a
tackle by which the tiger could be kept quiet. Various keepers
were summoned to hold ropes which by some means or other
were attached to various parts of the tiger's anatomy. It was
the duty of the head-keeper to draw the limb upon which the
operation was to be performed, towards the door of the cage,
at which Dr. Haughton, armed with a formidable pincers, stood
in readiness. The door of the cage having been slightly raised,
the pincers were applied, when the animal sprang at Haughton
with a roar which could be heard all over the Gardens if not
the Phoenix Park. None of the keepers had ever heard a tiger
roar in earnest before, and the result was they all fairly let
go their hold of the rope and bolted from the building. Fortu-
nately, the door of the cage fell down when the tiger sprang,
and the man with the pincers came to no harm. Nor was he
in any way daunted by the incident. Walking slowly to the
end of the lion house, he summoned the frightened keepers.


The Dublin Zoo

Having enticed them into the building-, he locked both doors,
and said he would not open them until the operation was per-
formed. A second attempt was successful ; and Haughton
averred that the tiger whose pain he had eased always knew
and loved him thenceforward !

Dr. Haughton's ministrations to a sick lion were recorded
in verse by my old friend and kinsman, His Honour Judge
Sir Thomas Snagge. It was written in 1864 :



(Vide Official Report of Superintendent, Saunders' Newsletter,
February i8th, 1864)


" Alas ! Another heavy blow
Has added to the weight of woe
Already pressing on the Zo-
ological Society,
ological Society.


'Tis only one short week ago

(A fever 'twas that laid him low)

Death took the Lion of the Zo-
ological Society,
-ological Society.


The keeper found him very low,
And sent a messenger for Pro-
fessor Haughton of the Zo-
ological Society,
-ological Society.


The Doctor came with Foot not slow;

He found his patient but so-so,

And told the Council of the Zo-
ological Society,
-ological Society.


He wrote a grand prescription, though,

' R. Kinahan's Spir: oz. duo

Aquce oz. sex. sumat leo.'

S. H., Physician to the Zo-
ological Society,
-ological Society.


Reminiscences of Sir Robert Ball


They tried to make him drink, but no

Tee-totaller was ever so

Staunch as the Lion of the Zo-
ological Society,
ological Society.


In vain they sought to urge the no-
-ble beast. That ' tumbler ' was no ' go.'
He thought that whiskey-punch was ' low '
For him, tfie Lion of the Zo-
ological Society,
-ological Society.


They watched his every dying throe ;

They rubbed him down from top to toe.

So died the Lion of the Zo-
ological Society,
-ological Society.


Some said it was the frost and snow;

Others declared they didn't know;

But all agreed that, high or low,

Than this there ne'er was finer show

This feast of reason and this flow

Of whiskey-punch so promptly pro-

-vided by order of the Zo-
ological Society,
ological Society."

Among the stories with which Dr. Haughton used to
enliven the Saturday morning breakfasts, I now set down one
which, told as it was in his inimitable style, afforded us no
little entertainment. It appears that the Prince of Mantua and
Montferrat * had kept up a custom which had been instituted
by his ancestors many centuries ago of awarding gold medals
to men of exceptional eminence in science, literature, or

It was even said that Christopher Columbus had been a
recipient of this distinction; but I think we may brush aside

* For an account of this extraordinary man the reader is referred to an article
entitled "A London Munchausen," by C. C. Osborne, in the Cornhill Magazine for
September, 1912. His name and rank as officially registered were Charles de
Bourbon d'Este Paleologues Gonzaga, Prince of Mantua and Montferrat. He died
at the age of 54, on January i7th, 1894.


The Dublin Zoo

the statement that Julius Caesar and Charlemagne and
Copernicus had also been gold medallists ! In pious fulfilment
of this splendid tradition of his illustrious house, the Prince
searched the world for persons of the eminence suitable to
receive the award of his gold medal. In the course of his
survey he at length reached Ireland, and finding that no son
of Erin had hitherto been made a gold medallist, he deter-
mined that he would award the distinction to two great Irish-
men of the period.

