Hugh Hamilton (bishop)

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Hugh Hamilton
Hugh Hamilton.JPG
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1790
Born(1729-03-26)26 March 1729
Died1 December 1805(1805-12-01) (aged 76)
Known forProfessor of natural philosophy, Anglican bishop

Hugh Hamilton FRS (26 March 1729 – 1 December 1805) was a mathematician, natural philosopher (scientist) and professor at Trinity College Dublin, and later a Church of Ireland bishop, Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh, and then Bishop of Ossory.


He was born at Knock, near Balrothery in County Dublin (now Fingal), on 26 March 1729, the eldest son of Alexander (died 1768)[1][2] and Isabella Hamilton.[3] His father was a solicitor and politician who represented the Killyleagh constituency in the Irish House of Commons from 1739 to 1759.[4] Alexander's great-grandfather Hugh Hamilton migrated from Scotland to County Down in the early 17th century. The Scottish architect James Hamilton of Finnart was an ancestor.[3] Isabella Hamilton was born Isabella Maxwell, the daughter of Robert Maxwell of Finnebrogue, Downpatrick.[4] Hugh's siblings included George Hamilton, Baron of the Court of Exchequer (Ireland) and Charles, father of the wealthy Canadian lumber merchant and politician George Hamilton.

Hamilton entered Trinity College Dublin on 17 November 1742 at the age of 13 with Thomas McDonnell as tutor. He graduated Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1747 and Trinity Master of Arts (MA Dubl) in 1750.[3] He took the competitive examination for a vacant fellowship of the college in 1750, but the position was secured instead by his friend Richard Murray, who was a few years older. Two fellowships became vacant the following year and Hamilton was elected to one of them at the age of 22.[5] He was appointed Erasmus Smith's Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin in 1759[6] and that same year graduated Bachelor of Divinity (BD).[3] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 19 February 1761[7] and graduated Doctor of Divinity (DD) in 1762.[3]

Trinity College presented him to the rectory of Kilmacrenan in the diocese of Raphoe, County Donegal, in 1764. This was a small living in the gift of the College, for which he resigned his fellowship. He retained the Erasmus Smith's chair however,[5] being succeeded in that by Thomas Wilson in 1769.[8] He resigned from Kilmacrenan in 1767 and become vicar of St. Anne's in Dublin.

He then became Dean of Armagh, the chief resident cleric of St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, from April 1768 to 1796.[3] Finding the existing dean's house inconvenient and poorly situated, he had a new one built in a better location[5] just off Portadown Road, now known as Dean's Hill. The house, of three stories and a semi-basement,[9] was built in 1772–74.[10] The house was later sold by the church and the present owners provide bed and breakfast accommodation in it.[9] While dean he also acted as treasurer for the infirmary or county hospital, he established Sunday schools in the districts of the parish, and he founded a charitable loan for poor tradesmen. He was also instrumental in planning for a piped water supply for the town, which was later put into effect.[5] Hamilton was one of the 38 original members of the Royal Irish Academy when it was founded in 1785.[11] Gilbert Stuart painted his portrait in about 1790.[12]

He was promoted to Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh on 20 January 1796, without seeking it.[13] On 24 January 1799 he was translated to Ossory,[14] where he was bishop until 1805.[15] He died at Kilkenny on 1 December 1805.[16] He was buried in the graveyard of St Canice's Cathedral at Kilkenny, and there is a memorial to him inside the cathedral.


Hamilton wrote a mathematical treatise on conic sections called De Sectionibus Conicis: Tractatus Geometricus, published in 1758.[3] In this book he "was the first to deduce the properties of the conic section from the properties of the cone, by demonstrations which were general, unencumbered by lemmas, and proceeding in a more natural and perspicuous order", according to writer James Wills in 1847.[13] The work was acclaimed for its lucidity and Leonhard Euler described it as a perfect book.[17] It was "soon adopted in all the British universities"[13] and was translated from Latin into English as A Geometrical Treatise of the Conic Sections in 1773.

