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Robert Murphy: Mathematician and Physicist - Conclusion - Appendix

Anthony J. Del Latto (Columbia University) and Salvatore J. Petrilli, Jr. (Adelphi University)


Murphy’s years of alcohol abuse took a toll on his health. In 1843, he contracted tuberculosis of the lungs [Barry 1999] and he died soon after, on March 12, 1843. It was shortly after Murphy’s death that De Morgan made the claim about his genius with which we opened this biography: “He had a true genius for mathematical invention” [Venn 2009]. Murphy was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London, where “[t]he grave has no headstone nor landing stone nor surround. It is totally unmarked” [Barry 1999, p. 173].

We end this biographical journey with Murphy’s obituary, which appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine:

March 12. The Rev. Robert Murphy, M.A. Fellow of Gonville and Caius college, Cambridge, and Examiner in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at University College, London. He took his degree of B.A. in 1829; and was the author of “Elementary Principles of the Theories of Electricity, Heat, and Molecular Actions” [Urban 1843, p. 545].

Figure 7. Likeness of Robert Murphy (ca. 1829) (Source: Permission granted by the Master and Fellows of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge)


As noted above, all but the first of Murphy's known works are readily available from Google Books or JSTOR. This first work,

Refutation of a Pamphlet Written by the Rev. John Mackey Entitled “A Method of Making a Cube a Double of a Cube, Founded on the Principles of Elementary Geometry,” wherein His Principles Are Proved Erroneous and the Required Solution Not Yet Obtained [1824],

was itself published in pamphlet form and was noticed by at least one well-known mathematician, Augustus De Morgan, in 1864 or earlier. The authors have provided a transcription of Murphy's Refutation, with commentary, as an appendix available here.


The authors would like to thank Dr. Patricia R. Allaire for providing us with foundational material on Robert Murphy. We are also grateful to the Gonville and Caius College libraries, and particularly to Ms. Kate McQuillian, for locating many of the sources and pictures for us.

The authors are extremely grateful to an anonymous referee for his/her many helpful suggestions and corrections. Finally, we are thankful to Dr. Patricia R. Allaire who read the revision of this paper and made additional helpful suggestions.

About the Authors

Anthony J. Del Latto has a B.S. in mathematics from Adelphi University, where he served as a tutor for the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science from 2009 to 2012 and teacher’s assistant for the course MTH 457: Abstract Algebra during his senior year. He is currently pursuing an M.A. in mathematics education with initial certification for grades 7-12 from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Salvatore J. Petrilli, Jr. is an assistant professor at Adelphi University. He has a B.S. in mathematics from Adelphi University and an M.A. in mathematics from Hofstra University. He received an Ed.D. in mathematics education from Teachers College, Columbia University, where his advisor was J. Philip Smith. His research interests include history of mathematics and mathematics education.

Anthony J. Del Latto (Columbia University) and Salvatore J. Petrilli, Jr. (Adelphi University), "Robert Murphy: Mathematician and Physicist - Conclusion - Appendix," Loci (September 2013)