Sir Humphry Davy PRS MRIA FGS FRS

Is your surname Davy?

Research the Davy family

Sir Humphry Davy PRS MRIA FGS FRS's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Sir Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet, PRS MRIA FGS FRS

Birthplace: Penzance, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Death: May 29, 1829 (50)
Geneva, Switzerland
Place of Burial: Geneva, Switzerland
Immediate Family:

Son of Robert Davy and Grace Davy (Millet)
Husband of Jane Apreece
Father of Jack Humphry-Davy
Brother of Elizabeth Millett and John Davy, Physician of the British Forces

Managed by: Dr John Gabriel Olsson
Last Updated:

About Sir Humphry Davy PRS MRIA FGS FRS

Sir Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet PRS MRIA FGS was a Cornish chemist and inventor, who is best remembered today for isolating a series of substances for the first time: potassium and sodium in 1807 and calcium, strontium, barium, magnesium and boron the following year, as well as discovering the elemental nature of chlorine and iodine. He also studied the forces involved in these separations, inventing the new field of electrochemistry. Berzelius called Davy's 1806 Bakerian Lecture On Some Chemical Agencies of Electricity "one of the best memoirs which has ever enriched the theory of chemistry." He was a Baronet, President of the Royal Society (PRS), Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA), and Fellow of the Geological Society (FGS). He also invented the Davy Lamp and a very early form of incandescent light bulb.

Sir Humphry Davy did not have any children.

Sir Humphry Davy's father was Robert Davy b. Oct 25, 1746 and his mother, Grace Millett b. 1752. They were married 1776 in Madron.

Sir Humphry had a brother named John b. 1790 who married Margaret Fletcher and they had three children, Grace, Archibald and Mary.

Robert's father was Edmond Davy b. Apr 15, 1711 and his mother was Grace Adams b. 1720.

It is through this line where I found my relationship to Sir Humphry Davy. William b. 1749 s/o Edmond & Grace, was my 4th great grandfather.

Edmond's parents were Robert Davy b. Mar 3, 1662/3 and Joan Marrack. Robert's first wife was Ann Kitt. They were married in Madron abt. 1684. She died Dec 12, 1706.

Robert's (1662) parents were Edmund Day b. 1625 and Joan Blake b. 1625/6.

Edmund's parents were Nicholas Davy and Catterne Barne.

Nicholas' parents were Edmond Davy and Jane ??

If any would like more information, please don't hesitate to get in touch. Kind regards, Geri Podskalny <>


Davy became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1803 and served as its president from 1820 to 1827. He was knighted in 1812 and created a baronet in 1818—two honors, among many, that he much enjoyed.

Michael Faraday was a lab apprentice assistant, trained by Humphry. Faraday went on to be considered by many as the best experimental scientist ever.

For more detail go to

Humphrey Davy possibly had Gullain-Barre, a form of paralysis that affects the peripheral nervous system due to an over reaction of the immune system, a syndrome not yet named at that time.

He may have died during the long recovery phase for other reasons.

Before Humphry could read he gave evidence of a remarkably retentive memory by reciting a great part of that big volume The Pilgrim's Progress. Other favourite books of his childhood were Aesop's Fables and the Arabian Nights. When scarcely five years old he made rhymes, and recited them at Christmas parties, attired in some fanciful dress. We know, on the authority of his brother, that Humphry's disposition as a child was remarkably sweet and affectionate. We may be sure he was a favourite with his schoolmates, for they used to gather around him and listen to him relating wonderful stories. And besides this he was in great demand for writing valentines and love-letters for other boys.

When a child the great Sir Humphry Davy was content to fish with a bent pin and with a bit of bread as bait, a method of angling not yet extinct among little folk. In later years our hero became a keen fisherman.

In a letter written when he was twenty-four years of age, Humphry happened to ask his mother how his younger brother was getting along at school, and he added, "I recollect I was rejoiced when I first went to Truro School, but I was much more rejoiced when I left it for ever."

One is not surprised to learn that young Humphry preferred the society of persons older than himself; he would find most boys of his own age disinclined to talk about such advanced subjects as those in which he began to take an interest. On one occasion when he was discussing some question with a Quaker, who was much older than himself, the Quaker said, "I tell thee what, Humphry, thou art the most quibbly hand at a dispute I ever met with in my life."

Living in a district in which there were copper and tin mines, the boy Humphry became interested in Geology, and would be seen going about with one pocket filled with specimens of rocks, while the other was filled with fishing tackle.

During the time he was residing in Penzance with a family friend—a physician—Davy was in the habit of disappearing to the garret, where he carried out a variety of chemical experiments. Occasional explosions alarmed the household, but although the worthy doctor declared that they would all be blown up into the air some day, that the boy was incorrigible, and was an idle dog, yet the ending of his scoldings usually took the form of some quiet chaff, calling the boy "the philosopher," and playfully nicknaming him "Sir Humphry."

Knowing the boy Humphry's studious disposition, we are apt to picture him as of a soft nature; indeed, the early impression I formed of him was that he was effeminate. I have no doubt that this impression was due to a picture of him in the boy's book to which I have referred already, which picture gave him a decidedly girlish look. But young Davy was something very different; not only in appearance, but in character. His courage was unmistakable; on one occasion he was bitten by a dog that was believed to be rabid, whereupon this thoughtful youth whipped out his pocket-knife and cut out the part which was bitten, and then hastened off to the surgery, where he was at that time an apprentice, and cauterised the wound himself.

Davy had every intention of becoming a doctor, but because he was seen so much at the mines, and among the rocks with a hammer, one looker-on said that "he thought more of the bowels of the earth than of the stomachs of his patients; and that when he should have been bleeding the sick, he was opening veins in the granite. That instead of preparing medicines in the surgery, he was experimenting in the garret." But I do not think that this can possibly be a true picture of young Davy. It should be classed as circumstantial evidence; it was the impression received by one who happened to see Davy only at his play. Although we have no details, it has been stated of Davy that he was most attentive to his patients, and more especially to the poorer ones.

Davy had an impediment in his speech, and although it was nothing so serious as that which worried Joseph Priestley, Davy tried to overcome it by following the example of Demosthenes, in so far that he would go down to the shore and practise speaking aloud. He did overcome the defect to a considerable degree, but the result was apparent in after-years, when he formed a habit of speaking in public with a peculiar intonation which seemed strange to his audiences, and which, unfortunately, was very often mistaken for affectation.

Humphry had no ear for music, and in later life it was a source of amusement to those with whom he worked to hear him trying to hum a tune while absorbed in some experiments. When a lad, his friends had tried to teach him the air of "God save the King," but they gave him up as hopeless. I met with a similar case in my school-days, the boy being quite unable even to distinguish between the air of the National Anthem and any other popular tune. Indeed, I offered him a prize on one occasion if he could name two out of six well-known airs when whistled to him, but he failed to guess even one, and as boys we had no very extensive programme of music.

By the time Humphry Davy was seventeen years of age he had begun to criticise the standard books on Chemistry, and more especially the accepted theory of heat, which was that heat was a material thing. At this time Davy's apparatus consisted chiefly of wine-glasses, tea-cups, tobacco pipes, and earthen crucibles, while his chemicals were those in common use in medicine. Like many another boy interested in Chemistry, Davy made his early experiments in his bedroom, and sometimes in the garret.

