The Mary Ward Centre of Heritage, Ferbane.


On  Monday 23rd May a plaque was unveiled at Ferbane Arts and Heritage Centre to scientist Mary Ward (née King) born at Ballylin, Ferbane (1827-1869).  This plaque is part of a National Programme to honour scientists. The plaque was unveiled today and the heritage centre is now named the Mary Ward Centre of Heritage!

Mary Ward was a well known scientist, artist, naturalist and author. She published three scientific books, and numerous articles, and was one of three women of her day to receive the monthly notices of the Royal Astronomers’ Society. She was also the mother of eight children.

Pictured above at the unveiling of the plaque is Left to Right.. 7th Earl of Rosse (Birr), Marcella Corcoran (TD, Jnr. Minister), Eamon Dooley (OCC Camhaoirleach), Dr. McMillan (Scientist).

Mary Ward 1827-1869








Mary Ward takes her place alongside the Rosses, Jolys and Stoneys in the Offaly people of science gallery. Born Mary King, Ferbane, 27 April 1827. Died Birr, 31 August 1869. She married Henry William Crosbie Ward (of Castleward, Strangford, Co. Down ) and had three sons and five daughters. She was the youngest child of Henry and Harriett King. An aunt Mary Lloyd was married to the 2nd Earl of Rosse. Addresses:
1827-1857 ‘Ballylin’, Ferbane, King’s County;
Trimbleston, Booterstown, Nr Dublin;
1861-1864 ‘Bellair’, Moate, King’s County;
1864-1869 A number of addresses in or near Kingstown, Dublin.

Mary King did not attend school or university but was educated at home in Co. Offaly by a governess. William, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, was Mary’s cousin and she was a frequent visitor to Birr Castle (see earlier entries on William 3rd Earl of Rosse and his two sons). She observed and chronicled the building of the giant telescope in the castle grounds. Through her famous cousin she met many of the most eminent men of science of the day.

Mary became well known as an artist, naturalist, astronomer and microscopist yet she never received any formal marks of distinction. It should be borne in mind that women could not become members of societies or institutions nor obtain degrees or diplomas during their lifetime. It was very difficult for them to become established or recognised in scientific or literary fields until well into the last quarter of the 19th century. Nevertheless Mary was the first woman to write and have published a book on the microscope in spite of the fact that it was very difficult to find publishers who would accept book manuscripts from women. When her first book on the microscope was published in London in 1858 Mary did not use her full name but was referred to as The Hon. Mrs W. She was to write three books on scientific subjects and numerous scientific articles while performing the duties of wife and mother of a rapidly growing family. Her book on the microscope was reprinted at least eight times between 1858-1880.

An exceptionally fine artist and painter, she illustrated all her own books and papers and also those of others. Sir David Brewster F.R.S came to visit her father’s house and soon she was preparing microscopic specimens for him These specimens she drew and painted, and the coloured illustrations may be seen in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1864. She also made the original drawings of Newton’s and Lord Rosse’s telescopes which can be seen in Brewster’s Lifè of Newton. In 1864 Sir Richard Owen asked Mary to send him a copy of her painting of the natterjack toad for the collections of the British Museum. An article by Mary on ‘Natterjack Toads in Ireland’ had been published in a scientific journal and this paper was reprinted in full in The Irish Times in May 1864 with a very complimentary editorial comment. When eighteen years old her parents bought her a fine microscope which she continued to use and to demonstrate with enthusiasm until her death.


Her first microscope book was produced privately by Shields of Parsonstown in 1857. It was called Sketches with the Microscope and only 250 copies were printed. I have seen a copy of this fine example of local printing – a book which is extremely rare and was printed in Birr. It was published in 1858 by Groomsbridge of London as The World of Wonders Revealed by the Microscope Teachings in 1864. Telescope Teachings, a companion volume to Microscope was published in 1859.

On 31 August 1869, when she was 42, Mary, Henry and two of Lord Rosse’s sons were traveling on a steam carriage invented by their father when it jolted and threw Mary to the ground where she was crushed by one of its heavy wheels and died instantly.

