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Eugene Lafont

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Eugene Lafont (1837-1908)


1908 Obituary [1]

THE VERY REVD. FATHER E. LAFONT, S.J., C.I.E., whose death occurred at Darjeeling Sanatorium on May 10, 1908, was a Foreign Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and Chairman of the Calcutta Local Section since 1899.

Born in Belgium in March, 1837, he had completed his 71st year, of which forty-three were spent in India. He visited Europe only on two occasions: once in 1878 he went to recruit after a severe illness; on the second occasion he went for scientific purposes and to see the 1900 Paris Exhibition.

He owed his name as "Father of Science" in India to his unequalled power of popularising his subject, and to the depth of his knowledge of experimental physics. He was appointed Rector of St. Xaviers, Calcutta, in 1873, and held that position, except for an interval of a few years, till 1904, when his health began to fail.

For nineteen years he gave weekly lectures to the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, and remained till his death its Senior Vice-President.

He was an active member of the Senate of the Calcutta University, of which he was made a Fellow in 1877, and was President of the Faculty of Arts.

In recognition of his services to Science he was created in 1880 by the Viceroy, Lord Lytton, a Companion of the Indian Empire, and through the kind offices of Lord Dufferin he received the decoration of Officier de l'Academie de France. His own King Leopold, as a mark of high esteem, made him in 1898 a Knight of the Order of Leopold, and finally Lord Minto, the present Viceroy, bestowed on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. To Father Lafont St. Xaviers College owes its fine meteorological and solar observatory and its well-equipped physical laboratory— second to none in India. For the latter - almost in the latter - he lived, and when age compelled him to abandon his beloved works, his friends felt that the end was drawing near. Yet what strength was left he devoted to the very last to that other work in which he excelled and which was always his first object—the teaching and expounding of the great truths of religion. Besides being a distinguished scientist, the late Father was an eloquent preacher, and his many gifts, combined with his charming manner, rendered him popular among all classes of society.


DNB 1912 Supplement[2]

LAFONT, EUGÈNE (1837–1908), science teacher in India, born at Mons, Belgium, on 26 March 1837, was eldest son of Pierre Lafont by his wife Marie Soudar. Educated at St. Barbara's College, Ghent, and at the Jesuits' seminary, he was admitted to the order in 1854, and did educational work in Belgium until 1865. He was then sent to Calcutta to inaugurate science teaching at St. Xavier's College, which had been founded by the Jesuit fathers in 1860 for the 'domiciled' European and Eurasian communities. He was rector of the college from 1873 to 1904, when failing health caused his retirement. After leaving Europe he only revisited it twice, in 1878 to recruit after severe illness, and in 1900 to visit the Paris exhibition for scientific purposes.

Indian education on Lafont's arrival in India was almost exclusively literary, and Lafont was the pioneer of scientific teaching in Bengal. He combined a thorough knowledge of experimental physics with great skill as a teacher and lecturer. He equipped St. Xavier's with a fine meteorological and solar observatory, and with a physical laboratory second to none in India. He was one of the founders of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, and for nineteen years gave weekly honorary lectures under its auspices, and was its senior vice-president. A popular and eloquent preacher, he also frequently lectured on Christian evidences, claiming that true science was the handmaid of faith. Lafont was a member of the Institutes of Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, and was chairman of the Calcutta section of the latter from 1889. Appointed a follow of Calcutta University in 1877, he took an active part in the work of the senate, filling at various times the offices of syndic (thrice), dean of the arts faculty (1904–7), and president of the board of studios in physics (1904–6). At the jubilee celebrations of the university in March 1908 he received the honorary degree of D.Sc. He had been created C.I.E. on 1 Jan. 1880, and was made an officer of the French Academy, while in 1898 the king of the Belgians made him a knight of the order of Leopold. His devotion to science, his constant labour for the welfare of the 'domiciled' white community, his gentleness, and his charm of manner won him general esteem. He died at Darjeeling on 10 May 1908, and was buried there.


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