By this time Davy was a really enthusiastic chemist, so that he could not help talking of it to any one from whom he might gain information. It so happened that Gregory Watt, a son of the famous James Watt, had gone to Penzance on account of his health, and it chanced to be at the Davys' house that he boarded. This gentleman had come straight from Glasgow University, where he had been studying Science, and we may be sure that he would find an eager questioner in the lad Humphry Davy. Another such friendship which Humphry formed when he was a youth was with Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter, who had resided also in Penzance for the benefit of his health.

It will be of interest to note Davy's early experiment in connection with the nature of Heat, which was supposed at that time to be a material thing. He caused two blocks of ice to be rubbed together by a clockwork mechanism, all of which he placed under the receiver of an air-pump, and withdrew the surrounding air so that no heat could reach the apparatus or the ice, the whole arrangement resting on a block of ice. He showed that heat was actually produced merely by the friction between the rubbing surfaces of the ice-blocks, and that therefore heat could not be a material thing. Count Rumford, of whom we shall hear later, did original work in this direction. It soon became clear that the temperature of a body is due to the vibratory motion of its particles.

In the earliest form of the experiment referred to Davy had no air-pump, nor had he ever seen such a thing, but he converted a medical syringe into an air-pump. This syringe had been given to him in a case of surgical instruments by the surgeon of a French vessel which was wrecked off Penzance. Davy had been glad to get this case of instruments, not that they would be of use to him in his medical apprenticeship, but because he could turn many of them to use in his chemical experiments.

After four years' apprenticeship to the surgeon-apothecary at Penzance, Davy was offered a post at Bristol, where a Pneumatic Institute had been built. Davy accepted the post of superintendent of this Institute, which was a hospital for the purpose of applying different gases to the patients as cures for diseases. As the work would be largely experimental, Davy would have plenty of opportunities for original work.

On Davy's journey to Bristol he met the mail-coach from London, covered with laurels and ribbons, bringing news of Nelson's stupendous victory over the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile.

Dr. Beddoes, who was one of the principals of the Pneumatic Institute, was very impulsive in his methods, often jumping to a conclusion without giving the problem proper consideration. On one occasion his friend Mr. T—called to consult him upon the case of his wife, and the doctor prescribed a new remedy, but in the course of the day he sent word in haste to say that before Mrs. T—took the medicine, its effect might be tried upon a dog. We are left in the dark as to the fate of Mrs. T—or the dog.

Davy wrote to his mother about this time: "We are going on gloriously, our patients are getting better; and to be a little conceited, I am making discoveries every day."

Dr. Beddoes found Davy a capital worker, and no sooner had the young chemist discovered the properties of nitrous oxide gas, than the doctor immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was a cure for paralysis. Young Davy was to take charge of the experiments upon the patients, of whom, by the way, there were sometimes as many as eighty.

A paralysed man was selected for this new treatment, and it is very evident that the patient had no idea of the kind of treatment he was to undergo, for when Davy placed a pocket thermometer beneath the man's tongue in order to take his temperature, the man mistook this for the treatment, and declared that it gave him a feeling throughout his whole body. Davy pretended to take the matter quite seriously, and after removing the thermometer, he asked the patient to call the following day for a repetition of the treatment. For two weeks this patient called each day and had the thermometer placed beneath his tongue, and at the end of that time he left the Institute a cured man.

Davy had not told Dr. Beddoes what kind of "treatment" he had really given the man, but as the worthy doctor was going to rush off and publish the remarkable proof of the action of nitrous oxide, Davy had to let him into the secret.

This is the gas commonly used by dentists as an anaesthetic. On one occasion while Davy was experimenting with this gas upon himself he was nearly killed, and he resolved never to attempt so rash an experiment again.

Davy was so keen in his work and in his study of Chemistry, that he rose two hours before breakfast in order to get time for writing. But he did not cut himself off from the world; he was a keen angler, and he kept a dog and gun for his shooting expeditions.

One of his friends has left us a description of Davy's fishing clothes. He had a suit made of bright green cloth, and having bought a hat, in a raw state from the manufacturer, he dyed it green with some pigments of his own composition. The idea of this green clothing was to elude the observation of the fish, by appearing as much as possible as part and parcel with the bank of the river.

When shooting he put on a bright scarlet cap, but that was to protect himself against any other sportsman mistaking him for prey, or failing to observe his presence.

While at Bristol Davy got an offer to act as Assistant Lecturer at the Royal Institution, London, which had been founded a short time previously. The purpose of this Institution, which, of course, still flourishes, was to diffuse a knowledge of Science and of its applications to the common purposes of life, and to excite a taste for Science amongst people of high rank. Davy accepted this post, and in the succeeding chapter we shall see how he made the Royal Institution famous.

Humphry Davy Goes to London The first impression that Humphry Davy made on his arrival at the Royal Institution was not favourable. The chief promoter, Count Rumford, was so disappointed with the ungainly appearance and peculiar manner of Davy that he feared to let the young man deliver a lecture. However, no sooner had the young Chemist begun his lectures than he became exceedingly popular. He could explain things in a way that his audience understood. His lecture-room became "crowded with men of first rank and talent, blue-stockings, and women of fashion, the old and the young, all crowded eagerly into the lecture-room." Sometimes his audience would number one thousand, and very soon young Davy became "the lion of Society." Without going into any detail of Davy's work, we may note one outstanding line of research. The elements Potassium and Sodium had existed only in the form of compounds. Humphry Davy discovered a means of extracting the metals Potassium and Sodium from their compounds, by a process in which the large electric battery of the Institution played an important part. This was in the year 1807, not many years after Volta's discovery of the electric current and his invention of the electric battery. We are told by the assistant of Davy, that when the great Chemist saw the minute globules of Potassium burst through the crust of potash, he could not contain his joy, and actually bounded about the laboratory in ecstatic delight. It was a great discovery; no man had ever seen the metal Potassium before.

About this time Davy contracted a severe fever, which he believed to be typhus fever. He thought that he had become infected on a visit to Newgate Prison, where he had been asked to make investigations regarding a suitable disinfectant for this dread disease, which was very prevalent in the prison at that time. Davy was distressed in case he should die before he had an opportunity of publishing the results of his experiments. During his two months' illness there were so many anxious inquiries that a daily bulletin was issued by the doctors. On his recovery he received a great welcome by the scientific world, and before he was thirty-two years of age he held first rank among Chemists. That Davy had a good deal of common sense is evident from many of the jottings in his notebook, one of which reads: "A man should be proud of honours, but not vain of them."

Davy's pioneer experimenting was not without considerable risk to himself. On one occasion an explosion of the chemicals with which he was working nearly cost him his eyesight. Writing to inform his brother of the accident, he said:

"My sight, I am informed, will not be injured. It is very weak. I cannot see to say more than that I am, "Yours very affectionately, H. DAVY

Humphry Davy had not been long at the Royal Institution before he was elected Professor of Chemistry. During part of the time he occupied this Chair he had Michael Faraday as his chief assistant. The way in which Faraday was first introduced to Davy is of interest, and will be dealt with in the succeeding chapter on Michael Faraday.

