Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davy, John (1790-1868)

1215308Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14 — Davy, John (1790-1868)1888Robert Hunt ‎

DAVY, JOHN, M.D. (1790–1868), physiologist and anatomist, was the second son of Robert Davy, by Grace Millett, and the younger brother of Sir Humphry Davy [q. v.] He was born at Penzance on 24 May 1790. In his childhood he appears to have been helped by his brother, and both of the boys acknowledged the great assistance derived from their mother. John Davy was chiefly educated at the preparatory schools of Penzance. He afterwards studied medicine at Edinburgh, where he took his M.D. degree in 1814. When Humphry Davy advanced theories as to the constitution of muriatic acid, which were opposed to the teaching of Berthollet, and attacked by Dr. Murray, John Davy supported his brother's views. He made experiments in the laboratory of Edinburgh University, in the presence of many men of science, and obtained results which entirely confirmed the theory of Humphry Davy.

Davy entered the army as a surgeon, and saw a great deal of foreign service. He became inspector of hospitals. He usually made careful notes, and studied especially the characters of the natives who came under his notice, and who were not infrequently under his medical care. In 1821 he published ‘An Account of the Interior of Ceylon and of its Inhabitants, with Travels in that Island.’ Davy married in 1830 Margaret, daughter of Mr. Archibald Fletcher, by whom he left issue. Davy attended on his brother Humphry during his convalescence at Ravenna in 1827, and was again present at his brother's death in 1829 [see Davy, Sir Humphry]. Davy in 1836 edited ‘Memoirs of Sir Humphry Davy,’ and also (in 1839) his collected works. In the same year Davy published ‘Researches, Physiological and Anatomical,’ and in 1842 his ‘Notes and Observations on the Ionian Islands, with some Remarks on Constantinople and Turkey, and on the System of Quarantine as at present conducted’ (2 vols.). In 1849 Davy published his ‘Lectures on Chemistry’ and ‘Discourses on Agriculture.’ He resided for about three years (before 1854) in the West Indies, and in that year he published a volume entitled ‘The West Indies before and since Slave Emancipation, comprising the Windward and Leeward Islands Military Command.’ As inspector-general of army hospitals, in 1862 he published ‘On some of the more important Diseases of the Army, with contributions to Pathology,’ and in the following year ‘Physiological Researches.’ Up to 1863 Davy had published 152 memoirs and papers in various medical journals and in the ‘Transactions of the Royal Society.’ He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1834. He was, like his brother, a great lover of fishing, and he published ‘The Angler and his Friends, or Piscatory Colloquies and Fishing Excursions’ (1855), in which he pleasantly describes the deep delight he took in angling over the charming scenes of the lake districts of Westmoreland and Cumberland.

Davy died at Lesketh-how, near Ambleside, on 24 Jan. 1868. The attachment of the two brothers was very great. In Sir Humphry Davy's will there were several bequests to his brother. Sir Humphry desired that the service of plate presented for the discovery of the safety-lamp should be sold to endow a prize medal, if his brother should not be ‘in a condition to use it.’ John Davy made a bequest in accordance with this wish, and a prize, worth about 30l. a year, was founded by the Royal Society for the best chemical discovery in Europe or America.

[Proc. Royal Society, vol. xviii.; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. i. 111, iii. 1152; Annals of Philosophy, vol. i. (N.S.); Paris's Life of Davy; Phil. Trans. of the Royal Society; Cat. of Scientific Papers, Royal Society; Researches, Physiological and Anatomical, 1839; Gent. Mag. 1868; Annual Obituary, 1829; Polwhele's Biographical Sketches; Bence Jones's The Royal Institution; Weld's History of the Royal Society, 1848.]

R. H-t.