Open main menu

Irvine, William (1743-1787) (DNB00)

IRVINE, WILLIAM, M.D. (1743–1787), chemist, was the son of a merchant in Glasgow, where he was born in 1743. He entered the university of his native town in 1756, and studied medicine and chemistry under Dr. Joseph Black [q.v.] , whom he assisted in his first experiments on the latent heat of steam. After graduating M.D. he visited London and Paris for purposes of professional improvement, was appointed on his return in 1766 lecturer on materia medica in the university of Glasgow, and succeeded Robison in 1770 in the chair of chemistry. His lectures were described by Cleghorn as remarkable for erudition, sagacity, and explanatory power. His experiments were largely devoted to the furtherance of manufactures. He was working at the improvement of glass-making processes in a large factory in which he was concerned when he was attacked with a fever, which proved fatal on 9 July 1787. The offer of a lucrative post under the Spanish government came to him upon his deathbed. By his wife, Grace Hamilton, he left one son William (1776–1811) [q. v.], who published from his father's papers, with some additions of his own, ‘Essays, chiefly on Chemical Subjects,’ London, 1805. Irvine's doctrine of the varying capacities of different bodies for heat was defended, and his method of experimenting was explained by his son in Nicholson's ‘Journal of Natural Philosophy’ (vi. 25, xi. 50).

[Preface to Irvine's Essays on Chemical Subjects; preface to William Irvine the younger's Letters on Sicily; Edinburgh Medical Commentaries for 1787, p. 455 (Cleghorn); Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Poggendorff's Biographisch-Literarisches Handwörterbuch; Black's Lectures on Chemistry, i. 504 (Robison).]

A. M. C.