When Davy made his famous experiments in separating the elements Potassium and Sodium from the compounds in which they had been so securely locked, he used a large battery of six hundred cells. Later he had an immense battery of two thousand cells. Of course, such large batteries have become unnecessary since the invention of the dynamo. But it was with this huge battery that Davy discovered what he called the electric arch, and what we now call the electric arc. Davy found that the battery current passing between two charcoal points produced an intensely bright source of light. As he held the carbons in a horizontal position, the heated air in rising caused the flame of light to curve or arch upwards. And although there is no arching between the vertical carbons in a modern electric lamp, we still describe it as an arc lamp to distinguish it from the incandescent glow lamp.

It is interesting to learn that two of our preceding heroes, the eccentric Cavendish, and the Astronomer, William Herschel, were present when Davy performed some of his experiments in private.

When Davy was thirty-four years of age he married the widow of a wealthy London merchant, just as Herschel had done. In a letter to his brother announcing his engagement Davy wrote: "Mrs. Appreece has consented to marry me; and when the event takes place I shall not envy Kings, Princes, or Potentates."

I find the following announcement of the marriage in the Gentleman's Magazine of April, 1812:

"Sir Humphry Davy to Mrs. Appreece. The ceremony was performed at her mother's house in Portland Place, by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle."

The bride was not only a woman of considerable fortune, she must have been very accomplished, for it was said of her that she had learned everything, and had been everywhere. Two of the most interesting letters written by Sir Walter Scott were addressed to this lady, who became Lady Davy upon her second marriage, her husband having been knighted two days before their wedding. Humphry Davy's knighthood was conferred by the Prince Regent, who afterwards became George IV.

Some time later we find Sir Humphry and Lady Davy setting out for a trip on the Continent. Our hero took Michael Faraday with him to act as secretary, and Lady Davy had one of her maids with her. But when the party were landed from their sailing boat on the French coast, they were all arrested, France being in a state of war. It took a week for information to come from Paris granting the illustrious chemist and his party a safe journey, which had been guaranteed to them before they set out for France.

Among the French scientists to welcome Sir Humphry Davy was Professor Ampere, whose name we honour by using it to denote one of the units of electrical measurement; we speak of a current of so many " amperes."

During this same trip, when Davy reached Italy, he met the discoverer of the electric current, Professor Volta, whose name we have embodied in the unit of electric pressure; we describe a current as being of so many "volts" pressure. We are told that Professor Volta waited in full dress to receive Sir Humphry Davy, and that the French scientist was greatly taken aback at the carelessness of Davy's dress; a dress of which an English artisan would be ashamed.

During his stay in Paris Davy was conducted over the great Louvre, but the famous pictures did not excite his wonder. He hurried through the galleries, merely remarking to his guide on the extremely good collection of fine frames.

Remembering Davy's indifference to Music, and now this indifference to Art, one might be tempted to think that the great philosopher was devoid of all sentiment; but, far from it, he was himself a poet. One contemporary, who was well able to judge, said that if Davy had not become the first chemist of his time, he would have become a great poet. There is quite a collection of his poems given in his Memoirs; here are a few lines of one which was composed by Davy when he was a lad of seventeen:

"The Sons of Genius" After some verses descriptive of Genius, Davy proceeds: "Inspired by her, the sons of genius rise Above all earthly thoughts, all vulgar care; Wealth, power, and grandeur, they alike despise, Enraptured by the good, the great, the fair.

"A thousand varying joys to them belong, The charms of Nature and her changeful scenes; Theirs is the music of the vernal song, And theirs the colours of the vernal plains." Further on in the same poem, referring to "the Sons of Nature," Davy says: "When the red lightnings through the ether fly, And the white-foaming billows lash the shores; When to the rattling thunders of the sky The angry demon of the waters roar;

"And when, untouch'd by Nature's living fires, No native rapture fills the drowsy soul; Then former ages, with their tuneful lyres, Can bid the fury of the passions fall.

"Like the tumultuous billows of the sea Succeed the generations of mankind; Some in oblivious silence pass away, And leave no vestige of their lives behind.

"Others, like those proud waves which beat the shore, A loud and momentary murmur raise; But soon their transient glories are no more, No future ages echo with their praise.

"Like yon proud rock, amidst the sea of time, Superior, scorning all the billows' rage, The living sons of genius stand sublime, The immortal children of another age." On Davy's return to this country he was asked to try and discover some means of preventing explosions of fire-damp in coal-mines. During his absence there had been a very serious colliery disaster due to fire-damp having become ignited by the miners' naked lights, and these explosions had become so common that the miner's occupation was a most dangerous one.

First of all Davy succeeded in making a lamp which was perfectly safe, but which, unfortunately, would not keep alight when fire-damp was present, so that the miner would be left in the dark, and might find it impossible to get out of some of the burrowings which constitute a coal-mine. But Davy did not rest content; he continued to think and experiment till he had invented a lamp which was absolutely safe and would continue to burn with safety in the presence of fire-damp, and enable the men to see their way out of the mine.

Sir Humphry Davy went down into the most fiery mines with his lamp, to show his entire confidence in its safety. The coal-owners invited Sir Humphry to a dinner, at which they made him a present of very valuable plate, as a token of gratitude for this humane invention. It is to Davy's credit that he refused to listen to his friends' requests that hg would take out a patent for the invention; he preferred to make it a present to his fellow-men, and we benefit from it to this day. It is almost inconceivable that some explosions in our own time have been traced to miners being so absolutely selfish as to have false keys made to enable them to open their safety lamps and light their pipes. Of course, we see some miners with naked lights on their caps, but these men are working in mines that are quite free from fire-damp.

When one friend of Sir Humphry Davy urged him to protect his invention by a patent, and secure a fortune thereby, the reply was: "It might undoubtedly enable me to put four horses to my carriage; but what would it avail me to have it said that Sir Humphry drives his carriage and four?"

Not only in our own country, but on the Continent also, was Sir Humphry Davy honoured because of this great invention: it showed to the world the practical value of Science. On the death of Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society, Sir Humphry Davy, although only forty-two years of age, was elected to that post, which is the highest honour that can be given to an English scientist. The traditions of this chair, which Sir Isaac Newton had occupied so long, were upheld ably by Sir Humphry Davy for seven years. Failing health forced him to resign, and to seek recovery abroad. The nature of Davy's illness was a paralytic stroke, which occurred while he was out shooting over a peer's estate. His mind was in no way affected, and it was believed that a trip on the Continent might restore his health, he being still a few years short of fifty.

Sir Humphry set off with his brother, who has left us a descriptive account of their journey in these pre-railway days. When they landed on the French coast they bought a post-chaise, in which they drove across the Continent, in journeys of about forty miles per day; less than we can now cover in one hour. The carriage wheels sometimes stuck fast in the bad roads, and on occasions their coachman would prefer to drive them across ploughed fields. The thermometer inside the carriage stood below freezing-point, and some leeches, carried in the carriage pocket, were frozen during the whole journey.

