Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, Richard (1778-1851)

PHILLIPS, RICHARD (1778–1851), chemist, born in 1778, was the son of James Phillips, quaker, and a well-known printer and bookseller, of George Yard, Lombard Street, London. Catherine Phillips [q. v.] was his grandmother. Richard was educated as a chemist and druggist, under William Allen (1770–1843) [q. v.] of Plough Court, but received his first instructions in chemistry from Dr. George Fordyce [q. v.] With his elder brother, William (1775–1828) [q. v.], the geologist, William Allen, Luke Howard, and others, he founded the Askesian Society.

In 1817 he was appointed lecturer on chemistry at the London Hospital, and he also delivered several courses of lectures at the London Institution. Soon after he was appointed professor of chemistry at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and lecturer on chemistry at Grainger's school of medicine, Southwark. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1822, and was offered the presidentship of the Chemical Society on its foundation in 1841, but declined it. He became, however, its president for 1849–50. In 1839 he was appointed chemist and curator of the Museum of Practical Geology, Jermyn Street, and he held the post till his death on 11 May 1851.

Phillips first attracted attention by his publication, in 1806, of ‘An Analysis of the Bath Water’ (cf. Tilloch's Phil. Mag.) His labours in mineralogical chemistry were characterised by great neatness and precision, and he discovered in 1823 the true nature of uranite; but it was in pharmaceutical chemistry that his services to science were most conspicuous. His acute powers and the perfect familiarity he possessed with the processes in use enabled him to detect the errors into which the compilers of the ‘London Pharmacopœia’ had fallen, and, though the keenness of his criticisms created much soreness, their justice was admitted, and he was specially consulted in compiling later editions.

He was the author of some seventy papers on chemical subjects. They appeared in various English and foreign journals, principally the ‘Annals of Philosophy,’ which he edited, in conjunction with Edward Edward William Brayley [q. v.], from 1821; and the ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ in which the ‘Annals’ was merged, and of which, as well as of the succeeding series, the ‘London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine,’ he was one of the editors. He was also author of all the chemical articles in the ‘Penny Cyclopædia.’

His separate works were, besides the book above mentioned:

  1. ‘An Experimental Examination of the latest edition of the Pharmacopœia Londinensis; with Remarks on Dr. Powell's Translation and Annotations,’ London, 1811, 8vo.
  2. ‘Remarks on the editio altera of the Pharmacopœia Londinensis,’ London, 1816, 8vo.
  3. A translation (with notes) of the ‘Pharmacopœia,’ London, 8vo, 1824, 1831, 1837, 1851.

[English Cyclopædia; Cates's Dict. Biogr.; Gent. Mag. 1851, ii. 208; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Royal Soc. List of Papers; Ronald's Cat. of Books on Electricity, &c., confuses Phillips with Sir Richard Phillips [q. v.]]

B. B. W.