He consulted Trinity College and the Royal Irish
Academy. The authorities of the former, with the complete
approval of the University, selected Dr. Haughton. The Royal
Irish Academy not unnaturally nominated its President for the
time being. This was Sir Samuel Ferguson, one of the most
distinguished literary men in Ireland. Sir Samuel became
first known to wide fame as the author of "Father Tom and
the Pope" (Blackwood's Magazine, May, 1831). Perhaps the
poem by which he is most widely known is "The Forging of
the Anchor." The work of his life largely lay in the direction
of antiquarian investigation and the study of Irish literature.
He had also been associated with Bishop Graves in his valuable
investigation as to the origin of Ogham Stones.

It thus came about that the two Irish savants who were
destined for the honour contemplated by the Prince of Mantua
were the Rev. Samuel Haughton and Sir Samuel Ferguson.

In due time the medals arrived in Dublin by special mes-
senger, and were afterwards solemnly awarded to the distin-
guished men destined to receive them. The spirit in which
the medals were received by the two recipients deserves careful
analysis. Sir S. Ferguson, notwithstanding that he had re-
ceived the blue ribbon of recognition for his literary work by
election to the presidency of the Academy, was modestly
pleased. The award was doubly welcome, coming as it did
not only from the home of learning, but from Italy, with
which country one of his earliest literary achievements had
been associated. He therefore received the medal with the
keenest appreciation, and gladly accepted the congratulations
of his many friends, the more intimate of whom were privi-
leged to see the famous gold medal. But these were not
the methods of Dr. Haughton ! Usually when a man receives
a gold medal he deposits the prized article in his safe or lodges


Reminiscences of Sir Robert Ball

it in his bank. But I venture to say that the procedure adopted
by Dr. Haughton was unparalleled in the history of similar
awards. When the medal was placed in his hands he neither
opened his safe nor did he go to his banker. He carried the
gold medal off to the chemical laboratory, and there he tested
its specific gravity, with a very disconcerting result. The gold
was not gold at all !

At this stage he reported the circumstances to us at the
Saturday breakfast. As friends both of Ferguson and
Haughton, we all besought him not to undeceive his co-
recipient. We all knew how delighted Ferguson had been,
and how keen would be his mortification when he found that
his new decoration was made of base metal.

Dr. Haughton was an eminently kind-hearted man. I
remember on one occasion when a well-known Dublin citizen
had been bitten by a monkey in the monkey-house, with which
he was incautiously playing, Dr. Haughton drove out to the
Gardens the day after to inquire for the monkey! So we had
hopes that Ferguson would have been spared the disclosure
of the laboratory. But we were unfortunately too late. Fergu-
son had alread'y learned the specific gravity of the alleged
gold medal, for Haughton said that, as his co-medallist was an
old and valued friend of his, he could not allow him to be
imposed upon ; and so, actuated by the highest sense of moral
duty, Haughton had disclosed the distressing facts. Ferguson
accordingly wrote a letter to the Prince of Mantua to the effect
that it was the good intention of the Prince which he so highly
appreciated, and not the intrinsic value of the medal, and that he
felt quite sure that His Highness intended to send a genuine
gold medal, but that some of those who were employed to carry
out his wishes had not faithfully discharged the duty entrusted
to them, and that if His Highness could assure him that his
intention was to give a genuine gold medal, he (Ferguson)
would prize this medal just as much as if the laboratory test
had been in all respects favourable. Whereas, if His Highness
could not give this assurance, he would have to take the painful
step of returning the medal. No reply was received, and Sir
Samuel's medal was duly returned.

In his young days Dr. Haughton, in partnership with his
intimate friend, the Rev. Joseph Galbraith, established a class
to prepare young university men for entrance into the army