Sir Humphry recovered so far that his brother was able to leave, but the letters which the great chemist wrote home are rather pathetic: "It suits me better to wile away my days in this solitary state of existence, in the contemplation of Nature, than to attempt to enter into London Society, where recollections call up the idea of what I was, and the want of bodily power teaches me what a shadow I am." But we must not picture Davy as being a helpless invalid, for in a letter to his brother, in which he expresses the desire that his brother might visit him, he says: "I would then show you my kind little nurse, to whom I owe most of the little happiness I have enjoyed since my illness. I shoot here a little, mount my ponies, and employ myself a good deal in literary pursuits." Nor must we picture Davy as an old man; he was only fifty years of age. I remember when I came across the letter, from which the preceding extract is taken, I wondered at Lady Davy not taking the place of "the kind little nurse," but from another part of the biography I think it is apparent that the "little nurse " was the son of an old friend. Here is the passage to which I refer: "Sir Humphry Davy, during the latter days of his life, was cheered by the society and affectionate attentions of his godson, the son of his old friend Mr. James Tobin. He had been the companion of his travels, and he was the solace of his declining hours." Of course, travelling in wintertime was a very different thing in those days from anything we have experienced, but so soon as Lady Davy received word, some time later, that her husband had been taken seriously ill at Rome, she left England at once and hastened to his side. The second paralytic stroke came about in a very simple way. Sir Humphry was sitting, after breakfast, dictating an addition to one of his books, when upon attempting to rise, he was alarmed to find that he had lost the power of his limbs, although there was no pain or loss of intellect. Medical assistance was called in immediately, and the usual application of leeches was tried. In a letter dictated to his brother he says: "I am dying from a severe attack of palsy, which has seized the whole body, with the exception of the intellectual organ. I am under the usual severe discipline of bleeding and blistering; but the weakness increases, and a few hours or days will finish my mortal existence. I shall leave my bones in the Eternal City."

Immediately upon receipt of this letter his brother, who was acting as physician to the Forces in Malta, set out for Rome. He had some little difficulty in finding Sir Humphry, as the only address he had was Rome. Their meeting was very touching; the invalid believed he had only a few hours to live, and he desired to take full advantage of such precious time. He welcomed his brother with a smile, and, in a most cheerful voice, told him to take the event as a philosopher. Sir Humphry proceeded to explain some experiments in which he had been engaged, with the object of discovering the electric power of the torpedo fish, and he desired his brother to follow up the subject. Sir Humphry sent his brother to the market-place to buy a torpedo fish so that he might explain the matter to him more easily. Contrary to expectations, the invalid lived throughout the night, and writing several days later, his brother says: "He considered this the exact and appropriate time for his death. The following morning when I went to him and drew back his curtains, he expressed great astonishment that he was alive. He said that he had gone through the whole process of dying, and that when he awoke he had difficulty in convincing himself that he was in his earthly existence, and that he was under the necessity of making certain experiments to satisfy his mind that he was still in the body."

After this Sir Humphry accepted his brother as his physician, and they both gained new hope. The invalid spent quiet days, having such books as The Arabian Nights read to him, and after the arrival of Lady Davy he was able to go out each day in their carriage. He expressed a desire to leave Rome, and Lady Davy preceded them each day from place to place in order to make suitable arrangements for the arrival of her invalid husband, but only a small part of the day was taken up with travelling, as the day's journey seldom exceeded five miles.

At Geneva, Sir Humphry was grieved to learn of the death of his old friend Dr. Thomas Young, a fellow-professor in the Royal Institution. Sir Humphry dined at the table that evening, but went off to bed about 9 p.m. His great life ebbed out that night. His body was buried at Geneva, for he had expressed the desire that it should be buried wherever he died. There was a public funeral, at which there were many English friends. The professors and the students of the University of Geneva were present. The students had expressed a desire to carry the body to the grave, but the authorities did not see their way to grant this unusual request. And so, at the comparatively early age of fifty-one years, this Hero of Science passed from the world's stage in the year 1829.

In Davy's childhood the family moved from Penzance to Varfell, their family estate in Ludgvan. Davy's boyhood was spent partly with his parents and partly with Tonkin, who placed him at a preparatory school kept by a Mr. Bushell, who was so much struck with the boy's progress that he persuaded Davy's father to send him to a better school. Davy was at an early age placed at the Penzance Grammar School, then under the care of the Rev. J. C. Coryton. Numerous anecdotes show that Davy was a precocious boy, possessing a remarkable memory and being singularly rapid in acquiring knowledge of books. He was especially attracted by John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, and he delighted in reading history. When but eight years of age he would collect a number of boys, and standing on a cart in the market-place address them on the subject of his latest reading. He delighted in the folklore of this remote district, and became, as he himself tells us, a ‘tale-teller.’ The ‘applause of my companions,’ he says, ‘was my recompense for punishments incurred for being idle.’ These conditions developed a love of poetry and the composition of verses and ballads.

At the same time Davy acquired a taste for experimental science. This was mainly due to a member of the Society of Friends named Robert Dunkin, a saddler and a man of original mind. Dunkin constructed for himself an electrical machine, voltaic piles, and Leyden jars, and made models to illustrate mathematical principles. Using these he instructed Davy in the rudiments of experimental science. As professor at the Royal Institution Davy would later repeat many of the ingenious experiments which he had learned from his Quaker instructor. From the Penzance school Davy went in 1793 to Truro Grammar School, and finished his education there under the Rev. Dr. Cardew, who, in a letter to Davies Gilbert, says: ‘I could not discern the faculties by which he was afterwards so much distinguished.’ Davy says himself: ‘I consider it fortunate I was left much to myself as a child, and put upon no particular plan of study. … What I am I made myself.’[6]

1794: Death of his father. Became apprenticed to a Surgeon-Apothecary, J. Bingham Borlase in order to try and support his family.

1797: Humphrey Davy became interested in chemistry after reading Antoine Lavoisier's "Traite Elementaire". Released from his apprenticeship he went to become Superintendant at the Medical Pneumatic Institution in Bristol at the request of Thomas Lovell Bedoes. He he made his first reputation studying the medical effects of gases such as Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas).He also found that heat could transfer through a vacuum and that it is a form of motion.

1799: Realised that when two blocks of ice were rubbed together they would melt without the addition of any heat thus disproving the caloric theory of heat.

1800: Began to realise the effects on chemicals of electricity.He was aware of Nicholson and Carlisle's experiment to obtain Hydrogen and Oxygen from Water by means of electricity in a Voltaic Pile first used by Galvani. He realised from his own experiments with electrolysis that chemical compounds were held together by electrical forces.

1801: The Royal Institution in London took Humphrey Davy on as a public lecturer.

1802: The poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge attends one of his lectures. Published a paper with Thomas Wedgwood entitled "An Account of a Method of Copying Paintings on Glass and Making Profiles, by the Agency of Light Upon Nitrates of Silver". The pictures produced by this method were, however extremely temporary.

1807: Humphrey Davy managed to obtain Potassium from molten potash and Sodium from Common Salt by passing a current through them. He published the results in November at his Bakerian lecture.

1808: Through electrolysis he managed to discover Magnesium, Calcium, Barium and Strontium.

1810: Michael Faraday begins attending Davy's lectures. Davy's work on Chlorine showed that muriatic or marine acid was made of Chlorine and Hydrogen only thus discounting Lavoisier's theory that all acids must contain Oxygen.

