Open main menu

CHARNOCK, THOMAS (1524?–1581), alchemist, was born in the Isle of Thanet, Kent, in 1524 or 1525, one of his fragments being dated 1574, 'the 50 yeare of my age.' After travelling all over England in quest of knowledge, he fixed his residence at Oxford, and there fell in with a noted chemist named 'James S., a spiritual man living' at Salisbury, who made him his operator, and dying about 1554bequeathed to him the secret of the philosopher's stone. Through the firing, however, of his apparatus on 1 Jan. 1555 ('the omen worse than the accident,' remarks Fuller), the fruit of his labours perished; and his renewed operations were again frustrated by being interrupted within one month of their (computed) success, when in 1557 he was impressed for the relief of Calais; whereupon he took a hatchet (as he tells us) and

With my worke made such a furious faire,
That the Quintessence flew forth in the aire.

Charnock married, in 1562, one Agnes Norden, and settled at Stockland-Bristol in Somersetshire, whence he removed to Comadge in the same county. There he fitted up a laboratory, and pursued his experiments until his death in April 1581. Charnock was buried in Otterhampton Church, near Bridgwater. He wrote 'The Breviary of Naturall Philosophy,' a fantastic little treatise on alchemy, composed in old English verse in 1557, and included in Ashmole's 'Theatrum Chemicum.' He styles himself in the title an 'unlettered Scholar,' and 'Student in the most worthy Scyence of Astronomy and Philosophy.' In the same collection are contained 'Ænigma ad Alchimiam' (1572), Ænigma de Alchimia,' with a few fragments copied from Charnock's handwriting on the flyleaves of his books. Several others of his works enumerated by Wood (Athenæ Oxon. iii. 1236, ed. Bliss) have remained inedited, among them 'A Booke of Philosophie, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth in 1506.

[Fuller's Worthies (1811), i. 507; Anglorum Speculum, p. 413; Black's Cat. Ashmol. MSS.]

A. M. C.