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Chymical Societies

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Chymistry in late Seventeenth-Century Dublin

‘Dr. Mullen gave an account of the following experiments: The expressed juice of a Connough worm given to a dog did no perceivable harm, but another dog, who had taken the skin, was found dead two days after. The root of filipendula aquatica circutae facie given to a dog, killed him in three days. A salt taken from a ground consisting of earth and sea-sand, coagulated milk, yet could not be crystallised. He also produced a stone, said to be an elf-dart, but it was agreed to be nothing but the head of an arrow or spear of the ancients. He showed likewise a stone curiously resembling a wrought button, as also a small stone that moves being put in vinegar, by reason of the little bubbles on which it slides, which arise from the luctation between it and the acid.’

Papers of the Dublin Philosophical Society, 3 November 1684.

Nicolas Lemery, A course of chymistry… (London,      1698), Table VI.

The variety of experiments undertaken by Allen Mullen (1653/4-1690), one of the most active members of the late seventeenth-century Dublin Philosophical Society, reminds us that the Society did not focus solely on chemical concerns but instead sought to mirror the broad preoccupations of the Royal Society on which it was based and with which it had strong ties. The papers of the Dublin society, edited by Theodore Hoppen (2008), display a wealth of information about the pursuit of science during the period 1683-1709. Of all the members of the Dublin Society Mullen was the one most interested in chymical experiments. In 1693 he recounted to his audience yet more experiments, this time concentrating on black sand from Virginia:


Some experiments on a black shining sand brought from Virginia supposed to contain iron.

  1. ‘ A small phial filled with ordinary white sand… being filled with Virginia sand, was found to contain… more than what was equal to its bulk.
  2. This sand did apply to the magnet, both before and after calcination, but the latter did apply better to it than the former.
  3.  A parcel of this sand mixed and calcined with powdered charcoal, and kept in a melting furnace for about an hour, yielded no regulus, but applied more vigourously to the loadstone than either of the former.
  4. I fluxed a parcel of this sand with fixed nitre in a melting furnace for above an hour, but could obtain no regulus nor any substance that would apply to the magnet, excepting a thin crust that stuck firmly to a piece of charcoal that dropped into the crucible when the matter was in fusion.
  5.  I fluxed it also with saltpetre and powdered charcoal, dropping piece of charcoal afterwards into the crucible. It continued about an hour in the melting furnace in fusion, and that without producing a regulus or a substance that would apply to the magnet, excepting only what stuck to the charcoal, as in the former experiment.
  6.  I fluxed another parcel of it with saltpetre and flowers of brimstone, without being able to procure any regulus.
  7.  I poured good spirit of salt on a parcel of this sand, but could observe no luctation thereby produced.
  8.  I poured good spirit of nitre, both strong and weakened with water, on parcels of the same sand, without being able to discover any conflict.
  9. I poured single aqua fortis upon another parcel of it, without being able to perceive any ebullition worth noting.
  10.  I poured double aqua fortis upon another parcel of it, which for ought I could discover had no more effect on it than the former.
  11.  I poured also some aqua regia on a parcel of it, without discovering any sensible effect.
  12.  I poured good oil of vitriol upon another of this sand, but seeing no bubbles thereby produced, I weakened the oil with water, but without any sensible effect.
  13.  I repeated all the former experiments with the menstruums upon this sand after calcincation per se in a crucible, but could scarce observe a bubble produced by any of them.
  14.  I poured some of each of the liquours upon parcels of the powder of this sand calcined, without any success. Note: that I made these experiments both in the cold and upon a sand furnace, so that to me there seems to be but little warning to discover any metal known to us, if it contained any such, for there is no metal nor ore that some of these menstruums will not work on.
  15.  I powdered a fragment of a loadstone and poured some of these menstruums upon it, without being able to find that they in the least preyed upon it, any more than they did upon the sand.
  16.  I poured some of the aforementioned menstruums upon ordinary sand taken out of a sand furnace, where it must have suffered some calcination, but could find no more bubbles produced thereby than what might rationally be supposed to be produced from time and other dirt mixed with the sand.’

Hoppen (ed.) (2008), Papers of the Dublin Philosophical Society, vol I, pp 412-3.

Angelo Sala, Opera medico-chymica quae extant omnia (Frankfurt, 1647), 5E1r.

These experiments should not be attempted.


Hoppen, K. Theordore (ed.) (2008), Papers of the Dublin Philosophical Society, 2vols (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin).

Lyle, Ian (2004) ‘Mullin, Allen (1653/4–1690)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.

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