Antisell, Thomas (1817–93), physician, scientist, and Young Irelander, was born 16 January 1817 in Dublin, younger son of Thomas Christopher Antisell (b. 1766), KC (home circuit), of Gloucester St., Dublin, and Sraduff, near Birr, King's Co. (Offaly). He took classes in the later 1830s at the Dublin School of Medicine, the Irish Apothecaries Hall, and the Royal College of Surgeons in London, at the last of which he graduated MD (November 1839). In 1844 he studied chemistry in Paris and Berlin under several contemporary authorities on the subject. Returning to Dublin (1845), he obtained a lectureship in botany at the Peter St. school of medicine (off Aungier St.) – where he taught until 1848 – and opened a clinic at his residence in 25 Richmond St., Portobello. He also worked as assistant to Robert Kane (qv), professor of natural philosophy at the RDS (1845–8). During 1845–7 Antisell turned out some useful textbooks on Irish geology and soil chemistry – A manual of agricultural chemistry, with its application to the soils of Ireland (1845) and Irish geology, in a series of chapters, containing an outline of the science of geology (1846) – together with Suggestions towards the improvement of the sanitary condition of the metropolis (1847), a commentary on the growing problem of water-borne disease in the city, which called for urgent changes in the system of urban water supply.
His sympathies with the repeal movement (his father supported the Catholic Association in the 1820s) became radicalised with the emergence of Young Ireland in the mid 1840s, and he joined the Irish Confederation in 1847. Friendly with a group of militant republicans setting up a short-lived revolutionary newspaper, the Irish Tribune, in June 1848, he was one of five individuals (including the two proprietors, both medical students) to stand as recognisances for the paper at its foundation (later presumably forfeiting the sum of £400, to which he was bound, once the paper was shut down in July 1848 on grounds of sedition). He may have suffered prosecution for his part in this venture. In any case, he soon emigrated to the USA, passing into New York on 22 November 1848. Though he was never again politically active, he attended a celebratory dinner in New York (December 1853) for John Mitchel (qv), who had just escaped from Van Diemen's Land. He became a close friend of the Mitchel family and was described by John Mitchel as ‘a genuine man of science, [even] if he does read Darwin’ (Dillon, ii, 124).
Antisell operated a clinic and a medical laboratory in New York city (1848–54) while regularly lecturing in chemistry at medical colleges in Massachusetts and Vermont. From 1854 to 1856 he took up a more adventurous post as expedition geologist-cum-botanist to various state surveys (mostly under Lt John G. Parke) of those parts of southern Arizona, New Mexico, and California lying along one of four proposed routes for the so-called Southern Pacific railroad. In late 1856 he secured employment as chief examiner in the US patent office in Washington, DC, with sole responsibility for the inspection of chemical inventions. His duties permitted taking up a lectureship, initially in chemistry, at Georgetown University, Washington (1858–69, 1880–82), where he ultimately specialised (at different periods) in toxicology, military surgery, physiology, hygiene, and pathology.
During the American civil war he served in the union army; acting from 1861 as brigade surgeon in the US Volunteers, then as medical director to the 12th army corps, completing his service in October 1865 as surgeon-in-charge of Harewood hospital, Washington, where he was granted a brevet commission as colonel. He became chief chemist to the US department of agriculture (1866–71) and was one of three scientists taken on a US scientific mission (1871–6) to northern Japan under Gen. Horace Capron, once having tea with the emperor of Japan, and receiving the ‘Order of the rising sun of Meijii’ for his advice on the chemistry of a paper currency. Conferred Ph.D. (1876) by Georgetown University, he resumed work as examiner in the US patent office, where he stayed until retirement. Though he made numerous contributions to learned journals on aspects of agricultural chemistry, botany, oceanography, city sanitation, and animal disease, he did not publish another major scientific treatise. His published works in the US included Home cyclopedia of the arts and manufactures (1852); ‘Geological reconnaissance of southern California and Arizona’, United States: explorations and surveys, vii (1856); and ‘Synoptical tables of botanical localities’, John Torney (ed.), Reports of explorations and surveys to ascertain the most practical and economical route for a railroad from the Mississipi river to the Pacific ocean (33rd Congress, 3rd session, ex. Doc., no. 91, vol. 7). Antisell died 14 June 1893 in Washington, and is buried in the congressional cemetery.
He married first (1841) Eliza Ann Nowlan of Dublin, and secondly (1854) Marion Stuart Forsyth of Detroit, Michigan. He had at least one child (a daughter) from one of the two marriages.