The curious connection between William Rowan Hamilton and other Hamiltons

This is maths week, and Ireland’s most famous mathematician William Rowan Hamilton gets mentioned a lot. Here are some facts about him you might not know. This gets complicated so pay attention!

Around the year 1536 in Lanarkshire, Scotland, lived an Archibald Hamilton, a descendant of the Duke of Hamilton.  His eldest son was named Hans, who was a supporter of Mary Queen of Scots in the 1560’s and thereabouts.  This was not looked on favourably by the English crown, and Hans did not inherit the family estate.  Hans studied divinity in order to find a way to support himself, and was elected vicar of Dunlop in Scotland.  Hans married and had six sons and one daughter.

The eldest son of Hans Hamilton was named James.  James Hamilton was sent to Ireland by King James VI of Scotland, as one of his representatives.  After the death of Elizabeth I in 1603,  James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, and awarded James Hamilton some of the newly confiscated lands in Ulster.  The land included the castle and grounds of Killyleagh, county Down, which became the family seat of these Hamiltons.

To cut a long story short, the line of this James Hamilton died out, and the estate and lands in Ulster ended up being divided amongst his five brothers.  In fact, by the time this happened the five brothers were dead, so it was divided amongst the heirs of the five brothers.  This involved a long and protracted legal battle.

The second eldest of the six sons of Hans (vicar of Dunlop) was named Archibald.  His children lived on the “inherited” lands in Antrim and Down.  One of his sons was Gawin (died 1703), who had a son Archibald (died 1747), who had a son Gawen (1729-1805).  This Gawen Hamilton moved to London in 1750 with his wife Jane Rowan, and a year later a son was born, who they named Archibald.  They only stayed in London for a few years.  Jane’s father, William Rowan, paid for Archibald’s education under several conditions, one of which was that he take the name Rowan for his middle name.  Another condition was that Archibald should not go to Ireland until he reached the age of 25.  This Archibald Rowan Hamilton went on to be one of the founders of the United Irishmen in 1792. He was a good friend of Wolfe Tone, and lived at Rathcoffey, Co. Kildare, near Clane and Maynooth.

There is another item of interest concerning Gawen Hamilton and his wife Jane Rowan Hamilton.  Around 1750 when they moved to England, there lived a minister of the church named Rev. James McFerrand in the parish of Kirkmaiden, Galloway, Scotland.  One stormy night a ship was wrecked on the coast of Galloway, close to the home of Rev. McFerrand.  He and his wife helped survivors ashore and gave them shelter.  Among the survivors were Gawen and Jane Hamilton.  They became friendly with the McFerrands and their eldest daughter Grace.

Not many years had passed when James McFerrand died, and his widow, being poor and unable to support all her eight children, asked the Hamiltons if they would adopt Grace.  They agreed.  Later, on a trip to Dublin, Jane Hamilton brought Grace McFerrand along and introduced her to a Dublin apothecary named William Hamilton (apparently no relation), who Grace subsequently married around the year 1774.  William and Grace had six children: James, Archibald, Arthur, Robert, William and Jane Sydney.  Their son Archibald married Sarah Hutton in 1800, and among the children of Archibald and Sarah was a certain William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), who went on to become a mathematician and Astronomer Royal of Ireland.  Grace McFerrand would have been a sort of “foster sister” to the United Irishman Archibald Rowan Hamilton, which may help explain why he was the godfather of William Rowan Hamilton, and may also help explain why the famous mathematician had Rowan for his middle name.

The third eldest son of Hans (vicar of Dunlop) was named Gawin.  He moved to Coleraine, county Antrim, and his children lived on the “inherited” lands in Antrim and Down.

The fourth eldest son of Hans (vicar of Dunlop) was named John.  He moved to Cavan/Armagh, and died young at Killyleagh in 1639.  One of his sons was named James, who had a son Henry, who had a son James who was an M.P. for Carlow in the time of George II.  This James had a son James, who was married 3 times, had 36 children, and built the present Abbotstown house, around 1790.  The eldest son of this James was named Hans, who was elected M.P. for county Dublin in 1797.  Hans had a son James Hans Hamilton (1810-1864, of Abbotstown) who was also elected M.P. for county Dublin in 1841.  James Hans had a son Ion Trant Hamilton, who was also an M.P. for county Dublin.  This line of Hamiltons have their own vault in the crypts of St. Michan’s church in Dublin, established by James Hans.  Coincidentally, the home of these Hamiltons, Abbotstown house, is essentially next door to Dunsink Observatory, which was the home and workplace of William Rowan Hamilton for most of his life.


Biography of Archibald Rowan Hamilton, Drummond.

Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton, Robert Perceval Graves.

A History of the County Dublin, Francis Elrington Ball.

4 thoughts on “The curious connection between William Rowan Hamilton and other Hamiltons

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » The curious connection between William Rowan Hamilton and other Hamiltons

  2. Thank you so much for posting. I’m the family historian and a descendant from Hans Hamilton. Excellent piece of work

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