Members at our 2007 BBQ

Cardiff
Naturalists' Society


Cymdeithas Naturiaethwr
Gaerdydd

 

 

Principal E. H. Griffiths, Sc.D., F.R.S (1851-1932) 33rd President


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I have not been able to locate an obituary for E H Griffiths in the society archives, which maybe related to the fact that he retired away from Cardiff many years before his passing and he does not seem to have maintained close ties. However there are obituaries of him and especially details is the one from the Royal Society Archives. In addition to that I have located this excellent picture of him which is reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

Portrait by Margaret Lindsay Williams (1888–1960) by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Portrait by Margaret Lindsay Williams (1888–1960) by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Born in Brecon, he was educated in Manchester and Cambridge his early important works include that in 1891 he published a paper on the “Determination of some Boiling and Freezing Points by means of the Platinum Thermometer.” Griffiths became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1895. He was elected a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College in 1897,

In 1901 following the death of John Viriamu Jones 15th President, he was made Principal of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire at Cardiff, and also Professor of Experimental Philosophy. Three times he served as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales. His arrival seems to have been one of welcome and noting that the university had some unaddressed needs as can be seen from these excerpts (note for the non Welsh... Sosban Fach [Welsh for "Little Saucepan" ] is a traditional Welsh folk song. It is about domestic troubles and one of the best-known and most often sung songs in the Welsh language and I believe that "Cochfarf" can be loosely interpreted as "Red Beard", presumably an appropriate pseudonym)

Evening Express 10th January 1902       Evening Express 11th January 1902

Evening Express 10th and 11th January 1902

He was elected a member of the society as soon as he arrived, and in due course became President. On Oct. 12th 1905 at the Annual Meeting he gave his presidential address entitled "Recent Advances in Physical Science." and it is noteworthy that in the following year at the York Meeting of the British Association he gave one entitled "Recent Advances in Physics", no doubt drawing on his "practise run".

At the same time as these presentations he was giving regular presentations to the society and appealing for more funding for education, more research and even hoping for an expanded role for the Society which was sadly not to come to pass. It is also noteworthy given our current usages his rather optimistic expection of our needs for electricity

Evening Express 13th October 1905       Evening Express 12th October 1906

Evening Express 13th October 1905 and Evening Express 12th October 1906

There are a number of newspaper articles relating to "run ins" with members of the board, students and other bodies

The North Wales Express 25th March 1904

The North Wales Express 25th March 1904

However in 1908 he had a run in of a quite more physical manner

Evening Express 13th May 1908

Evening Express 13th May 1908

it clearly did not put him off his stride of campaigning for better resources for education in many ways

School Hygiene. Address by Principal Griffiths, The Cardiff Times 18th July 1908

School Hygiene. Address by Principal Griffiths, The Cardiff Times 18th July 1908

He also used his position as a more general educational implement such as this Circular To School Teachers On The Preservation Of Native Plants. and he was happy to join in the campaigns against the "demon drink", if only in moderation

from Vol XLI of the transactions in 1908 he gave a report on the long process it took to establish a seismograph in Cardiff, the following are some excerpts from that lengthy report where his desire to increase Cardiff's standing as a centre of science is clearly evident

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A SEISMOGRAPH IN CARDIFF.

By PRINCIPAL E. H. GRIFFITHS, F.R.S. (CHAIRMAN OF THE SEISMOGRAPH Sub-Committee).

The movement for the establishment of a seismograph in connection with the Cardiff Naturalists' Society was inaugurated in April, 1907, by the appointment of a Sub-Committee to inquire into the possibility of obtaining the necessary apparatus and the acquisition of a suitable site.

Whilst the cost of the instrument and building were debated a rapid positive response was obtained from the Council regarding location which would be at the same location as the telescope presented to the borough by F G Evans our second president

DEAR SIR, The Town Clerk has referred to my Committee the request made by a deputation from the Naturalists' Society re a Seismograph. I visited the Observatory yesterday and found such a building as you require could be put up about 80 feet to the east of the telescope without interfering with the instrument in reference to the horizon. The place selected would be absolutely free from vibration, as it is a good distance from the road, and the steep hill approaching the Observatory forbids any very heavy traffic using the same.

I may say that if the Naturalists' Society would agree to the above site, I see no difficulty so far as the Corporation is concerned, and we would be only too pleased to co-opt yourself or any other member of the Society, so that your interests could be guaranteed.

If you would, in answer to this, communicate with me and embody the whole of your requirements in writing, I will call a meeting of the Observatory Committee at once. Yours faithfully,

(Signed) J. A. KIDD, Chairman, Observatory Committee.

By 1908 the work was successful.

Although the proceedings have been somewhat lengthy, the Sub-Committee is glad to be able to report that the task entrusted to it may be regarded as successfully accomplished. The site secured is in every respect an admirable one, and the Sub-Committee feels that a real service has been rendered to the science of seismology by the establishment of the apparatus in this district.

The recent terrible calamity in Italy must bring home to the most indifferent the urgent necessity of the accumulation of scientific data on all matters connected with earthquakes. It is only by the long-continued compilation of facts that we may obtain such information as may enable us, if not to predict, at all events partly to obviate the effects of such disasters.

Seismology may be regarded as one of the youngest of the sciences, and yet, thanks in a great measure to the efforts of Professor Milne, much has already been accomplished. At all events, the Principality will in future be in a position to assist in a movement in which nearly every civilised community is now taking part.

it is possible that it is the building shown on the left in this picture of the observatory, and it was this instrument which provided the earthquake trace of which we have a picture in our archives which was (we think) shown to the society in the 1930's (apologies a precise date is not available at the moment we will continue to try and locate one)

Society Meteorological Station

F G Evans and CNS (later council owned) Meteorological Station and Astronomical telescope

Trace from the Cardiff Seismograph

Trace from the Cardiff Seismograph

Throughout these articles a clear picture emerges of a practical scientist who was happy to use his position to campaign for improvements and action on behalf of others whilst taking a principled stand himself. He retired from the college and from Cardiff at the same time, which possibly explains why I have not been able to locate an obituary for him. So far all I have located is this leaving dinner report from Vol. LI of the Transactions for 1918

In view of the impending departure of Principal E. H. Griffiths, Sc.D., F.R.S., from Cardiff, the Council entertained him to supper on July 11th, and made a presentation to him as a memento of the active interest he had taken in the work of the Society since 1900.

In the Royal society obituary for him he is summarised as

Griffiths was a man of many interests, grave and gay (not the current meaning), a keen yachtsman, a skilled musician, a writer of merry songs, as well as an eminent experimental physicist and a great teacher and administrator.



Back to the 150th Anniversary index

Before this... Philip Rhys Griffiths, M.B., B.S. (1857-1920) 32nd President

Next up... Professor John Berry Haycraft D.Sc., F.R.S.E. (1859-1922) 34th President

See our Full list of Presidents