The Dublin Zoo

through Woolwich. The Woolwich class was very success-
ful, and the heads of the University gave it every encourage-
ment. Dr. Haughton was an excellent " grinder," or, to use
the English equivalent of the word, " coach." He used in later
years, especially at the Zoo breakfasts, to boast of the successes
he achieved in the Woolwich classes; and he used to expound
the principles on which successful coaching was based. In
illustration of this he told us how, just after a list of Woolwich
successes had been published, he met the Provost I think it
was Dr. MacDonnell who congratulated him on having
secured the first two places in the list for Dublin men. But
the reverend professor disclaimed the praise of which the
Provost was inclined to be so lavish. "No! No! " said he.
"We deserve no credit for having passed the first two men.
They were clever fellows. It was their own brains and industry
that secured their success. Their teachers deserve none of
the credit. But look, Mr. Provost, at the last two men on the
list, and then you will understand what consummate grinding
means ! They were stupid fellows, who ought never to have
got in ; but Galbraith and I set ourselves the problem of * load-
ing up ' those two men with information so adroitly chosen
and so skilfully implanted as to bid defiance to the most astute
of examiners. We have succeeded, as you see; and that, Mr.
Provost, is what we mean by true ' grinding ' ! Any credit to
which the grinders are entitled on this occasion is to be solely
associated with the two last names on the list." In later years
Dr. Haughton described the subsequent career of the four
candidates. The two clever men who headed the list romped
through the Academy into the Royal Engineers. The other
two, after repeated attempts, were unsuccessful, and, to use
Dr. Haughton 's own expression, they swam round and round
Woolwich like goldfish in a bowl. This simile was obviously
suggested by the aquarium in the Zoological Gardens ! At
last, in despair, the Woolwich authorities wrote to Dr.
Haughton to complain of the hopelessness of the situation, and
to suggest that as it was he who ground them into Woolwich
a fact of which he made no secret whatever he should come
over and "grind " them out ! It is hardly necessary to say that
this solution was impossible. By strenuous exertion one of
them was forced through the examinations and obtained his
commission, while the other had to withdraw from the Academy.


Reminiscences of Sir Robert Ball

According to Dr. Haughton he entered the profession which
he himself so greatly adorned, and ultimately became a rural
dean !

I have alluded in the last few words in the preceding
anecdote to the fact that Dr. Haughton was a divine. I never
had the good fortune to hear one of his pulpit deliverances.
They were very infrequent. In the course of a famous sermon
which he preached in the University Church at Cambridge he
said, quoting a French writer, that the whole history of life
on this earth might be summed up in the conjugation of two
tenses of a certain verb one in the active and one in the
passive :

I eat, thou eatest, he eats.
We eat, you eat, they eat.

With the terrible converse of :

I am eaten, thou art eaten, he is eaten.
We are eaten, you are eaten, they are eaten.

This I have taken from the account printed in Cambridge
of this remarkable discourse.

But perhaps the most characteristic of his pulpit utter-
ances was a charity sermon which he preached in aid of Sir
Patrick Dun's Hospital in Dublin. It is necessary to explain
that the scientific world of Dublin was at that time arrayed in
two hostile camps over a point of interest to geologists. The
question was whether the stone found in the great quarry at
Finglas, near Dublin, was or was not that particular limestone
which is called Calp limestone. Some said it was ; others said
it was not. In this, as in any other geological question, Dr.
Haughton, who was Professor of Geology in the University,
naturally took a keen interest. When he stood up to preach
the sermon he saw in the congregation the late Sir Richard
Griffith, who is probably best known to the public by his survey
of Ireland which led to "Griffith's Valuation." He was also
a diligent geologist, and, as it happened, one of the leading
protagonists in the Calp view of the Finglas quarries.

With a view to the offertory, Dr. Haughton proceeded,
to use his own expression, "to throw a fly " over Sir R. Griffith.
He introduced a little story. He described how a quarryman
had recently been brought into the hospital, having sustained a
terrible injury to his head by a fall to the floor of the quarry.


The Dublin Zoo

"What," said the preacher, "caused this fractured skull?
It was, of course, his fall on the stone at the bottom. But
what was the stone? Was it ordinary limestone? No, my
friends, it was Oalp limestone! " When the collection came to
be examined, the sidesman noticed a phenomenon not at all
usual in ordinary charity collections. This was a crisp five-
pound note in the plate. The explanation of its presence was
given to Dr. Haughton by a gentleman who was in the pew
with Sir R. Griffith. It appears that Sir Richard, in the first
instance, had provided himself with a coin of small denomina-
tion, but that when the geologist heard the preacher aver that
the poor quarryman had been smashed up by Gulp limestone
he took out his pocket-book, and from this well-lined receptacle
he extracted a "fiver," putting it into the plate with the ex-
planatory remark to his friend, "That it was as gratifying as
it was unusual to find scientific accuracy in the pulpit ! "

