Robert Ball (naturalist)

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Robert Ball
Born 1 April 1802
Queenstown, County Cork, Ireland
Died 30 March 1857(1857-03-30) (aged 54)
3 Granby Row, Dublin
Nationality Irish
Known for developing "Ball's dredge"

Robert Ball (1 April 1802 - 30 March 1857) was an Irish naturalist. He served as the Director of the Dublin University Museum, and developed a method of dredging known as "Ball's dredge."[1]


He was born at Queenstown, County Cork. He was the third child of Bob Stawell Ball, a customs official, and Mary Ball (neé Green). The Ball family lived in Youghal, County Cork. Robert had a brother, Bent, and two sisters Anne, a well-known phycologist, and Mary, an entomologist. He initially attended a school Clonakilty, before attending a Quaker school in Ballitore, County Kildare where his interest for natural history was developed. He returned to Youghal in 1824 to take up a post as a magistrate. He left Youghal for Dublin, and as he was unable to afford medical studies he worked for 20 years in the civil service, firstly as clerk in the Constabulary and Yeomanry Office, Dublin, and later assistant librarian and keeper of records at the same. Ball left the civil service in 1852 with a small pension, as it was deemed he spent too much of his time on scientific pursuits than was suitable for a public servant.[1]

Ball then became a Director of the Dublin University Museum in 1844. Later on that year he was appointed Director of the Museum in Trinity College.[2] In 1838, Ball developed a dredge net, also known today as "Ball's dredge," to collect marine organisms.

After a career in the civil service he became Director of the Dublin University Museum in 1844. He was a Member of the Royal Irish Academy and President of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland.

Dublin University conferred on him the degree of LL.D. He became Secretary of the newly founded Queen's University of Ireland in 1851, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society.[3] On March 30, 1857, Ball died as a result of a ruptured aorta at his home at 3 Granby Row, Dublin. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium, Dublin.[4][1]


On 21 September 1837 he married Amelia Gresley Hellicar who was from Bristol. The couple had four daughters and three sons: Astronomer Royal Sir Robert Stawell Ball, Valentine Ball (1843-1895) C.B., BA,MA, LL.D., F.R.S. a geologist and naturalist, Professor at Trinity College Dublin, and Sir Charles Bent Ball (1851–1916) BA, MB, M.Ch., FRCSI, a surgeon and botanist.[3][1]


On the museum
  • (1846) First Report on the Progress of the Dublin University Museum, January 1846. Dublin.
  • (1847) Second Report on the Progress of the Dublin University Museum, June 1847. Dublin.
  • (1848) The Dublin University Museum, December, 1848. Dublin.
  • (1853) Evidence. In Dublin University Commission, Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners appointed to inquire into the state, discipline, studies and revenues of the University of Dublin and Trinity College. Dublin. 153-169.
  • 1841. On a species of Loligo, found on the shore of Dublin Bay. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 1 (19). 362-364.
  • 1842 Notes of the acetabuliferous Cephalopoda of Ireland, including two species of Rossiae. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 2: 192-194.
Ball's Naturalist's dredge

Ball's dredge[edit]

About 1838 Robert Ball devised a dredge net to collect marine organisms. It was used all over the world, and was so apt for its purpose that it was little modified later. It is known as Ball's dredge or more generally simply "the dredge". Ball's dredge consists of a rectangular net attached to a rectangular frame much longer than high, and furnished with rods stretching from the four corners to meet at a point where they are attached to the dredge rope. It differed from the dredge net devised by Otto Friedrich Müller in the slit-like shape of the opening, which prevents much of the " washing out " suffered by the earlier pattern, and in the edges. The long edges only are fashioned as scrapers, being wider and heavier than Muller's, especially in later dredges. The short edges are of round iron bar.


  1. ^ a b c d Andrews, Helen. "Ball, Robert". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge University Press. 
  2. ^ "Robert Ball". Library Ireland. Retrieved 30 August 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Robert Ball LLD, FRS - Biography Botanic Gardens Dublin
  4. ^ "Obituary notice.—Dr. Robert Ball of Dublin". Annals and Magazine of Natural History. Series 2. 19 (113): 432. 1857. doi:10.1080/00222935708693963. Retrieved 19 January 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Jackson, P. N. W. 2009. Robert Ball (1802–1857): naturalist. Ir. Nat. J. 30: 15 - 18.

External links[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Ball, Robert". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.