John Ball (1818-1889), Irish politician, naturalist and Alpine traveller, eldest son of an Irish judge, Nicholas Ball, was born at Dublin on the 20th of August 1818. He was educated at the Roman Catholic College at Oscott near Birmingham, and at Christ's College, Cambridge. He showed in early years a taste for natural science, particularly botany; and after leaving Cambridge he travelled in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe, studying his favourite pursuits, and contributing papers on botany and the Swiss glaciers to scientific periodicals. In 1846 he was made an assistant poor-law commissioner, but resigned in 1847, and in 1848 stood unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate for Sligo. In 1849 he was appointed second poor-law commissioner, but resigned in 1852 and successfully contested the county of Carlow in the Liberal interest. In the House of Commons he attracted Lord Palmerston's attention by his abilities, and in 1885 was made under-secretary for the colonies, a post which he held for two years. At the colonial office he had great influence in furthering the cause of natural science, particularly in connexion with equipment of the Palliser expedition in Canada, and with Sir W. Hooker's efforts to obtain a systematic knowledge of the colonial floras.
In 1858 he stood for Limerick, but was beaten, and he then gave up politics and devoted himself to natural history. He was first president of the Alpine Club (founded 1857), and it is for his work as an Alpinist that he is chiefly remembered, his well-known Alpine Guide (London, 1863-1868) being the result of innumerable climbs and journeys and of careful observation recorded in a clear and often entertaining style. He also travelled in Morocco (1871) and South America (1882), and recorded his observations in books which were recognized as having a scientific value. He died in London on the 21st of October 1889.