McGauley, James William (d. 1867), priest, scientist, and inventor, was apparently born into a Roman catholic family in Dublin, and is said to have been the son of a carpenter; it is possible he was in some way related to the family of the Venerable Catherine McAuley (qv). He received a good education and in 1824 entered St Patrick's college, Maynooth. A love of science was probably inspired by the teaching of Nicholas Callan (qv). McGauley was ordained to the priesthood and was a curate in St Mary's church, Marlborough St., Dublin, by 1835. In 1836 he was appointed professor of natural philosophy to the board of national education in Ireland, promoting science and training teachers in the model schools, which were also in Marlborough St. There he had his own laboratory, workshop and forge.
He read a paper on magnetism and showed some of his electromagnetic inventions at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Dublin in 1835. In 1836 he attended a meeting of the Association at Bristol where he gave lectures to the royal Dublin society and demonstrated some of his instruments, among them one that he called ‘the electro-galvanic helix’. His particular interest was in electromagnetic motors and his most important invention was the automatic trembler interruptor, a circuit-breaking device which continues to be widely used in electric bells. He wrote papers on natural philosophy and chemistry which were published in the Chemical News, the Reports of the British Association, and the Philosophical Magazine between 1835 and 1867. His principal publications were intended as school textbooks: Lectures on natural philosophy (1840), which had a third edition in 1851; The elements of architecture (1846); A key to the treatise on arithmetic . . . . used in the Irish national schools (1852); and A treatise on algebra (1852).
McGauley's career as a professor in Marlborough St. came to a sudden end after a special meeting of the commissioners of national education on 28 November 1856, which considered serious allegations about his moral character. It was reported that Archbishop Paul Cullen (qv) had suspended the professor from priestly duties, on account of his having in his Rathmines home a young woman, Julia Cahill, of a good family, who had been accepted on his recommendation in the Model School in 1852 to train as a teacher; they were known to have travelled on holiday in Europe unchaperoned. The commissioners gave McGauley an opportunity to explain matters; in his rather unconciliatory reply a few days later, McGauley stated that the archbishop had no authority over him since he had previously renounced his priestly vows (perhaps in 1853, when he ceased to be a curate in St Mary's). McGauley was interviewed by the commissioners, was charged with ‘gross indiscretion’ (‘Correspondence between the commissioners . . .’, 3), and resigned on 6 December 1856.
He and his family emigrated to Canada, where he lived for some years in London, Ontario, giving lectures to support himself, and was an alderman in the fifth ward of that town in 1860. By 1865 McGauley had returned to the UK and settled in London, where he became a member of the council of the Inventors’ Institute, taking an active part in the Institute's executive committee. He contributed to, and was an editor of, the Scientific Review and managing director of the Inventors’ Patent Right Association. He himself in 1861 patented apparatus for preventing collisions between steam trains. He died suddenly 25 October 1867 in London and left a widow and four young children. A testimonial committee of his scientific and literary friends subsequently raised funds for his family, who were left in financially straitened circumstances after his death, despite what were said to be McGauley's valuable contributions in applied science.