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John Fletcher Moulton, Baron Moulton

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John Fletcher Moulton, Baron Moulton, c.  1913
"Patents". Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1900.

John Fletcher Moulton, Baron Moulton GBE KCB PC FRS FRAS (18 November 1844 – 9 March 1921) was an English mathematician, barrister and judge. He was a Cambridge Apostle.


Early lifeEdit

Moulton was born in Madeley, Shropshire, England, as one of six children of a scholarly minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, James Egan Moulton. He was sent to Kingswood School at the age of 11 where he excelled at academic subjects. He achieved the top marks in the Oxford and Cambridge Local Examinations and achieved a scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge, graduating Senior Wrangler in 1868 and winning the Smith's Prize.[1] He was at one point judged to be one of the twelve most intelligent men in the United Kingdom.


After a brilliant mathematical career at Cambridge and election to a Fellowship, Moulton became a London barrister, specialising in patent law. He also experimented on electricity and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. A great advocate for medical research, he was the first chair of the Medical Research Council. He was awarded the French Legion of Honour for his work in establishing international units for measuring electricity.[2]

Moulton became a Liberal Party Member of Parliament successively for Clapham 1885–86, South Hackney 1894–95, and the Launceston division of Cornwall, 1898–1906.[1] He backed the attempts of Gladstone to solve the problems in Ireland through Irish Home Rule. In 1906 Moulton was made Lord Justice on the Court of Appeal and Privy Councillor. In 1912 he entered the House of Lords with a life peerage and the title Baron Moulton, of Bank in the County of Hampshire.

The First World War gave Lord Moulton his greatest challenge. In 1914 he became chairman of a committee to advise on the supply of explosives, a difficult problem because the British had only a feeble organic chemistry industry. Before long Moulton became Director-General of the Explosives Department, first in the War Office and later in the Ministry of Munitions. He mobilised a brilliant group of administrators and scientists who expanded production more than 20-fold— throughout the war there was more explosives than shells to hold them. They also made fertilizers, and in 1917 became responsible for producing poisonous gasses.[3] Though loyal to orders, Moulton believed that poison gas was a departure from civilised warfare.

During the entire four war years Lord Moulton worked a ten-hour day and took less than ten days holiday. On weekends he drove about the country to inspect munitions plants and to locate sites for new ones. He was awarded the Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1915,[1] the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1917,[1] the Etoile Noir of France, the Order of Leopold (Belgium) and was the last person to receive the Order of the White Eagle before the collapse of the Russian monarchy.

Moulton also corresponded with Charles Darwin.[4]

After the war, despite pressure to lead the expansion of the British chemical industry, he returned to his love: the law. He died in London on 9 March 1921.[5]


He married Clara Thomson née Hertz (widow of Robert William Thomson) on 24 April 1875. She died in 1888.

Titles, Styles, Honours and ArmsEdit

  • Mr John Moulton (1844–1885)
  • Mr John Moulton QC (1885–1906)
  • Sir John Moulton QC (1906–1906)
  • The Rt. Hon. Sir John Moulton QC (1906–1912)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Moulton QC PC (1912–1915)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Moulton KCB QC PC (1915–1917)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Moulton GBE KCB QC PC FRAS FRS (1917–1921)
Coat of arms of John Fletcher Moulton, Baron Moulton
Upon a Mount a Lamb statant proper holding in the mouth a Trefoil slipped Vert the whole between four Ears of Wheat stalked and leaved two on either side also proper [6]
Gules four Bars per pale Argent and Or two Flaunches of the third each charged with a Sun of the field

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Moulton, John Fletcher (MLTN864JF)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ Moulton, H. Fletcher (1922). The Life of Lord Moulton. Londin: Nisbet.
  3. ^ Van der Kloot, William (2014). "Lord Justice of Appeals John Fletcher Moulton and explosive production during World War I : 'the mathematical mind triumphant'". Notes Rec. R. Soc. Lond. 68: 171–186.
  4. ^ Darwin Correspondence Project
  5. ^ "Death of Lord Moulton" . The Times. London: The Times. 10 March 1921.
  6. ^

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Clapham
Succeeded by
John Saunders Gilliat
Preceded by
Sir Charles Russell
Member of Parliament for Hackney South
Succeeded by
Thomas Herbert Robertson
Preceded by
Thomas Owen
Member of Parliament for Launceston
Succeeded by
Sir George Marks