Night Owl

Bob Hunter was a noted night owl. Long protracted slogs through the night working on his papers was an aspect of how he worked throughout his life – something he became accustomed to from student days. Below is a letter written to his parents, trying to impress them with his hard work towards this thesis. It conveys something of the conditions for a student working at Trinity College at that time.

 9 TCD

4.15 am Tues–Wed

I have been working very hard – with my table drawn up closely to the fire and sitting with my back to it: the only way to keep warm. I have spent the time since midnight working out a table of percentages etc as part of the thesis. I am getting results of some kind at any rate. I have managed to fit together various manuscripts – now used for the first time – and have worked out quite a lot of results. This has been the first break-through I have had since I started: so I may not have to give up after all. However writing is even more difficult than I thought it would be. I have to give in a report on Friday. I don’t expect to have much sleep before then and will probably stay in bed very late on Saturday. I am very pleased with tonight’s achievement – small though it is – but I am hoping to work out more valuable conclusions tomorrow. I am hoping to give in about 5,000 words & tables. The final thesis will have to be about 100,000 words.

I must go to bed now: thought you might like the paper.


And much later in life, in one of his many handwritten notes, in this case to a researcher named Heather who was working on land grants in Co. Antrim, he comments:  

I’ve been working on this all evening and it’s now 4.45 [am] perhaps I should stay up all night and wrestle with it but I am too tired.