Civil engineer and geologist. Richard Griffith was born in Hume Street, Dublin, on 20 September 1784, the son of Richard Griffith, of Millicent, Co. Kildare, by his first wife Charity, daughter of John Bramston, of Oundle, Northamptonshire. He obtained a commission as a lieutenant in the Royal Irish Artillery in 1799, but left the army when the regiment was disbanded as a result of the Union and embarked on the career of a civil engineer. After spending two years in London under the supervision of William Nicholson, editor of the Journal of Natural Philosophy, he studied mining in Cornwall and other districts of England, Wales and Scotland, before attended classes at Edinburgh University for two years. He acquitted himself with such distinction at Edinburgh that he was electd a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh when he was only twenty-three years old. While he was in Edinburgh he familiarized himself with the method of land valuation practised in the Lothians, which he later introduced into Ireland. On his return to Ireland in 1808, Griffith made a survey of the coalfields of Leinster for the Royal Dublin Society. In 1809 he received his first public appointment as engineer to the commission for inqiring into the nature and extent of the bogs in Ireland, and in the same year he was appointed mining engineer and professor of geology to the Dublin Society. At about the same time he succeeded RICHARD KIRWAN as Inspector-General of His Majesty's Royal Mines in Ireland. He also embarked on his Geological Map of Ireland, first published in 1815.
In response to the famine of 1822, Griffith was placed in charge of a road building relief programme in Cos. Cork, Kerry and Limerick. In 1824 he was employed on a boundary survey of Ireland in preparation for the Ordnance Survey. He was involved in drafting the Irish Valuation Act of 1827 and the following year he was appointed commissioner for the general survey and valuation of rateable property in Ireland, a position which he held until 1868, when he was succeeded by JOHN BALL GREENE . The tenement valuation which he carried out, familiarly known as 'Griffith's Valuation', covered nearly twenty million acres of land and about a million houses.
From 1830 onwards Griffith's duties became so numerous that, in the words of his biographer in the DNB, 'there was hardly a work of public importance undertaken in Ireland, including the improvement of the navigation of the Shannon, the sanitation of the Royal Barracks in Dublin, and the erection of the National Gallery and Museum of Natural History, in which he was not consulted or which he did not personally superintend'. In 1846 he was appointed deputy chairman of the Board of Works and in 1850 he succeeded HARRY DAVID JONES as chairman. He held this position until 1864, when he gave up some of his duties, remaining an unpaid commissioner until his death.
Griffith married on 21 September 1812 Maria Jane, eldest daughter and co-heir of George Waldie of Hendersyde Park, Roxburghshire. He was made an honorary LL.D.of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1851, and on 20 April 1858 he was created a baronet in recognition of his public services. He died at his house in Fitzwilliam Place on 22 September 1878 at the age of 94, when he was succeeded in the title by by his only son, George Richard.
Griffith's pupils and assistants included JOHN YEATS.
ICEI: founder member; council member, 1846,1847; vice-President, 1842-1845,1848-1850; president 1851-1856;1861-1862.
Inst.CE: member by 1841. RDS: vice-president 1868-1875.
RIA: elected member, 1819.
Geological Society of Dublin: council member, 1853,1858,1861(ex-officio)1864; vice-president, 1845-1852,1856-57,1859-60,1862-1863,1865,1867-1870.
Addresses: Work: 106 Baggot Street, 1844; 108 & 109 Baggot Street Lower, 1847; 108,109 & 110 Baggot Street Lower, <=1853->=1857; 6 Ely Place, 1863; also 6 James's Street East, ?1845-1846.
Home: 2 Fitzwilliam Place, <=1835 until death; also 20 Eccleston Square, London SW, and Pencraig, Anglesey, in 1860s.
All information in this entry not otherwise accounted for is from the biography of Griffith in DNB and the obituaries in Min.Proc.Inst.CE 55 (1878-79), 317-8, and IB 20, 1 Oct 1878, 280. See also Gordon L. Herries Davies & R. Charles Mollan, eds., Richard Griffith 1784-1878 (Royal Dublin Society, 1980). This collection of essays is illustrated with photographs of an anonymous pastel portrait of Griffith dated 1840 and of the portrait bust by Thomas Farrell, which is in the collection of the Royal Dublin Society. A three-quarter length oil portrait of Griffith by Stephen Catterson Smith was sold at Christie's on 19 May 2000 (Lot 111, illustrated in catalogue); this may the portrait which was exhibited at the RHA in 1854 (no. 103) and at the Loan Museum of Art Treasures, 1873, Lot 20.
He held the post until at least 1875, according to Jones's transcripts from Thom's directories.
A Richard Griffith is listed as an engineer at Ballyellis, Mallow, Co. Cork, in Pigot and Co.'s City of Dublin and Hibernian Provincial Directory (1824).
Building News 84, 13 Mar 1903, 366.
Griffith was a member of the Commission for the Improvement of the Navigation of the Shannon, set up by act of Parliament, 2 & 3 Vic. c.61.
See DB 1, 1 Aug 1859, 94; he was on the Gallery's Board of Governors from 1857 or earlier until 1964 or later.
DB 6, 1 Jul 1864, 127.
Photocopy of transcript of minutes of first meeting of Engineers' Society of Ireland, 6 Aug 1835, in IAA, Jones File F73; TICEI 12 (1876-79), report of council.
Jones's transcripts from Pettigrew & Oulton's and Thom's Directories.
List of members for 1841 in Trans.Inst.CE 3, Pt. 5 (1842), 484.
Jones, citing Thom's Directory 1847, 278.
Jone's transcripts from Pettigrew & Oulton's and Thom's directories, not consistent.
From Wilson's, Post Office, Pettigrew & Oulton's and Thom's directories unless otherwise stated.
Jones's transcript of lists of Ces in Thom's has him at this address until from 1845 until 1864, but this is not borne out by the evidence of the street directories.
Jones files, source not given.