Robert Patterson (Belfast)

Robert Patterson (Belfast)

Robert Patterson (1802-1872) was an Irish businessman and naturalist born in Belfast, Ireland.


The eldest son of Robert Patterson (1750-1831), owner of a mill-furnishing business in Belfast established in 1786, Robert Patterson was born into a wealthy family. He was educated first at the Belfast Academy under the direction of a Dr. Bryce, and then at the Belfast Academical Institution. Here he won a prize for an essay on the natural history of Lough Neagh.

When his father died in 1831, Patterson took over management of the family business, eventually marrying Mary Ferrar, one of whose ancestors had come to Ireland as a captain in Schomburg's Horse regiment. The newly-weds settled at No. 3 College Square North, Belfast, where most of his 11 children were born.

At 19 Robert Patterson was one of seven young men who, on June 5, 1821, gathered at the house of Dr. James Lawson Drummond , at No. 5, Chichester Street to form the Belfast Natural History Society, which established the first museum in Ireland to be built by public subscription, at No. 7 College Square North. He served the society, later renamed, for more than fifty years, occupying every office. He was also a member of The Belfast Literary Society and the Royal Irish Academy. The Royal Society elected him a Fellow in 1856, and he was an early member of the British Association, serving as secretary to the Natural History section.

An exceptional administrator, Patterson played a very full part in civic affairs, being one of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and on the council of Belfast Corporation. He was also a yachtsman and wildfowler and formed a collection of modern art, which he bequeathed to the Belfast Corporation, together with £60,000, for its exhibition. His natural history collection was formed into the 'Patterson Museum' and was handed over to the Belfast Corporation in 1926.

Established as a significant naturalist in his thirties, Patterson had close links with Charles Darwin, Thomas Bell, Edward Forbes, William Yarrell and Charles Lucien Bonaparte. Patterson, FRS, MRIA died at his house in College Square North, Belfast, in February, 1879, after a fall.


*"Insects Mentioned in Shakespeare's Plays"
* "A Glossary of Words in Use in the Counties of Antrim and Down" – a dialect study
* "The Birds, Fishes and Cetacea of Belfast Lough" (1880)
*""Zoology for Schools" (1846-48).
* Ed.Volume 4 of William Thompson's "Natural History of Ireland" (1856).

Patterson also prepared, for the Department of Science and Art, a series of large coloured diagrams, illustrated by Joseph Wolf. These were widely used in schools in Britain, Ireland and the United States.



*Nash, R. and Ross, H.C.G. "The development of natural history in early 19th century Ireland in From Linnaeus to Darwin: commentaries on the history of biology and geology" Society for the bibliography of Natural History 13:27-
*Foster, J. W. and Chesney, H. C. G (eds.), 1977. "Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History". Lilliput Press. ISBN 0-7735-1817-7.


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