Grattan, John (1800–71), apothecary and naturalist, was born in Dublin. Little is known of his family or early schooling. He obtained his diploma at the Apothecaries’ Hall, Dublin (c.1823), where a seven years’ apprenticeship was required before final examination. Looking to set up business in a provincial town, he visited various places accompanied by his employer's son. After experiencing poor service in a druggist's shop in Belfast, by way of a pennyworth of Epsom salts wrapped in a fragment of newspaper, his companion turned to him and said ‘Belfast is the place for you’. In 1825 he set up shop in High St., Belfast, and later opened a larger premises, Grattan & Co.'s Medical Hall at 10/12 Corn Market. It became a landmark building, supplying medicines and medical appliances to hospitals, charitable institutions, doctors, and the public. The firm also dispensed its own medical preparations, which were popular for their curative properties. Staff were always available, even at night and on Sundays. Grattan was an enterprising and able businessman, and in 1828 his company began manufacturing what became Belfast's first celebrated aerated mineral waters: ginger ale (which he claimed to have invented), soda water, lemonade, potash water, seltzer, sarsaparilla lithia, and Vichy waters, aromatic bitters, and sparkling coca. The factory, purpose-built by Young & Mackenzie, architects, was situated at 68 Great Victoria St., and water was supplied from a well sunk on the premises. Later his son-in-law, R. W. Pring, and grandsons became involved in the running of the company.
Outside commercial life his great interests were natural history, phrenology, craniology, and physical anthropology, all popular pursuits among nineteenth-century gentlemen. A keen member of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society and Belfast Literary Society (president 1843–4), he delivered papers on ‘Phrenological ethics’ (1842) and ‘Phrenological observations on the treatment of criminals’ (1844). His best known work was on craniology. In papers published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology (1st ser., i (1853), 198–208), he described methods of measuring and recording human crania, using a new craniometer, which he had designed and constructed. A later paper dealt with human remains found within round towers of Ulster (1st ser., vi (1858), 27–39, 221–46). Using the craniometer he attempted to forge a relationship between the formation of the skull and the characteristics of specific human groups, i.e., Celtic populations and their culture, values, and morals. Especially notable was his investigation of the remains of the Rev. George Walker (qv), governor of Derry city during the 1688–9 siege, whose personality he ‘revealed’ using the dimensions of his skull.
He married Harriet Shaw(e); they had five daughters. After his death 24 April 1871 at home at Cuilgreine (Coolgreaney), Fortwilliam Park, Belfast, he was buried in Clifton St. cemetery, beside his predeceased wife (d. 1864), two children (1832, 1836), and grandchild (1855). His unmarried daughters Mary and Anne collected and privately issued in a quarto volume some of his later work, together with a paper, ‘The round towers of Ulster’ by his friend Edmund Getty (qv), MRIA, for distribution to friends. His estate was valued under £14,000. In 1884 Grattan & Co. was converted to a limited liability company and shares were held by his son-in-law, R. W. Pring, grandsons Arthur and Henry Pring, other family members, and four of the company managers. The company was still in operation in 1924. A catalogue of Grattan's skulls and casts of skulls from various Irish sources was published by the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society (1874). The collection was given to the Belfast Museum.