The death of Dr. Haughton came as a severe blow. My
father wrote to a friend on November yth, 1897 :

"Alas! poor Haughton! My thoughts have been much with
him the past week. I do hope that someone will do him justice
in an obituary. The notices I have seen in the papers appear to
me wholly unworthy and inadequate. For there was a grand note
about the man, independently of his genius, which was great,
and his wit, by which he was best known. The real note of the
man was unselfishness. He struggled hard for his ends, and
his ends were always to promote some cause which was worthy, or
which, at all events, he thought to be worthy, and he never did a
selfish thing or had a selfish thought in all his endeavours. He
had a touch of sentiment, too, and exquisite sympathy with
suffering of every kind."




IN July, 1890, Sir Robert Ball visited Norway under the aus-
pices of the Vesey Club, of Birmingham, of which he was
then President. My mother and my eldest sister (now Mrs.
Meakin) accompanied him on this occasion. The two Vice-
Presidents of the club, Professor C. Lapworth, LL.D., F.R.S.,
F.G.S., and Sir Benjamin Stone, F.L.S., F.G.S., were also
of the party. He often spoke of the pleasurable experiences
of this expedition, which was rendered particularly attractive
by the presence of Mr. Lapworth, whom he always regarded
as a prince among geologists. The following letter from Mr.
Lapworth (September 28th, 1901) gives some indication of
the kind of discussion in which the geologist and the
astronomer were wont to take part :

"I am now back from wandering over the land and among old
friends, from Cape Wrath almost to Birmingham. Your letter
has followed me faithfully here.

" The description of the conglomerates of Norway which you
give in the proofs enclosed is quite correct. But what is new
to me is the occurrence of such conglomerates in the Romsdal. I
know them well in the Kongevold-Doorefield ground. They also
occur in the Bergen Waston country and elsewhere. But the
two main points dwelt upon in your proof, namely, their occur-
rence in the Romsdal and their employment as roofing slates in
Vossevangen, are both novel to me. At all events, I do not
recall these two things, and I thought that I had a very tough
memory as regards rocks and their places.

" In the Romsdal region there are magnificent augen gneisses
and the like, which have all the outward aspect of pressed con-
glomerates, but they are quite distinct from conglomerates as re-
gards origin. The conglomerates are sedimentary ; these augen
gneisses are igneous: the former superficial stuff (sub-aerial) sent
down into earth crust from above and squashed ; the latter infra-
crustal subterranean stuff risen up from below into the earth crust
and deformed there. The lenticular form of the lenticles in both


Visits to Norway

is due to pressure and forced flowage ; but the direction of meta-
morphism in the one is, so to speak, diametrically opposite to
that in the other. The crushed conglomerates are blocks assorted
by the mechanical action of water lying in a paste of similar
material more mechanically disintegrated and worn by water
action. All is deposited material. The lenticular forms are
subsequent deformed shapes due to pressure. The augen gneisses
on the other hand are due to subterranean struggles, when the
consolidating or melting (or potentially melting) material is
undergoing excessive strain mighty pressure and perhaps solid
flowage. The ' eyes ' are not pebbles (and are therefore not older,
so to speak, than the rest of the rock). They are, it is true, of
the same lenticular shape as the squashed pebbles because the
surfaces are the same under the same condition of depth and
pressure, and probably could not be otherwise.

" But the conglomerates are formed of pebbles set in a paste
of smaller pebbles down to microscopic or dust-like pebbles, and
are relics of the stuff of which all the rock and rock paste is
made up. The augen are usually the acidic segregation from
the enveloping rich paste and derived at its expense.

" The two things are so similar that they are repeatedly mis-
taken for each other, and are sometimes impossible to distin-
guish. But they are homomorphous and not homogenetic.