1811: Faraday sends Humphrey Davy a large bound selection of his notes on his lectures which impresses Davy tremendously. Davy took him on as his assistant due to a temporary blindness he had contracted after an explosion in his laboratory the previous year. (Davy was later to twice block Faraday's election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society some say from professional jealousy).

1812: Davy received his Knighthood.

1813: Built a giant battery in the basement of the Royal society of London made up of two thousand plates and taking up nearly 900 square feet of space. Davy then toured Europe with his new wife and his assistant Faraday.

1815: Returned to England. Invented the Miner's Safety Lamp which would burn safely even if there was an explosive mixture of methane and air present in a mine. Davy did not patent his lamp and some say that George Stephenson created the lamp first but that is disputed. Davy made Iodine Pentoxide for the first time, an odourless, colourless substance of high density.

1824: Faraday eventually becomes a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

1825: Hans Christian Oersted first successfully isolated Aluminium despite Davy's first failed attempts. It is interesting that the United States took on Davy's name for this metal (Aluminum) whereas everywhere else Aluminium is used.

1827: Humphrey Davy became seriously ill and this was said to have been caused by the many gasses that he had inhaled over the years.

1829: Moved to Rome in order to regain his health.

Written Works:

1799: "Researches Chemical and Physical" 1812: "Elements of Chemical Philosophy". 1813: "Elements of Agricultural Chemistry". Marriage:

11th April 1812 to Jan Apreece a rich Scottish Widow.

DAVY, Sir HUMPHRY (1778-1829), natural philosopher, was born at Penzance in Cornwall on 17 Dec. 1778. The parish register of Madron (the parish church) records 'Humphrey Davy, son of Robert Davy, baptized at Penzance, January 22nd, 1779. Robert Robert Davy was a wood-carver at Penzance, who pursued his art rather for amusement than profit. As the representative of an old family (monuments to his ancestors in Ludgvan Church date as far back as 1635) he became possessor of a modest patrimony. His wife, Grace Millett, came of an old but no longer wealthy family. Her parents died within a few hours of each other from malignant fever, when Grace and her two sisters were adopted by John Tonkin, an eminent surgeon in Penzance. Robert Davy and his wife became the parents of five children — two boys, Humphry, the eldest, and John, who is separately noticed, and three girls. In Davy's childhood the family removed from Penzance to Varfell, their family estate in Ludgvan. Davy's boyhood was spent partly with his parents and partly with Tonkin, who plaoeahim at a preparatory school kept by a Mr. Bushell, who was so much struck with the boy's progress that he persuaded the father to send him to a better school. He was at an early age placed at the Penzance grammar school, then under the car of the Rev. J.C. Coryton. Numerous anecdotes show that he was a precocious boy. He possessed a remarkable memory, and was singularly rapid in acquiring knowledge of books. He He was especially attracted by the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' and he delighted in reading history. When but eight years of age he would collect a number of boys, and standing on a cart in the market-place address them on the subject of his latest reading. He delighted in the folklore of this remote district, and became, as he himself tells us, a 'tale-teller.' The 'applause of my companions,' he says, 'was my recompense for punishments incurred for being idle.' These conditions developed a love of poetry and the composition of verses and ballads. At the same time he acquired a taste for experimental science. This was mainly due to a member of the Society of Friends named Robert Dunkin, a saddler; a man of original mind and of the most varied acquirements. Dunkin constructed for himself an electrical machine, voltaic piles, and Leyden jars, and made models illustrative of the principles of mechanics. By the aid if these appliancs he instructed Davy in the rudiments of science.

As professor at the Royal Institution, Davy went in 1793 to Truro, and finished his education under the Rev. Dr. Cardew, who, in a letter to Davies Gilbert, says: 'I cound not discern the faculties by which he was afterwards so much distingiuished.' Davy says himself: 'I consider it fortunate I was left much to myself as a child, and put upon no particular plan of study.... What I am I made myself.'

After the death of Davy's father in 1794, Tonkin apprenticed him to John Bingham Borlase, a surgeon in large practice at Penzance. His indenture is dated 10 Feb. 1795. In the apothecary's dispensary he became a chemist. A garret in Tonkin's house was the scene of his earliest chemical operations. His friends would often say : 'This boy Humphry is incorrigible. He will blow us all into the air,' and his eldest sister complained of the ravages made on her dresses by corrosive substances.

Much has been said of Davy as a poet, and Paris somewhat hastily says that his verses 'bear the stamp of lofty genius.' His first production preserved bears the date of 1795. It is entitled 'The Sons of Genius,' and is marked by the usual immaturity of youth. The poems, produced in the following years, eapecially those 'On the Mount's Bay' and 'St. Michael's Mount,' are pleasingly descriptive verses, showing sensibility, but no true poetic imagination. Davy soon abandoned poetry for science. While writing verses at the age of seventeen in honour of his first love, he was eagerly discussing with his quaker friend the question of the materiality of heat. Dunkin once remarked : 'I tell thee what, Humphry, thou art the most quibbling hand at a dispute I ever met with in my life.' One winter day he took Dunkin to Larigan river, to show him that the rubbing of two plates of ice together developed sufficient heat by motion to melt them, and that the motion being suspended the pieces were united by regelation. This was, in a rude form, the elementary experiment of an analogous one exhibited in later years by Davy in the lecture-room of the Royal Institution, which excited considerable attention.

Davies Giddy, afterwards Gilbert [q. v.], accidentally saw Davy in Penzance. The lad was carelessly swinging on the half-gate of Dr. Dorlase's house. Gilbert was interested by the lad's talk, offered him the use of his library, and invited him to his house at Tredrea. This led to an introduction to Dr. Edwards, who then resided at Hayle Copper House, and was also chemical lecturer in the school of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Dr. Edwards permitted Davy to use the apparatus in his laboratory, and appears to have directed his attention to the floodgates of the port of Hayle, which were rapidly decaying from the contact of copper and iron under the influence of sea-water. This galvanic action was not then understood, hut the phenomenon prepared the mind of Davy for his experiments on the copper shrathing of ships in later days. Gregory Watt, the son of James Watt, visited Penzance for his health's sake, and lodging at Mrs. Davy's house became a friend of her son and gave him instructions in chemistry. Davy also formed a useful acquaintance with the Wedgwoods, who spent a winter at Penzance.

Dr. Beddoes and Professor Hailstone were engaged in a geological controversy upon the rival merits of the Plutonian and the Neptunist hypotheses. They travelled together to examine the Cornish coast accompanied by Davies Gilbert, and thus made Davy's acquaintance. Beddoes, who had recently established at Bristol a 'Pneumatic Institution,' required an assistant to superintend the laboratory. (Gilbert recommended Davy for the post, and Gregory Watt placed (in April 1798) in the hands of Beddoes the 'Young man's Researches on Heat and Light,' which were subsequently published by him in the first volume of 'West-Country Contributions.' Prolonged negotiations were carried on, mainly by Gilbert. Mrs. Davy and Borlase consented to Davy's departure, but Tonkin desired to fix him in his native town as a surgeon, and actually altered his will when he found that Davy insisted on going to Dr. Beddoes. On 2 Oct. 1798 Davy joined the 'Pneumatic Institution' at Bristol. This institution was established for the purpose of investigating the medical powers of factitious airs and gases, and to Davy was committed the superintendence of the various experiments. The arrangement concluded between Dr. Beddoes and Davy was a liberal one, and enabled Davy to give up all claims upon his paternal property in favour of his mother. He did not intend to abandon the profession of medicine, being still determined to study and graduate at Edinburgh. He, however, soon found his whole energies absorbed in the labours of the laboratory. During his residence at Bristol Dayy formed the acquaintance of the Earl of Durham, who became a resident for his health in the Pneumatic Institution, and of Coleridge and Southey. In December 1799 he visited London for the first time, and his circle of friends was there much extended.