The following article appeared in the King’s County Chronicle of 1st of September 1869 the day following the accident:


On yesterday the people of Parsonstown were much excited and grieved at a sad accident which occurred in the town. In the afternoon of yesterday the Hon. Captain Ward, his wife, the Hon. Mrs. Ward, The Hons. Clare and Charles Parsons, and Mr. Biggs the tutor to the young gentlemen, were on a steam carriage which has been built by Lord Rosse. The vehicle had steam up, and was going at an easy pace, when on turning the sharp corner at the church, unfortunately the Hon. Mrs. Ward was thrown from the seat and fearfully injured, causing her almost immediate death. The unfortunate lady was taken into the house of Dr. Woods which is nearly opposite the scene of the unhappy occurrence, and as that gentleman was on the spot everything that could be done was done, but it was impossible to save her life. The utmost gloom prevades the town, and on every hand sympathy is expressed with the husband and family of the accomplished and talented lady who has been so prematurely hurried into eternity. The deceased lady was the sister of J. G. King, Esq., Ballylin, and the untoward occurrence will plunge several noble families into grief. The body was last night taken to Birr Castle where it awaited the coroner’s inquest which was held today. The deceased lady and her husband had been for the past week on a visit with the Earl of Rosse. The Hon. Mrs. Ward was a lady of great talent, and accomplished in literary and scientific pursuits. A very interesting book of hers, “Sketches with the Microscope,” was published at this office [Shields of Parsonstown] some years ago. The work displays persevering research, and set forth in an attractive dress.


On this day at 10 o’clock John Corcoran, Esq., coroner, held an inquest at the Castle on the body of the Hon. Mrs. Ward. The Resident Magistrate, H. G. Curran, and James Rolleston, J.P., were in attendance. The following respectable and intelligent jury were sworn: – Messrs, B. W. Fayle, (foreman), James Connolly, Henry Davis, R. Goodbody, John O’Meara, John Murphy, George Dooly, Matthew Keane, Thomas Hornidge, Stephen Matthews, Wm. Paxton, Wm. Boyne, and Wm. Delany.

Mr. Richard Biggs was the first witness examined. I knew the deceased, the body now viewed is that of the Hon. Mary Ward; have known her for about a week. There were on yesterday five people on the steam carriage of whom Mrs. Ward was one; she was sitting on the corner of a raised seat; next to her was Captain Ward her husband; I was guiding the engine; at the corner of Cumberland-street and Oxmantown Mall on yesterday, at about half-past 8 O’clock; we had just turned into Cumberland – street when I felt a slight jolt and saw Mrs. Ward fall; I jumped off immediately; I cannot give any reason for the jolt. The Hon. Clare and Charles Parsons were also sitting; Hon. Charles was on the back of the engine; I jumped off at once when I saw the deceased fall, and found her already in the hands of two men; there was no sign of life in her then.

To a juror – The jolt could not have been by catching in the curb stone.

Mr. Rolleston said he was present and saw the engine turn the corner outside the curb stone. Mary Magrath deposed as follows – I was in my mother’s house in Cumberland street yesterday; at about 20 minutes past 8 I saw the engine coming and called a friend of mine who never saw the engine before; I saw the lady fall; saw the engine “rise” at one side; saw the lady fall off; the wheel was raised at the opposite side to Dr. Woods’; the engine was just turned at Mr. Goodbody’s side; the wheel hit the lady and pushed her on one side; I assisted her into Dr. Woods; she appeared to try to grasp something and had nothing to catch; a man was up to the lady at the same time, he is a man named Flannery; the lady was bleeding at the time; she bled from her mouth, nose, and ears; she afterwards worked like as if in convulsions as we were carrying her into Dr. Woods’; I

believe the affair to be an accident.

Mr Biggs (to a juror) – Under ordinary circumstances there was no danger in the machine.
Could have stopped the engine in a very short time.

Mr. James Rolleston, J. P. deposed as follows: – On yesterday I left the castle door at the same time that the engine left: the Hon. Randal Parsons walked along with me to the lodge where we overtook it; it went at a moderate pace; we kept near it till it got near the centre of the Mall; we had it in view till it turned the corner of Cumberland-street, near the church; it appeared to me to go slowly round the corner; the noise of the engine ceased shortly after it turned the corner; I saw people running. I do not think the engine was very dangerous; the front wheels from from the excellent management gave great stability to the engine; the engine was going about from 31/2 to 4 miles an hour. Dr. Woods deposed, I saw the deceased about two minutes after the accident occurred; she was then merely breathing, with a spasm of the tongue; she died in about one minute after I saw her her neck was broken and her jaw bone greatly fractured, she was bleeding a great deal from the ears which showed there was a fracture of the base of the skull: she was a good deal bruised about the face and her lips cut: these injuries were the cause of her death.

The jury without retiring the jury gave in a verdict , that the deceased came to her death by an accidental fall from a steam engine on which she had been riding in the town of Parsonstown on the preceding day. The jury begged to express their sympathy with the Hon. Capt. Ward in his sad bereavement and also that there was no blame attaching to any person in connection with the occurrence.”


Watercolour of the Avenue at Ballylin, Co Offaly by Mary Ward dated Sept. 24th 1858