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John Buddle Blyth

John Buddle Blyth (1814 – 24 December 1871) was a Jamaican-born chemist who was the first professor of chemistry at Queen's College Cork in Ireland. With August Wilhelm von Hofmann, he was the first to report photopolymerisation which they observed when styrene became metastyrol after exposure to sunlight.

John Buddle Blyth

John Buddle Blyth.jpg
John Buddle Blyth, attributed to Wilhelm Trautschold, 1845. Oil on canvas, Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester.[1]
Died24 December 1871
EducationUniversity of Edinburgh
Medical career
InstitutionsQueen's College Cork
Notable worksFirst report of photopolymerisation
Entry in baptism register, 1816.[2]

Early life and familyEdit

John Blyth was born in Jamaica in 1814[3] to John Blythe and Mary Buddle, a "free woman of colour".[4] He was baptised at Mesopotamia in Westmoreland Parish on 11 April 1816 by Edmund Pope, rector of Westmorland, and described as a "free child of colour".[2][4] He had brothers Charles (1817) and Henry (c.1831).[4]

Blyth's parents are not thought to have been married, however, his father left his assets to Mary Buddle in his will and his father obtained the money to buy the Kendal plantation from Mary's father John Buddle indicating that the Buddles had wealth.[4]

He was educated at Dumfries in Scotland and then at the University of Glasgow where he obtained a degree in arts.[5] He received his MD from the University of Edinburgh in 1839 for a thesis titled "The Dependence of the Animal and Organic Functions on Nervous Influence; and the Identity of the Latter with Electricity".[6]

He married Jessie Dunbar in Applegarth, Scotland, in 1847.[7][8]


Justus von Liebig's laboratory at Giessen by Wilhelm Trautschold, 1841.
Queen's College Cork

Blyth studied at the University of Giessen in Germany and spent six months in Berlin.[4] In the 1840s, Blyth and the German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann were the first to report photopolymerisation when they observed that styrene became metastyrol when exposed to sunlight but remained unchanged in the dark.[9]

He was professor of chemistry at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, England, from 1847 to 1848[1][4] and in 1849 he was the first professor of chemistry at Queen's College Cork in Ireland.[4]

He translated works by the German chemist Justus von Liebig, of whom he had been a student at Giessen, into English. These included the second volume of the seventh edition of von Liebig's work on agricultural chemistry which was published in New York in 1863 as The Natural Laws of Husbandry. This work included a translation of the introduction to the first volume, the original version of which was considered so controversial for its critique of British farming that it prevented that volume being published in English.[10]


Blyth died on 24 December 1871 at Parkview Terrace, Cork, and was buried at Blackrock in that city. Probate was granted to his wife Jessie. He left less than £2,000.[4][7]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • Blyth, John; Hofmann, August Wilhelm (1843). "On Styrole, and Some of the Products of Its Decomposition". Memoirs and Proceedings of the Chemical Society (MPCS). 2: 334–58. doi:10.1039/MP8430200334.
  • Blyth, John; Hofmann, August Wilhelm (1845). "Ueber das Styrol und einige seiner Zersetzungsproducte" (PDF). Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie. 53 (3): 289–329. doi:10.1002/jlac.18450530302.
  • Von Liebig, Justus. (1859) Letters on Modern Agriculture. London: Walton & Maberley. (translator)
  • Von Liebig, Justus. (1863) The Natural Laws of Husbandry. New York: Appleton. (translator)


  1. ^ a b Professor John Buddle Blyth (b.1814), Professor of Chemistry (1847–1848). Art UK. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b John Binddle Blyth Jamaica, Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880. Family Search. Retrieved 12 January 2019. (subscription required)
  3. ^ Lancashire, Robert (2018). "Jamaican Chemists in Early Global Communication". Chemistry International. 40 (2): 5–11. doi:10.1515/ci-2018-0202. ISSN 0193-6484.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h John Blyth. Legacies of British Slave-ownership, University College London. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  5. ^ John Binddle Blyth. University of Glasgow. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  6. ^ Casper, Stephen T. (2014). The Neurologists: A History of a Medical Speciality in Modern Britain, c.1789-2000. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 186. ISBN 9781526112583.
  7. ^ a b John Buddle Blyth Ireland Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1920. Family Search. Retrieved 12 January 2019. (subscription required)
  8. ^ John B. Blyth Scotland Marriages, 1561-1910. Family Search. Retrieved 12 January 2019. (subscription required)
  9. ^ Scheirs, John. "Historical Overview of Syrenic Polymers" in John Scheirs & Duane Priddy (Eds.) (2003). Modern Styrenic Polymers: Polystyrenes and Styrenic Copolymers. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 3–23 (pp. 3–4). ISBN 978-0-471-49752-3.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  10. ^ 1862 Preface to Agricultural Chemistry. John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review, 1 July 2018. Retrieved 12 January 2019.