In this year the first volume of the 'West-Country Collections' was issued. Half of the volume consisted of Davy's essays 'On Heat, Light, and the Combinations of Light,' ' On Phos-oxygen and its Combinations,' and on the 'Theory of Respiration.' On 22 Feb. 1799 Davy, writing to Davies Gilbert, says: 'I am now as much convinced of the non-existence of caloric as I am of the existence of light.' In another letter written to Davies Gilbert on 10 April he informs him : 'I made a discovery yesterday which proves how necessary it is to repeat experiments. The gaseous oxide of azote (the laughing gas) is perfectly respirable when pure. It is never deleterious but when it contains nitrous gas. I have found a mode of making it pure.' He then says that he breathed sixteen quarts of it for nearly seven minutes, and that it 'absolutely intoxicated me.' During this year Davy published his 'Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, chiefly concerning Nitrous Oxide and its Respiration.' In after years Davy regretted that he had ever published these immature hypotheses, which he himself subsequently designates as 'the dreams of misemployed genius which the light of experiment and observation has never conducted to truth.'

In 1800 Davy informed Davies Gilbert that he had been 'repeating the galvanic experiments with success' in the intenrals of the experiments on the gases, which 'almost incessantly occupied him from January to April,' In these experiments Davy ran considerable risks. The respiration of nitrous oxide led, by its union with common air in the mouth to the formation of nitrous acid, which severely injured the mucous membrane, and in his attempt to breathe carburetted ; hydrogen gas he 'seemed sinking into annihilation.' On being removed into the open air he faintly articulated, 'I do not think I shall die,' but some hours elapsed before the painful symptoms ceased.

Davy's 'Researches,' which were full of striking and novel facts, and rich in chemical discoveries, soon attracted the attention of the scientific world, and Davy now made his grand move in life. In 1799 Count Rumford had proposed the establishment in London of an 'Institution for Diffusing Knowledge,' i.e. the Royal Institution. The house in Albemarle Street was bought in April 1799. Rumford became secretary to the institution, and Dr. Garnett was the first lecturer. Garnett was forced to resign from ill-health in 1801. Rumford had already been empowered to treat with Davy. Personal interviews followed, and on 15 July 1801 it was resolved by the managers 'that Humphry Davy be engaged in the service of the Koyal Institution in the capacity of assistant lecturer in chemistry, director of the chemical laboratory, ana assistant editor of the journals of the institution, and that he be allowed to occupy a room in the house, and be furnished with coals and candles, and that he be paid a salary of 100l. per annum.'

Rumford held out to Davy the prospect of his becoming in two or three years professor of chemistry in the Institution with a salary of 800l. per annum, and agreed that Davy should nave every facility for pursuing his private philosophical investigations.

On 11 Marcn 1801 Davy arrived at the Royal Institution. He gave three courses of lectures in the spring of that year. His first course, consisting 01 five lectures, was 'On the New Branch of Philosophy,' embracing the history of galvanism and the discoveries made by himself and others. This course was followed by another on 'Pneumatic Chemistry,' and after the concluding lecture on 20 June, he administered the nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to several gentlemen present. Another course on 'Galvanism' was delivered in the fore part of the day, which was attended by men of science and numbers of people of rank and fashion. On 21 Jan. 1802 Davy delivered the introductory lecture of the session to his course on 'Chemistry' in the theatre of the Royal Institution upon benefits to be derived from the various branches of science. He also gave an evening course on 'Chemistry applied to the Arts.' On 21 May it was resolved 'that Mr. Humphry Davy be for the future styled professor of chemistry at the Royal Institution.' In April Davy joined Dr. Young in editing the eighth number of the 'Journal of the Royal Institution.' In one of these he gave his 'account of a method of copying paintings upon glass, and of making profiles by the agency of light upon nitrate of silver, invented by J. Wedgwood, Esq.' Davy's first communication to the Royal Society was an 'Account of some Galvanic Combinations.' It was read on 18 June 1801. On 24 Feb. 1803 he read before the Royal Society his first paper on 'Astringent Vegetables and on their Operation in Tanning.' He was proposed a fellow on 21 April 1803 and elected on 17 Nov. On 7 July he was elected an honorary member of the Dublin Society. Davy had at this time arrived at his period of most healthful popularity. Dr. Paris says of him : 'The enthusiastic admiration which his lectures obtained is at this period scarcely to be imagined. Men of the first rank and talent, the literary and the scientific, the practical, the theoretical, blue stockings, and women of fashion, the old, the young, all crowded, eagerly crowded the lecture-room.' Coleridge on 17 Feb. 1803 expressed his pleasure at Davy's progress, and said that he hoped 'more proudly of Davy than of any other man,' but afterwards noticed the danger of dissipation and flattery, 'two serpents at the cradle of his genius.' On 10 May Davy's first lecture was given before the board of agriculture, and five others on succeeding Tuesdays and Fridays. A prologue, written in two hours, for Tobin's comedy of the 'Honeymoon,' produced at Drury Lane on 30 Jan. 1805, snowed that his poetical tendencies were not entirely suppressed. The success of his lectures was followed by the glory of original discoveries. In 1806 he presented to the Royal Institution a collection of minerals which Mr. Hatchet t pronounced to have an aggregate value exceeding one hundred guineas, and the managers of tne institution, on the representation of that mineralogist, resolved 'that the sum of one hundred pounds be entrusted to Mr. Davy to purchase minerals.' On 4 Feb. in this year Davy was appointed director of the laboratory, his annual income being raised to 400l. a year. On 16 May 1800 Davy communicated a paper to the Royal Society on the use of boracic acid in analysing stones, and for this and his previous papers the council of the Royal Society adjudged to him their Copley medal. He was elected secretary to that society on 22 Jan. 1807, on the death of Dr. Edward Whitaker Gray, and in January 1807 he became a member of the council. Davy's earliest experiments in galvanism had been made in 1800, when he mentions ' unhoped-for successes ' in a letter to Gilbert. He was beginning fresh galvanic experiments in 1806, when the laboratory books of the Royal Institution show that in October he 'tried to decompose phosphorus by the galvanic fluid.' The discoveries of Volta at this time were exciting the attention of men of science. Davy worked zealously in developing the chemical action of the voltaic battery. He was now working with a battery of a hundred plates of six inches diameter. On 12 Nov. he informs his friend Mr. Pepys : 'I have decomposed and recomposed the fixed alkalies (potash and soda), and discovered their bases to be two new inflammable substitutes (potassium and sodium) very like metals, but one of them lighter than ether, and infinitely more combustible; so that there are two bodies decomposedy and two new elementary bodies founds Davy commenced those inquiries on the 16th and obtained his great result on 19 Oct. 1807. Shortly after tliis John George Children [q. v.] constructed the great battery with which his name is associated. This battery doubtless led to the collection, by the managers of the Royal Institution, of a fund for the construction of a yet more magnificent battery. It consisted of two hundred instruments connected together in regular order, each composed often double plates arranged in cells of porcelain, and con- taining in each plate thirty-two square inches, so that the whole number of double plates was two thousand, and the whole surface 128,000 square inches. With this powerful battery Davy repeated all his previous experiments, he instituted several with the hope of decomposing nitrogen, he most satisfactorily proved the actual character of oxymuriatic acid, he completely overthrew the theories of the Stahlian school, demonstrated in the most conclusive manner the existence of chlorine as a new elomentary body, and proved its value as a bleaching agent. The announcement of a theory so adverse to the universal faith of chemists as that of chlorine being a simple substance which, combining with hydrogen, formed muriatic acid, was received witn a storm of objections ; but these were all refuted by vigorous methods of inquiry, and ultimately all the philosophers jrielded their assent to Davy's views.

