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Dent, Edward John (DNB00)

DENT, EDWARD DENT (1790–1853), chronometer maker, was born in London on 19 Aug. 1790, and entered the workshops of the Brothers Callam, Castle Street, Long Acre, then celebrated as makers of repeating motions, where he had the advantage of the instruction of Mr. Rippon. He soon became a very expert workman, and from 1815 to 1829 was constantly employed by Vulliamy & Son, and Barraud & Son, acquiring from the latter a considerable practical knowledge of chronometers. His name becoming known he was entrusted with work on his own account by the Admiralty, the East India Company, and for the observatory at Greenwich, where he was employed to remove from the transit clock the escapement originally supplied by Hardy, and to substitute a Graham's escapement. In 1829 he sent for public trial the chronometer ‘Dent 114,’ whose superior action confirmed his reputation, and in 1830 he entered into partnership with John Roger Arnold, and in a few years the firm of Arnold & Dent at 84 Strand, London, attained a very high character. Dent chiefly employed himself in the workshops, and in prosecuting experiments on springs made of steel, gold, and palladium, and in the small compensation required by glass springs. He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers as an associate in 1833, and read lectures on horological subjects before the Royal Institution and the United Service Institution. On his visit to Russia in 1843 he was presented with a gold medal by order of the emperor for the services rendered to that country by his chronometers. On 29 Sept. 1840 his connection with Arnold was dissolved, when he took premises at 82 Strand, and continued to carry on a very lucrative business, which he extended to two other depôts, 33 Cockspur Street, Charing Cross, and 34 Royal Exchange, city of London. In 1829 he introduced a secondary compensation for correcting the tendency of chronometers to gain at mean temperature when the compensation had been adjusted for extremes. Having in 1843 been selected to construct a clock for the Royal Exchange, he established a clockmaking manufactory, where he soon made such improvements that for the first time English clocks came into competition with those of French make. In 1852 the order for the great clock for the new palace at Westminster was entrusted to him, but he only lived to see the successful trial of a new gravity escapement invented by Edmund Denison (afterwards known as Sir Edmund Beckett, and later on as Baron Grimthorpe), in which the pendulum, weighing 6 cwt., is kept going by a scape wheel weighing little more than a quarter of an ounce (Journ. of Soc. of Arts, 13 Jan. 1854, p. 133). The last year of his life was embittered by an unfortunate discussion with the master of the Company of Clockmakers (Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy), who declared that Dent could not make the Westminster clock. In the year after Dent's death it was successfully made by his stepson Frederick Dent (Denison's Clocks and Locks, 1857, pp. 100–30; Beckett's Clocks, Watches, and Bells, 1883, pp. 249–73). After a long illness, Dent died at his residence, The Mall, Kensington Gravel Pits, London, 8 March 1853. His will was proved in May 1853, when his personal property amounted to 70,000l. He bequeathed his business and his stock to his stepsons Frederick and Richard Rippon on condition of their taking and using the name of Dent. He was the author of: 1. ‘Chronometer Accuracy, Verification of the Longitude of Paris,’ 1838. 2. ‘Two Lectures on the Construction of Chronometers, Watches, and Clocks,’ 1841. 3. ‘On the Errors of Chronometers and Chronometrical Thermometers. Explanation of a new Construction of the Compensation Balance, and a new Chronometrical Thermometer,’ 1842. 4. ‘Description of the Dipleidscope, or Double Reflecting Meridium and Altitude Instrument,’ 1843, 4th edit. 1845. 5. ‘A Paper on the Patent Azimuth and Steering Compass,’ 1844. 6. ‘On the Construction and Management of Chronometers, Watches, and Clocks,’ 1846. 7. ‘A Treatise on the Aneroid, a newly invented Portable Barometer,’ 1849. He also sent communications to the reports of the British Association, to the ‘Nautical Magazine,’ to the ‘Memoirs’ and ‘Monthly Notices’ of the Astronomical Society, and to ‘Silliman's Journal.’

[Minutes of Proceedings of Institution of Civil Engineers, xiii. 156–61 (1854); Beckett's Clocks, Watches, and Bells (1883), pp. 181, 238, 300, 310, 313; Illustrated London News, 21 May 1853, p. 406.]

G. C. B.