"Please remember that I do not deny for one moment that
crushed conglomerates and slate conglomerates may occur both
in the Romsdal and the Vossevangen country. Indeed, they are
exceedingly likely to occur on the Vossevangen ground. But I
have no recollection of seeing any in Romsdal. They are abun-
dant in other regions, however, and your description of them is
perfectly correct. The Romsdal rock I remember were augen
gneisses and the like, and it would never do to claim these as
conglomerates, from which they must be most carefully kept

" I may, of course, be wrong ; but in these days of dynamic
metamorphism there is need for extreme caution, and it is best to
make no reference to these two localities but to speak in generali-
ties alone.

" I have cut the unsafe bits out of the proof. The rest is all

" Very many thanks for all the good things you say anent the
Monday trip. Your partnership with myself on the journey from
Trondhjem to Odde gave me, as you know, the keenest pleasure
at the time, and I look back to it as one of the most delightful
times I had in my life."

In 1896 he paid another visit to Norway. It was known
that in August of that year the sun would be totally eclipsed,


Reminiscences of Sir Robert Ball

but the only place within comparatively easy reach of England
at which the phenomenon could be observed, was in the north
of Norway. An official party of observers, arranged by a joint
committee of the Royal Society and of the Astronomical
Society, sailed on the s.s. Norse King to observe this interest-
ing event. My father, accompanied by his brother, now Sir
Charles Ball, Bart., and other members of his family, including
myself, gladly took the opportunity of seeing what he so
often described on the public platform as a spectacle of surpass-
ing beauty. So far as the main object of the expedition was
concerned, it ended in failure, but the occasion was nevertheless
full of interest to the Lowndean Professor, as will be gathered
from his own account of it * :

"We sailed from Tilbury on the afternoon of July 25th on
the Norse King, a steamer of 3,000 tons. The arrangements
for the trip were made by Messrs. Gaze, and there were
164 passengers on board.

"Chief among the party were the President of the Royal
Astronomical Society, Dr. A. A. Common, F.R.S., who was
at the head of that branch of the Government Eclipse Expe-
dition which established itself on the north side of the Varanger
Fjord, and Professor J. N. Lockyer, F.R.S., on board H.M.S.
Volage, with the other branch of the Government expedition,
who had secured a station on the opposite side of the fjord.

"The staff under Dr. Common's command consisted of
Major Macmahon, R.A., Mr. A. R. Hinks, Mr. W. H.
Wesley, Mr. J. Jepson Atkinson, Mr. T. A. Common, Pro-
fessor K. D. Naegamvala, and Miss Klumpke. Dr. Common
also had the energetic aid of his skilful mechanical assistant,
Mr. A. J. Wooldridge. Many volunteers among the pas-
sengers gladly rendered them occasional help.

"In addition to what may be described as the official branch
of eclipse observers there was a large number of astronomers
on the Norse King, among the party organised by Mr. E. W.
Maunder, then President of the British Astronomical Associa-
tion, and Dr. Downing, the superintendent of the Nautical
Almanack. The energetic observers of this party brought with
them over thirty instruments of different types, in the hope
of effecting a solution of the various problems which a total

* This was published in the Times, August igth, 1896, and is here reproduced
by kind permission.


Visits to Norway

eclipse presents. Among the other astronomers on board may
be mentioned Dr. Isaac Roberts, F.R.S., the distinguished
photographer of celestial objects. Many ladies interested in
science were also to be found in the party.

"Our passage across the North Sea was not accomplished
without bodily discomfort for many passengers, including not
a few of the astronomers. The welcome shelter of the fjords
was, however, duly reached, and then the rest of the voyage
to Vadso was delightful. Outlying islands generally bounded
channels of smooth water. Through these we glided under
skilful pilotage, fully enjoying the magnificent scenery. With
only brief delays, the ship moved rapidly northwards, and
even when we had to traverse occasional intervals of open sea,
we were fortunate enough to find gracious weather awaiting us.

"The voyage to the North Cape is so well known that
there is little to be said on the matter. The gradual lengthen-
ing of the day and the gradual vanishing of the night is always
an interesting experience. The changes in the character of the
scenery as the Arctic Circle was reached and passed were speci-
ally noticed. Though the spectacle of mighty snowfields, of
glaciers which creep down towards the sea-level, and of vast tracts
of bare and barren rocks testified to the inhospitable latitudes we

Online LibraryRobert S. (Robert Stawell) BallReminiscences and letters of Sir Robert Ball → online text (page 30 of 41)