On 19 Nov. 1807 Davy explained all his experiments and discoveries in electricity before the Royal Society in the Bakerian lecture. His fame became European. Napoleon, then first consul, founded a prize of three thousand francs for the best experiments made on the sBlvanic fluid. Twelve months after the publication of Davy's lecture the Institute of France awarded him the Napoleon prize 'for his discoveries announced in the " Philosophical Transactions " for the year 1807.' In connection with galvanic phenomena Davy continued to achieve triumphs which ffreatly increased his fame, and considerably added to our stores of scientific truth.

At the close of 1807 Davy had a severe illness, occasioned probably by exposure to the unhealthy atmosphere of Newgate prison, the disinfecting of wnich he had undertaken. He was not able to resume his work until 19 April 1808, when he was again using his battery of 520 pair of plates. Through the spring and summer a series of beautiful experiments were made on ammonia and nitrogen. Davy tells Children, in a letter written at this time, that ' he hoped to show him nitrogen as a complete wreck, torn to pieces m diflerent ways.' He was not successful, however, in decomposing nitrogen, but in his Bakerian lecture in December 1808, in which he elucidated the ' elementary matter of ammonia, the nature of phosphorus, sulphur, charcoal, and the diamond, and in his fourth Bakerian lecture in 1809, he dealt particularly with ' the metallic bodies from the alkalies and earths, and on some combinations of hydrogen.' The Bakerian lecture for 1810 was devoted to the 'combinations of oxymuriatic gas and oxygen.' In that year the Dublin Society raised by subscription the sum of four hundred guineas, which they offered to Davy if he would deliver some lectures respecting the recent discoveries made by him in electro-chemical science. The 'Farming Society of Ireland,' being desirous of availing themselves of this opportunity, applied to Davy for six lectures on the application of chemistirto agriculture. Davy received 750l., and a large surplus went to defray expenses. In the following year Davy delivered two distinct courses in Dublin, one on the 'Elements of Chemical Philosophy,' and the other on 'Geology,' the proceeds from these lectures being 1,101l. 2s. Before Davy quitted Dublin the provost and fellows of Trinity College conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D. In the month of August Davy's opinion was requested by a committee as to the most satisfactory method of ventilating the House of Lords. Davy's recommendation was adopted, but it did not prove successful. On 8 April 1812 he was knighted by the prince recent. On the day following he deliyeTed his farewell lecture at the Royal Institution. The minutes of that institution inform us that on 5 April 1813 Davy begged leave to resign his situation of professor of chemistry, when Earl Spencer moved 'that, in order more strongly to mark the high sense entertained by this meeting of the merits of Sir H. Davy, he be elected honorary professor of chemistry.'

On 11 April 1812 Davy married Mrs. Apreece, the widow of Shuckburgh Ashby Apreece, and the daughter and heiress of Charles Kerr [see Davy, Jane, Lady] of Kelso. His biographer Dr. Paris remarks 'that other views of ambition than those presented by achievements in science had opened upon his mind; the wealth he was about to command might extend the sphere of his usefulness, and exalt him in the scale of society; his feelings became more aristocratic, he discovered charms in rank which had before escaped him, and he no longer viewed patrician distinction with philosophic indifference.'

Davy had already discovered the talents of Faraday, for whom he obtained an appointment as assistant in the laboratory of the Royal Institution. In October he went abroad, taking Faraday with him. Davy did not allow his independent position to interfere with his scientific inquiries. While abroad he sent seven papers to the Royal Society. He published his 'Elements of Chemical Philosophy,' and in March 1813 he issued his 'Elements of Agricultural Chemistry,' the substance of a course of lectures delivered for ten successive seasons before the board of agriculture. In 1813 Davy was evidently alarmed at its being supposed that a gunpowder which he had manufactured in partnership with J. G. Children and Burton was 'supposed to be sold by' him, and desires it to be made public that his assistance had been gratuitous. The correspondence on the 'Ramhurst gunpowder' is painfully significant of the growing influence of wealth and position. While travelling on the continent during the war, by permission of Napoleon, Davy was patronised by all the scientific men of the day. The favour of his company was invited by the Philomathic Society, at which thirty-three members were present, among whom were Ampere, Cuvier, Ohevreuil, and Humboldt. At the dinner the toast of the Royal Society of London was given, to which Davy returned thanks. Ampere at this time furnished Davy with a small portion of iodine, recently discovered by Court ois. On 13 Dec. a letter was read by Cuvier, which he had reoeived from Davy, giving a general view, of the chemical nature and relations of iodine, and in January 1814 he communicated to the Royal Society of London an elaborate memoir on the same element. On 13 Dec. 1813 Davy was elected a corresponding member of the first class of the Imperial Institute.

While in Italy Davy made experiments on the torpedo, and he worked in the laboratory of the Accademia del Cimento on the combustion of the diamond. The results were communicated to the Royal Society. At Pavia he met Volta, who awaited in full dress the arrival of Davy. On the introduction of the English philosopher, who was meanly dressed, Volta started back in astonishment, and for some moments was unable to address him. On 23 April 1813 Davy returned to London, having made experiments on the colours used by the ancients and several other matters of interest, the results of which he communicated to the Royal Society.

On 3 Aug. 1815 Davy acknowledges a letter which he had received from the Rev. Dr. Gray, directing his attention to the destruction of human life by explosions in working our coalmines. Davy gave immediate attention to the subject, and being supplied with specimens of firedamp by John Buddie of Newcastle [q. v.], he began to investigate its nature. On 31 Oct. 1815 Davy communicated to Dr. Gray that he had discovered a safe lamp, on 2 Nov. read a paper on the firedamp before the Royal Society, and on 14 Dec. he sent to his friend Dr. Gray some models of lamps and lanterns, based on his discovery that 'the firedamp will not explode in tubes or feeders of a certain small diameter.' Glass tubes were employed at first, but Davy soon found that metallic tubes, such as wire gauze, resisted equally well the passage of flame. This led to his surrounding the flame of his lamp with wire gauze. The explosive gas freely entered the lamp and exploded within it, the explosion not passing outward through the apertures of the wire. Davy's triumph was somewhat clouded by the claims put forward by Dr. Clanny and George Stephenson [q. v.] The lamp devised by Dr. Clanny in no respect resembled that of Davy [see Clanny, William Reid], and that of Stephenson differs from it in several particulars. Stephenson's lamp dates its origin from 21 Oct. 1815, and has many claims to attention. Buddie on 27 Oct. 1816 wrote to the Rev. Dr. Gray, informing him that at a meeting of the coal owners it nad been suggested that a subscription should be made for the purpose of presenting to Davy a testimonial which would 'show distinctly the real opinion of the coal trade as to the merit of his invention,' the safety lamp. On 11 Jan. 1817 the subscription amounted to nearly 1,500l. On 26 Sept. 1817 a dinner was given to Davy, at which the coalowners presented him with a service of plat«, and a resolution was passed ascribing tne merit of the discovery to Davy alone. Numerous modifications of the safety lamp have been introduced from time to time. The royal commission on mines, 1866, during their inquiry collected no fewer than two hundred lamps, many of them exhibiting a high order of safety.

