Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Chenevix, Richard (1774-1830)

1357273Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 10 — Chenevix, Richard (1774-1830)1887Robert Hunt

CHENEVIX, RICHARD (1774–1830), chemist and mineralogist, was a native of Ireland, of French extraction. The family of Chenevix was driven to this country on the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Richard Chenevix's father. Colonel Chenevix, was nephew of Richard Chenevix [q. v.], bishop of Waterford and Lismore. He was probably born in Dublin, and acquired a knowledge of science in the university of that city. His first contribution to chemistry was printed in the 'Annales de Chimie' in 1798. As nine other memoirs appear in later volumes, Chenevix was probably for some time a resident in France. In 1800 he began to publish his researches in England in 'Nicholson's Journal.' His first paper related to an analysis of a new variety of lead ore, the muria-carbonate. In 1801 he made his first communication to the Royal Society, which was printed in the 'Philosophical Transactions' for that year. In 1801 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1802 he published in the 'Journal de Physique' a paper on 'Columbian,' a metal discovered by Hatchett in the previous year, and now known as niobium. In the same year he contributed to 'Nicholson's Journal' 'Observations on the supposed Magnetic Property of Nickel, and on the Quantity of Sulphur in Sulphuric Acid.' In 1803 Chenevix sent to the Royal Society a paper on 'Palladium,' and in 1804 wrote in 'Nicholson's Journal' upon 'The new Metal contained in Platina.' Platinum had been discovered about this time by Wollaston, and Chenevix gave considerable attention to platina and its combinations. He especially examined the alloys formed by the union of platinum and palladium with other metals, in order to determine the true nature of palladium, and to establish his claim as the discoverer of a new metal. In a communication from Freyberg, dated 3 June 1804, he first published an account of an alloy with mercury, and in January 1805 he sent to the Royal Society a memoir 'On the Action of Platina and Mercury upon each other.' In this he asserted that he had discovered the true composition of palladium. Wollaston had suggested that palladium was an alloy of platinum, and no doubt this led Chenevix to make numerous experiments, leading him to the conclusion that the alloy of platinum and mercury was the new metal required. Wollaston repeated Chenevix's experiments, and successfully isolated the new element palladiiun. Wollaston communicated his results to the Royal Society on 4 June 1804. The chemists of France and Germany confirmed the results of Wollaston. Chenevix, finding the new substance in crude platina, wrote: 'Nothing is more probable than that nature may have formed this alloy, and formed it much better than we can. At all events the amalgamation to which platina is submitted before it reaches Europe is sufficient to account for the small portion of palladium.' Wollaston, in his memoir 'On a New Metal,' wrote: 'We must class it (palladium) with those bodies which we have reason to consider as simple metals.' It is clear that Chenevix formed an alloy of palladium (supposed to be platinum) and mercury, and that Wollaston, continuing the researches which his rival had originated, was fortunate in separating the mercury, and showing the world a 'simple metal' of a very remarkable character. The Royal Society in 1803 adjudged the Copley gold medal to Chenevix 'for his various chemical papers printed in the "Philosophical Transactions."'

In 1808 Chenevix was resident in Paris, and he published in vol. lxv. of the 'Annales de Chimie' 'Observations in Mineralogical Systems,' which he subsequently republished in a separate form. At this time the naturalists were divided between Werner and Ilaiiy. Chenevix strongly advocates the specification of Haiiy. Werner takes chemical composition as his guiding principle. Daily adopts the physical condition of the surface. This work was translated into English by 'a member of the Geological Society,' (supposed to be Mr. Weaver) in 1811.

M. D. Aubuisson, in a letter to M. Berthollet in the 'Annales,' criticised the conclusions of Chenevix, who replied in some 'Remarks' appended to the translation of his book. On 4 June 1812 Chenevix was married to the Countess of Ronault.

Chenevix is also author of the 'Mantuan Revels,' a comedy 'Henry the Seventh,' an historical tragedy, and 'Leonora,' and other poems which are reviewed in the 'Edinburgh Review' for 1812. A posthumous work in two volumes was published in 1830, called 'An Essay upon Natural Character.' The 'Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers 'gives the titles of twenty-eight papers on investigations which Chenevix had most zealously pursued, and nine other chemical memoirs were published in France. Chenevix was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of the Irish Academy, and of several learned societies on the continent.

He possessed remarkable mental activity and great industry, and appears to have been an amiable and charming companion. He left no family. He died on 5 April 1830.

[Annales de Chimie, 1798, et seq.; Nicholson's Journal; Journal de Physique; Gilbert's Annals, xii., 1803; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Guerard's Dict. Bibliograph.; Weld's History of the Royal Society; Taylor's History of the University of Dublin. 1845; Gent. Mag. for 1830, i. 562.]

R. H-t.