Simpson, Maxwell (DNB12)
SIMPSON, MAXWELL (1815–1902), chemist, was youngest son of Thomas Simpson, Beach Hill, co. Armagh, where he was born on 15 March 1815. His mother's maiden surname was Browne. After attending Dr. Henderson's school at Newry he entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1832. Here he made the acquaintance of Charles Lever, by whose advice he began to study medicine. He graduated B.A. in 1837, but left Dublin without a medical degree. On a visit to Paris he heard a lecture by the chemist Jean Baptiste Andre Dumas on chemistry, which induced him to study that subject seriously. For two years he worked under Thomas Graham [q. v.] at University College, London. On his marriage in 1845 he returned to Dublin, and in 1847 he became lecturer on chemistry in the Park Street Medical School, Dublin, and proceeded M.B. In 1849, on the closure of the Park Street School, he became a lecturer on chemistry in the Peter Street or 'Original' School of Medicine. In 1851 he was granted three years' leave of absence. He studied in Germany under Adolph Kolbe in Marburg and Robert Bunsen in Heidelberg, and accomplished his first original work. In 1854 he resumed his duties at Dublin, but in 1857 resigned his lecturership and again went to the Continent, working chiefly with Wurtz in Paris till 1859. In 1860 Simpson took a house in Dublin and fitted up a small laboratory in the back kitchen. There he pursued with ardour and success chemical investigations which placed him among the first chemists of his time. One of his earliest results was the discovery of a method of determining the nitrogen in organic compounds difficult to burn. He obtained synthetically for the first time succinic and certain other di- and tri -basic acids (Phil. Trans. 1860, p. 61; Proc. Roy. Soc. 1863, pp. 12, 236), while not a year passed without his publishing one or two papers of the first importance. In 1867 he revisited Wurtz's laboratory in Paris, and for a few subsequent years he lived in London. He acted as examiner at Woolwich, at Coopers Hill for the Indian Civil Service, and in the Queen's University of Ireland. In 1872 he was appointed professor of chemistry in Queen's College, Cork, and held the post till 1891, devoting himself to teaching, to the practical exclusion of research.
In 1862 Simpson was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and he was a fellow of the Royal University of Ireland from 1882 to 1891. From Dublin he received the honorary degrees of M.D. in 1864 and LL.D. in 1878, and from the Queen's University of Ireland the honorary degree of D.Sc. in 1882. In 1868 he was elected an honorary fellow of the King's and Queen's College of Physicians. He became a fellow of the Chemical Society in 1857, and was vice-president from 1872 to 1874. He was president of the chemical section of the British Association at its Dublin meeting in 1878.
After his retirement in 1891 from the chair of chemistry at Cork, he resided in London, and died at 7 Damley Road, Holland Park Avenue, London, on 26 Feb. 1902. He was buried in Fulham cemetery.
He married in 1846 Mary (d. 1900), daughter of Samuel Martin of Longhome, co. Down, and sister of John Martin, M.P., the Irish politician [q. v.]. She was enthusiastically interested in her husband's work. There were six children of the marriage, of whom two survived him. Simpson was a man of wide culture, lively humour, and kindly personality.
[Obituary Notices in Year-Book of the Royal Society, 1903; Transactions of the Chemical Society (by Prof. A. Senier), June 1902; The Times, 8 March 1902; Cameron's History of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland; Todd's Catalogue of Graduates in the University of Dublin; MS. Entrance Book of Trinity College, Dublin.]