Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Dupré, August

DUPRÉ, AUGUST (1835–1907), chemist, born at Mainz, Germany, on 6 Sept. 1835, was second son of F. Dupré, merchant, of Frankfurt-am-Main. Both father and mother were of Huguenot descent. Migrating to London in 1843, the elder Dupré resided at Warrington until 1845, when, returning to Germany, he settled at Giessen. There and at Darmstadt August received his early schooling. In 1852, when seventeen years old, he, with his brother Friedrich Wilhelm (d. 1908), entered the University of Giessen, where they studied chemistry under Liebig and Will. In 1854 both proceeded to Heidelberg University, where they continued their chemical studies with Bunsen and Kirchhoff. After August had graduated Ph.D. at Heidelberg in 1855, he and his brother came to London, where he acted as assistant to Dr. W. Odling, then demonstrator of Practical Chemistry in the medical school of Guy's Hospital. In collaboration with Odling he discovered the almost universal presence of copper in vegetable and animal tissues (see On the Presence of Copper in the Tissues of Plants and Animals, Report Brit. Assoc. 1857; On the Existence of Copper in Organic Tissues, Reports Guy's' Hosp. 1858). Friedrich meanwhile became lecturer in chemistry and toxicology at Westminster Hospital Medical School. In 1863 August succeeded Friedrich in the latter office, which he held till 1897. In 1866 he became a naturalised British subject. From 1874 to 1901 he was lecturer in toxicology at the London School of Medicine for Women.

With his hospital appointment Dupré soon held many responsible offices in which he turned his mastery of chemical analysis to signal public advantage. From 1873 to 1901 he was public analyst to the city of Westminster. Meanwhile in 1871 he was appointed chemical referee to the medical department of the local government board, and for the board conducted (1884–5, 1887) special inquiries respecting potable waters and the contamination and self-purification of rivers (see official Reports). Subsequently with W. J. Dibdin, Sir Frederick Abel [q. v. Suppl. II], and other chemists, he made a series of investigations, on behalf of the metropolitan board of works, on the condition of the river Thames, and on sewage treatment and purification methods (for details see Report of the Royal Commission (1884) on Metropolitan Sewage Discharge and paper by Dibdin, The Purification of the Thames, with remarks by Dupré, Proc. Inst. Civil Eng. cxxix.). ‘Dupré was foremost’ (wrote Otto Hehner) ‘in giving the now orthodox modes of water analysis their present form; and contributed to the analytical methods of the examination of alkaloidal and other drugs. He was the first to observe (with H. Bence Jones) the formation of alkaloidal substances or “ptomaines” by the decomposition of animal matters’ (see On a Fluorescent Substance resembling Quinine in Animals, Proc. Roy. Soc. 1866; On the Existence of Quinoidine in Animals, Proc. Roy. Inst. 1866).

Dupré was long officially engaged in researches on explosives. From 1873 he was consulting chemist to the explosives department of the home office; in 1888 he was nominated a member of the war office explosives committee, of which Sir Frederick Abel was chairman; and in 1906 he became a member of the ordnance research board. During thirty-six years he examined ‘nearly four hundred entirely new explosives of the most varied composition, and further examined, at frequent intervals, all explosives imported into England, as to safety. He had often to evolve original methods of analysis or of testing for safety, and therein especially rendered important services’ (H. Wilson Hake). At the time of the Fenian outrages in 1882–3 he discharged dangerous duties in the examination of ‘infernal machines’ and especially in connection with the detection (1883) of the man Whitehead, at Birmingham, who had been secretly engaged there in the manufacture of nitro-glycerine (see Eighth Annual Report of the Inspectors of Explosives, 1883, and Sir William Harcourt, home secretary, in the House of Commons, Hansard, 16 April 1883).

The treasury was also among the government departments which sought Dupré's opinion in matters of applied chemistry, and he was often a witness in medico-legal cases in the law courts. At the Lamson poisoning trial in 1881 he gave notable evidence for the crown.

Dupré was elected a fellow of the Chemical Society in 1860, and served on the council (1871–5). He was president of the Society of Public Analysts (1877–8); was an original member of the Institute of Chemistry (1877), and a member of the first and four later councils. He was an original member of the Society of Chemical Industry, serving on the council (1894–7). Dupré was elected F.R.S. on 3 June 1875.

Dupré died at his home, Mount Edgcumbe, Sutton, Surrey on 15 July 1907, and was buried at Benhilton, Sutton. He married in 1876 Florence Marie, daughter of H. T. Robberds, of Manchester, and had issue four sons and one daughter.

Dupré was joint author with Dr. Thudichum of a work, ‘On the Origin, Nature, and Varieties of Wine’ (1872); and with Dr. H. Wilson Hake, of ‘A Short Manual of Inorganic Chemistry’ (1886; 3rd edit. 1901). From 1855 he communicated many scientific papers to the publications of the Royal Society, the Chemical Society, the Society of Public Analysts, and the Society of Chemical Industry, at times in collaboration with his brother, Prof. Odling, H. Bence Jones, F. J. M. Page, H. Wilson Hake, and Otto Hehner. He also contributed much to the ‘Analyst,’ ‘Chemical News,’ ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ and foreign periodicals.

[Proc. Roy. Soc., vol. lxxx., A.; The Analyst (with portrait), vol. xxxii.; Trans. Chem. Soc., vol. xciii. (2); Journ. Soc. Chem. Industry, vol. xxvi.; Proc. Inst. Chemistry, 1907, pt. 4; Journ. Soc. Arts, vol. lv.; Roy. Soc. Catal. Sci. Papers; Nature, 1 Aug. 1907; Lancet, 20 July 1907; The Times, 17 July 1907; Men of the Time, 1899; ‘The Rise and Progress of the British Explosives Industry,’ 1909, published under the auspices of the VIIth Internat. Congress of Applied Chemistry; O. Guttman, The Manufacture of Explosives, 1909.]

T. E. J.