He also wrote Philosophical Essays on Vapours (1767), Four Introductory Lectures on Natural Philosophy (1774), and An Essay on the Existence and Attributes of the Supreme Being (1784). His principal works were collected and republished, with a memoir, as The Works of the Right Rev. Hugh Hamilton by his eldest son, Alexander Hamilton, in two volumes in 1809.[3]


Hamilton married Isabella, daughter of Hans Widman Wood of Rosmead, County Westmeath, in 1772. Isabella's mother Frances was the twin sister of Edward King, 1st Earl of Kingston. Hugh and Isabella had five sons and two daughters. They were Alexander, who was a barrister; Frances; Hans; Isabella; Henry; George, who was a biblical scholar;[18][19] and Hugh,[20] who married Elizabeth Staples, a daughter of John Staples, a Member of Parliament. The younger Hugh was the great-grandfather of Clive Staples Lewis, better known as C. S. Lewis.[21] Bishop Hugh Hamilton was a great-great-great-grand-father of the mathematicians John Lighton Synge and his brother Edward Hutchinson Synge.[22]


  1. ^ Rayment, Leigh. "Irish House of Commons 1692–1800". Leigh Rayment's Peerage Page. Archived from the original on 1 June 2009. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  2. ^ Burke's Irish Family Records (103 ed.). p. 546.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Blacker, B. H. (revised Carter, Philip) (2004). "Hamilton, Hugh (1729–1805)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/12076. Retrieved 10 December 2011.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b Hamilton, George (1933). A History of the House of Hamilton. Edinburgh: J. Skinner & Co. p. 959.
  5. ^ a b c d Hamilton, Alexander (1809). "Life of the late Lord Bishop of Ossory". In Hamilton, Alexander (ed.). The Works of the Right Rev. Hugh Hamilton, D.D., Late Bishop of Ossory. I. p. viii–xv. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  6. ^ Erasmus Smith's professors of Mathematics Mathematics at TCD 1592–1992
  7. ^ "List of Fellows of the Royal Society 1660 - 2007" (PDF). The Royal Society. July 2007. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  8. ^ Spearman, T.D. (1992). "400 years of mathematics: The eighteenth century". Trinity College Dublin. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  9. ^ a b Kingsley, Nick (20 September 2015). "Armstrong and Wright-Armstrong of Armagh and Killylea". Landed Families of Britain and Ireland. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  10. ^ Bence-Jones, Mark (1978). Burke's Guide to Country Houses. 1. Ireland. London: Burke's Peerage. p. 100. ISBN 0850110262.
  11. ^ Carlisle, Nicholas (1813). An Index to The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. pp. 96–97.
  12. ^ "Hugh Hamilton, Dean of Armagh, (painting)". Art Inventories Catalog. Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  13. ^ a b c Wills, James (c. 1847). A History of Ireland in the Lives of Irishmen. London: Fullarton. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  14. ^ Handbook of British Chronology By Fryde, E. B; Greenway, D.E; Porter, S; Roy, I: Cambridge, CUP, 1996 ISBN 0-521-56350-X, 9780521563505
  15. ^ "The Silver Bowl: 1801 August 17". Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  16. ^ "Hugh Hamilton, Bishop of Ossory". Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  17. ^ Florides, Petros S. (2003). "John Synge 1897–1995". In McCartney, Mark; Whitaker, Andrew (eds.). Physicists of Ireland: Passion and Precision. Institute of Physics Pub. p. 210.
  18. ^ Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1890). "Hamilton, George (1783-1830)" . Dictionary of National Biography. 24. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  19. ^ The Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland: The peerage of Ireland. W. Owen [and 2 others]. 1790. p. 136.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  20. ^ Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1890). "Hamilton, Hugh (1729-1805)" . Dictionary of National Biography. 24. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  21. ^ The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis. Vol. I, pg. 996. Ed. Walter Hooper.
  22. ^ John Lighton Synge by Petros S. Florides, School of Mathematics, Trinity College Dublin
Church of Ireland titles
Preceded by
Charles Brodrick
Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh
Succeeded by
Matthew Young
Preceded by
Thomas O'Beirne
Bishop of Ossory
Succeeded by
John Kearney