Robert Perceval was the son of a barrister and was educated at both Trinity College, Dublin and Edinburgh University where he studied medicine. He also studied on the Continent but returned to Dublin in 1782 when he became lecturer of Chemistry at the University of Dublin. In 1785, he helped found the Royal Irish Academy and in the same year was appointed as the first Professor of Chemistry at the University of Dublin. The presentation of the box no doubt relates to his role as inspector of apothecaries, which he undertook from 1786. He is remembered for his philanthropic works and for his role in the Prison Discipline Society, which became the Howard Society and subsequently the Howard League for Penal Reform.