The awarding of the first honorary Doctor of Science by the Queen's University in Ireland to William King – a journey of scientific curiosity
Harper, David A.T.
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Murray, John, Dingsdale, Ann, Nasheuer, Heinz Peter, & Harper, David A. T. (2020). The awarding of the first honorary Doctor of Science by the Queen's University in Ireland to William King – a journey of scientific curiosity. Irish Journal of Earth Sciences, 38, 73-90. doi:10.3318/ijes.2020.38.5
William King (1809 86) was the founding Professor of Mineralogy and Geology at Queen s College Galway (QCG), one of three regional colleges opened in 1849 to provide secular university-level education in Ireland. King came from a modest background and despite lacking third-level qualifications, began publishing on palaeontological and geological matters in the 1840s. These early contributions aided his application for the professorship in Galway, particularly his seminal 1850 monograph on the Permian fossils of England, which was in preparation at the time. During his first two decades at QCG, King maintained an up-to-date teaching programme in geology and palaeontology, played a key role in establishing the natural history museum and further developed his research portfolio. He investigated several topics of international interest, including the supposed earliest fossils of living organisms and the emerging evidence for fossil humans. King s achievements were impressive, particularly as he was essentially self-taught and also considering the isolated and poor economic standing of Galway at the time. The Queen s University in Ireland (QUI) bestowed its first ever honorary Doctor of Science on William King in 1870 in recognition of his distinguished geological research, and also to mark a refocussing of the university curriculum to better reflect the importance of science. King s award came at a time when the education system was coming under increasing scrutiny in Ireland, and as part of these reforms QUI was dissolved in 1882 and replaced by the Royal University of Ireland. One of the final acts of QUI was to award a large number of former graduates with master s degrees. A select few were conferred with honorary doctorates, including King s eldest son, William Jr., who had been amongst the first students to enter QCG in 1849 and, after graduating, enjoyed a distinguished career with the Geological Survey of India. Father and son thus achieved the unique honour of being the first and last recipients of a Doctor of Science (honoris causa) from QUI for their geological endeavours.
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