There is an extensive obituary of Robert William Atkinson in Volume LXIII of the transactions for 1930
Mr. Atkinson was one of the most highly educated and cultured of our older members. He was born at Newcastle-on-Tyne, but at the tender age of 11 years he went to the University College School, London, and from that time his career in the scientific world may be described as one of continued success. In 1867 he took first prizes in Geology and Mineralogy, and matriculated in London University.
In 1868 he was first on the list of successful candidates for the Royal Exhibitions at the Royal School of Mines, of the value of £300.
In 1869 he attained first class in Chemistry and in Experimental Physics.
In 1870 he took the Royal Scholarship for Geology and Mineralogy.
In 1871 he attended lectures by Dr. Percy, F.R.S., in Metallurgy. In the same year, at the first examination for the degree of B.Sc. at London University, he took honours in Chemistry and in Experimental Physics.
In 1871 to 1874 he was teaching students and carrying out experiments, and deputizing Dr. A. W. Williamson and Dr. Graham in lecturing to medical students. In 1872 he took first class honours in Chemistry in the second examination for the degree of B.Sc. (London), and obtained the University Scholarship with the style of University Scholar," the only occasion upon which it fell to a student of University College, London, between 1863 and 1884, and the only award to anyone between 1867 and 1874.
From 1874 to 1881 he was Professor of Analytical and Applied Chemistry in the University of Tokyo under the appointment of the Japanese Government, being recommended in high terms by Dr. A. W. Williamson of London, who not only commended his scientific attainments, but also his clear delivery in lecturing, and added that he never failed to gain the esteem and regard of those with whom he came in contact. In those seven years he was the pioneer of the science and art of chemistry in Japan, and he was succeeded by one of his pupils (Mr. Sakurai), who came to England for part of his training. Mr. Atkinson, for his services to Japan, was personally honoured by the Emperor.
1881-3 he spent in the Ecole de Medecine in Paris and London University College in research, and later he joined his brother, the late Mr. A. J. Atkinson, as an analyst in Cardiff. In this profession he showed marked ability and accuracy of work, and clearness of vision in cases where he was consulted. He was also trusted by his clients as well as their customers, and in many instances acted for both sides in sampling and analysis. It is certain, however, that his commercial instincts were not equal to his great mentality, and in quitting his tutorial sphere he made a mistaken adventure. It was natural that such a man would join the Cardiff Naturalists' Society, and the esteem and admiration of the Society was shown by his election twice as its president. Anyone who heard his address in unveiling a memorial to the late Mr. Drane, and his oration at the Jubilee Banquet of the Society, will ever remember the quality of his intellect.
Robert William Atkinson unveiling the Drane Plaque (from Society Archives)
He was elected a member of the Society in 1883, and was made a member of the Committee in the same year. He acted as Honorary Secretary from 1887 to 1892, and as Honorary Librarian from 1892 to 1902. He was President on two occasions, viz. 1894-5 and 1926-7. He was a founder member of the Biological and Microscopical Section (afterwards named the Biological and Geological Section) on its formation on May 7th, 1887. He was President of the Section in 1924-5.
Mr. Atkinson delivered seven lectures before the Society,. as follows, viz: -
April 23rd, 1885 Japanese Lacquer."
December 22nd, 1887: Tobacco Growing near Cardiff (in conjunction with Mr. W. Treseder).
October 10th, 1889: "A Japanese Island Volcano."
January 11th, 1894: "Glimpses of the Life and Lore Legend of old Japan."
October 25th, 1894 Presidential address, Recent Researches in Chemistry."
December 28th, 1899: Children's lecture, The Chemistry of Fireworks."
October 21st, 1926 Presidential address, 1895-1926, A Retrospect."
Mr. Atkinson also delivered the following lectures before various sections of the Society, viz: -
October 4th, 1888: "Is Solution a Chemical or a Physical Process ?"
February 4th, 1892 "The Calorific Value of Coal."
January 13th, 1921 Recent Researches in the Chemistry of Coal."
Nearly the whole of these lectures were printed in the Society's Transactions.
He wrote several scientific works, chiefly in Japan, which were published in the transactions of The Asiatic Society, The Royal Society, The Chemical Society, and others.
He was co-opted a member of the Cardiff Free Libraries Committee in 1888, and served upon it until his death in December, 1929.
The Society has mourned many eminent members, but none of greater competence and esteem than Robert William Atkinson.
In addition to these papers he presented there are many references in the transactions where he has provided a chemical or mineralogical analysis or assessment to assist some other researcher. He also served on the committee for the Cardiff Exhibition which took place in the magnificent building designed by Edwin Seward .
With such a fascinating life it is no surprise that people outside of Cardiff have noted his valuable contributions to science both in the UK and in Japan in particular here are a selection: -
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