Sir Richard Griffith, 1st Baronet bigraphy, stories - Geologists

Sir Richard Griffith, 1st Baronet : biography

20 September 1784 - 22 September 1878

Sir Richard John Griffith Bt. FRS (20 September 1784 – 22 September 1878), was an Irish geologist, mining engineer and chairman of the Board of Works of Ireland, who completed the first complete geological map of Ireland and was author of the valuation of Ireland - known ever since as Griffith's Valuation.


Griffith was born in Hume Street, Dublin, Ireland. In 1799 he obtained a commission in the Royal Irish Artillery, but a year later, when the corps was incorporated with that of England, he retired, and devoted his attention to civil engineering and mining. He studied chemistry, mineralogy and mining for two years in London under William Nicholson, and afterwards examined the mining districts in various parts of England, Wales and Scotland.

While in Cornwall he discovered ores of nickel and cobalt in material that had been rejected as worthless. He completed his studies under Robert Jameson and others at Edinburgh, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1807, a member of the newly established Geological Society of London in 1808, and in the same year he returned to Ireland.

In 1809, he was appointed by the commissioners to inquire into the nature and extent of the bogs in Ireland, and the means of improving them. In 1812 he was elected Professor of Geology and Mining Engineer to the Royal Dublin Society. Shortly afterwards he expressed his intention of preparing a geological map of Ireland. During subsequent years he made many surveys and issued many reports on mineral districts in Ireland, and these formed the foundation of his first geological map of the country (1815). He also succeeded Dr. Richard Kirwan as government inspector of mines in Ireland. In 1822 Griffith became engineer of public works in Cork, Kerry and Limerick, and was occupied until 1830 in repairing old roads and in laying out many miles of new roads in some of the most inaccessible parts of the country.

Meanwhile in 1825, he was appointed by the government to carry out a boundary survey of Ireland. He was to mark the boundaries of every county, barony, civil parish and townland in preparation for the first Ordnance Survey. He was also called upon to assist in the preparation of a parliamentary Bill to provide for the general valuation of Ireland. This Act was passed in 1826, and he was appointed Commissioner of Valuation in 1827, but did not start work until 1830 when the new 6" maps became available from the Ordnance survey and which he was required to use as provided for by statute. He continued to work on this until 1868. On Griffith's valuation the various local and public assessments were made.

His extensive investigations furnished him with ample material for improving his geological map, and the second edition was published in 1835. A third edition on a larger scale (1 in. to 4 m.) was issued under the Board of Ordnance in 1839, and it was further revised in 1855. For this great work and his other services to science he was awarded the Wollaston medal by the Geological Society in 1854. In 1850 he was made chairman of the Irish Board of Works, and in 1858 he was created a baronet.

He died at his residence, 2 Fitzwilliam Place in Dublin, on 22 September 1878 in his 95th year. At the time of his death, he was the oldest surviving fellow of the Geological Society of London and was the last survivor of the long-since disbanded Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery. He was buried alongside his wife, Maria Jane (née Waldie m. 21 Sept 1812) in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin; on his grave is the epitaph: Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, Serving the Lord.


  • Outline of the Geology of Ireland (1838)
  • Notice respecting the Fossils of the Mountain Limestone of Ireland, as compared with those of Great Britain, and also with the Devonian System (1842)
  • A Synopsis of the Characters of the Carboniferous Limestone Fossils of Ireland (1844) (with F McCoy)
  • A Synopsis of the Silurian Fossils of Ireland (1846) (with F McCoy)

See memoirs in Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. xxxv. 39; and Geol. Mag., 1878, p. 524, with bibliography.

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