Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davy, Edmund

1215303Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14 — Davy, Edmund1888Robert Hunt ‎

DAVY, EDMUND (1785–1857), professor of chemistry, son of William Davy, was born at Penzance in 1785, where he obtained his early education. He remained there until 1804, when he removed to London, and was appointed operator and assistant in the laboratory of the Royal Institution, through the influence of Humphry Davy [q. v.], then professor of chemistry. Edmund Davy had the entire control of the laboratory. Humphry Davy was not remarkable for keeping things in order himself, but we find, from the laboratory book of the institution, that he demanded considerable attention to such matters from his assistant. Edmund Davy remained in the Royal Institution for eight years, holding also for a considerable portion of that time the office of superintendent of the mineralogical collection.

In 1813 Edmund Davy was unanimously elected professor in the Royal Cork Institution, and he acted also as secretary. In 1826 he became professor of chemistry of the Royal Dublin Society. Shortly after this he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London, a fellow of the Chemical Society of London, and an honorary member of the Société Française Statistique Universelle. Davy was an earnest advocate for the extension of scientific knowledge, and through his influence popular courses of lectures were established in most of the provinces of Ireland. He gave upwards of thirty courses of lectures on chemical subjects, especially selecting the applications of chemistry to agriculture. This was always a favourite study with him, and he published several useful papers relating to manures, and the chemical aids which the farmers might find useful. ‘An Essay on the Use of Peat or Turf as a Means of Promoting the Public Health and the Agriculture of the United Kingdom,’ was published for him by Hodges & Smith, of Dublin, in 1850, and in the ‘Journal of the Dublin Society,’ in 1856, we find ‘An Account of some Experiments made to determine the relative deodorising Powers of Peat-Charcoal, Peat, and Lime,’ and in the ‘Chemist’ of 1855 he published a paper on an allied subject, namely, ‘The relative Deodorising Powers of different Substances.’

Several papers on the applications of electro-chemistry, on metallurgy, dealing especially with the rarer metals, were published by Davy in the ‘Philosophical Transactions and Proceedings,’ in ‘Thomson's Records,’ in the ‘British Association Reports,’ and the ‘Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy.’ Altogether thirty-three papers were published by Davy between 1812 and 1857. The ‘Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers’ credits Davy with thirty papers. When the government were effecting changes in the constitution of the several Irish scientific societies, they recognised Davy's claims, by awarding him his whole salary on his retirement from his official position, which he enjoyed for the remainder of his life. At the same time the Royal Dublin Society requested him to still carry on that portion of his duties which related to agricultural chemistry. After June 1856 Davy suffered from ill-health. He died on 5 Nov. 1857 at Kimmage Lodge, county Dublin.

[Journal of the Royal Dublin Society; Bence Jones's The Royal Institution; Paris's Life of Sir Humphry Davy; Tilloch's Philosophical Magazine, 1812–22; Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers; Medical Circular, xi. 1857; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, 1874.]

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