Robert Mallet – Father of Seismology

Robert Mallet

Robert Mallet

Making a significant contribution to science and being recognised for it would be enough for most people, but not Robert Mallet who is also credited with creating new words that are in daily use.

Mallet was born on 3rd June 1810 in Ryder’s Row (off Capel Street), Dublin where his father, John, owned a foundry. After schooling in Great Dominick Street he entered Trinity College in 1826 where he studied Science and Engineering. He graduated in 1830 and went on a long tour of the Continent where he visited numerous foundries learning the latest techniques that he would use in Dublin. By the early 1830s, with the introduction of railways into Ireland, the foundry was busy and Mallet became a wealthy man. He had become a partner and the name J&R Mallet, Dublin appeared on their work all over the country. You can see them at the bottom of Trinity College railings on Nassau Street and on an iron, mooring bollard on the West Pier, Dun Laoghaire.

J & R Mallet, Dublin

J & R Mallet, Dublin

He was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832, and by the mid-1840s he was using his mechanical and engineering skills to investigate and interpret earthquakes. His work On the dynamics of Earthquakes was a breakthrough and was the beginning of the science of seismology. He, in fact, created the word in 1858 along with seismoscope and epicentre. He famously blew up Killiney Beach while testing his theories in late 1849! Assisted by his son, John, and some soldiers, explosions were set off and he recorded the time taken for the shock wave to travel through the ground.

Mooring bollard, West Pier

Mooring bollard, West Pier

In 1877 he was awarded the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society of London, its highest award, and he was also elected as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Sadly, his eyesight was affected by an unidentified disease in the early 1870s and he spent his last years virtually blind. He died on 6th November 1881 and is buried in West Norwood Cemetery.


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