Davy communicated several papers to the Royal Society in connection with this inquiry, and the president and council ad- judged to him the Rumford medals. Upon the advice of his friends the principal memoirs were collected and publishea in an octavo volume entitled 'On the Safety Lamp for Coal Mines, and some Researches on Flame,' London, 1818. Davy was created a baronet on 20 Oct. 1818. In 1813 the Geological Society of Cornwall was established at Penzance. Davy naturally manifested considerable zeal in its progress. He made a handsome donation to its funds, contributed a suite of specimens illustrative of the volcanic district of Naples, and communicated a memoir on the geology of Cornwall, which was printed in the first volume of the society's 'Transactions.' On 26 May 1818 Davy embarked at Dover for the continent, in order to proceed to Naples, his object being to unfold and render legible the ancient papyri deposited in the museum of that city. He visited Herculaneum, and afterwards com- menced his experiments on unrolling the papyri. He communicated to the Royal Society the results of his inquiries and experiments on 15 March 1821, which were published in the 'Transactions' of that year. The final result of this inquiry was not successful or satisfactory. Davy succeeded in partially imrolling twenty-three manuscripts, from which fragments of writing were obtained, but unpleasant circumstances interfered with his inquiries, and he concluded that 'it would be both a waste of public money and a compromise of our own character to proceed.'

Davy returned to England in 1820, and on 20 Nov. was elected to succeed Sir Joseph Banks in the presidential chair of the Royal Society. Unfortunately, conflicting opinions arose respecting the management of the Royal Institution, and party spirit was kindled between the Albemarle Street members and the fellows of the Royal Society. This was a source of very considerable annoyance to the president. Davy, nevertheless, continued to give close attention to science. The discovery by Oersted of the relation between magnetism and electricity claimed his immediate attention, and in 1820-21 and 1823 he communicated his 'Researches on Electro-magnetic Phenomena' to the Royal Society. In these inquiries he received much assistance from Faraday, as well as in those on the condensation of the gases, on which subject he read two papers before the Royal Society.

The rapid decay of the copper sheathing on the bottoms of our ships was a problem submitted by the government to the Royal Society, and a committee was formed to investigate it. In 1823 Davy commenced his inquiry into this matter, and prosecuted it with his usual zeal. The resulta obtained appeared highly satisfactory. A piece of zinc, not larger than a pea, was found adequate to preserve forty or fifty square inches of copper. Numerous experiments were made — and with results equally conclusive — of Davy's theory, based on the electrical con- ditions of the two metals. Several ships in the royal navy were fitted with Davy's protectors, but the government in 1825 ordered the discontinuance of them on all sea-going ships. Shell-fish of various kinds were round to adhere to the copper plates, which were prevented from oxidising by the electrical action of the metals, and this greatly interfered with their sailing powers. These protectors were still continued on ships in harbour, but the plan was finally abanaoned on those in September 1828. Davy's vexation was great, and the consequences were soon apparent in his failing health. At the end of 1826 his complaint assumed a more alarming form. Feeling more unwell than usual while on a visit to Lord Gage, he resolved to return to London, and he was seized while on the journey with an apoplectic attack. Prompt attention arrested the more serious symptoms, but paralysis ensued. As soon as possible it was thought desirable that Davy should winter in Italy. He wrote from Ravenna on 14 March 1827 stating his intention to remain there until the beginning of April and then to go to the Alps. Feeling that his recovery was slow, he determined to resign the chair of the Royal Society, and he wrote to that effect to Davies Gilbert on 1 July 1827. On 6 Nov. 1827 a resolution passed, at a very full meeting, appointed Gilbert to fill the chair until the anniversary meeting. Davy had contribute forty-six memoirs and lectures to the ' Transactions ' of the Royal Society, and he published nine separate works on science.

Davy returned to England, and, writing from Park Street on 29 Oct. 1827, he expresses himself to his friends hopefully, but complains of a want of power and frequently longs 'for the fresh air of the mountains.' Natural history was the principal subject of his contemphitions at this time, and m this period he completed and published his 'Salmonia, or Days of Fly-fishing,' a work of great scientific interest and happily popular in its treatment. He was a skilful angler, and found time for the sport in the intervals of his scientific labours. On 20 March 1828 a paper by Davy, 'On the Phenomena of Volcanoes, was communicated to the Royal Society. Shortly after this he left England. On 6 Feb. 1829 he writes to his constant friend, Thomas Poole, a letter from Rome, in which he exclaims : 'Would I were better ... but I am here wearing away the winter, a ruin amongst ruins.' He still continued to work slowly ; he investigated the electricity of the torpedo, and recognised a new species of eel — a sort of link between the conger and the muræna of the ancients. A paper on these inquiries was read before the Royal Society on 20 Nov. 1829. During this period of melancholy repose Davy wrote 'Consolations in Travel, or the Last Days of a Philosopher.' His brother, Dr. Davy, who edited the work after the death of Sir Humphry, informs us that it was finished at the very moment of the author's last illness. On 26 Feb. he dictated a letter to his brother, chiefly on the torpedo. He endeavoured to write a postscript, and he did write 'My dear John.' He then dictated 'I am dying ; come as quickly as you can.' Dr. Davy reached his brother on 16 March, and Sir Humphry was greatly interested the next day with the dissection of a torpedo. He rallied after this attack, and on 20 April left Rome, reaching Geneva on 28 May. He died at half-past two on the following morning. He was buried in the cemetery of Plain-Palais. A tablet placed in Westminster Abbey by his widow, and the statue placed on the spot in the centre of Penzance on which his earliest days were passed, are the only outward signs of our appreciation of a philosopher of whom it has been justly said : 'He was not only one of the greatest, but one of the most benevolent and amiable of men.'

[Paris's Life of Sir Humphry Davy, bart. ; John Davy's Memoirs of the Life of Sir Humphry Davy, bart., LL.D., F.R.S. ; Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy ; Bence Jones's The Royal Institution; Royal Society's Cat. of Scientific Papers ; Weld's History of the Royal Society ; Fragmentary Remains, Literary and Scientific, of Sir Humphry Davy, edited by John Davy; Philosophical Magazine, 1866 ; information from Davy's family.]

R. H-t.

Other References

view all

Sir Humphry Davy PRS MRIA FGS FRS's Timeline

December 17, 1778
Penzance, Cornwall, United Kingdom
May 29, 1829
Age 50
Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva, Switzerland