John Tyndall John Tyndall was born in Ireland as the son of a local constable. Tyndall attended a common primary school and joined the Irish Ordance Survey in 1839. Later he did surveying work in England and worked later worked on railway construction in the boom of the 1840s. In 1847 he began to teach mathematics at Queenwood College Hampshire. In 1848 Tyndall went to study in Germany where he was one of the first British subjects to receive the new PhD at Marburg. His years in Germany while still a young man turned Tyndall into something of a naturphilosophisch romantic pantheist. Tyndall's major scientific work was in atmospheric gases. He also made many useful inventions. In the 1850s he succeeded Faraday in giving popular science lectures at the Royal Institution in London where Tyndall became a lecturer in physics. Tyndall became one of the leading figures in Victorian science; he was a member of the famous X Club along with other notables like T.H. Huxley and Herbert Spencer.

Tyndall on science and religion

In 1874 Tyndall gave his famous Belfast Address (text) before the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. It was one of the most prestigious places from which to pronounce on what men of science should be doing. Tyndall famously used his address to argue for the superior authority of science over religious or non-rationalist explanations. By the time of this address the Association had largely been taken over by the young guard, men like T.H. Huxley and Tyndall. Nevertheless, Tyndall's bold statement for rationalism and natural law was made in Belfast, a stronghold of religious belief then as now and so it was taken as an aggressive attack on religion. The address was popularly believed to advocate materialism as the true philosophy of science. It remains a powerful call for rationalism, consistency, and scepticism.

Tyndall and bacteriology

1876. Attracted by Pasteur’s germ theory, Tyndall studied fractional sterilization by heat and heat-resistant spores, publishing On Heat as a Germicide when Discontinuously Applied in 1876. His early observation of bacterial growth-inhibition by moulds such as Penicillium sp. was a half century ahead of its time, until repeated by Alexander Fleming in the 1920s. Tyndall and Pasteur published Les Microbes Organises. Leur role dans la fermentation, la putrefaction et la contagion. Memories de MM. Tyndall et Pasteur. 1878. — Ray Dyer, PhD

Texts by Tyndall

[••• = available on the Victorian Web.]

Tyndall’s publications on microbiology and bacteriology (not on this site)

On Heat as a Germicide when Discontinuously Applied. London: Proceedings of Royal Society, 1876, Vol. 25.

(with Pasteur): Les Microbes Organises. Leur role dans la fermentation, la putrefaction et la contagion. Memories de MM. Tyndall et Pasteur. Paris: Libraire des Mondes. 1878.

The optical deportment of the atmosphere in relation to the phenomena of putrefaction and infection.... London: Trubner & Co. French trans. by L. Dollo, Les microbes. Paris: Savy, 1882.

Secondary materials

Burchfield, J. A. 'John Tyndall - a biographical sketch' In John Tyndall, Essays on a Natural Philosopher Royal Dublin Society. 1981.

Turner, Frank, and B. Lightman et al. Victorian Faith in Crisis: Essays on Continuity and Change in Nineteenth-Century Religious Belief. London, 1990.

Lightman, Bernard. The origins of Agnosticism: Victorian unbelief and the limits of knowledge. 1987.

Related web resource

John Tyndall.” The Athenæum. Web. 12 December 2016.


Created 2000

Last modified 12 December 2016