HUMPHRY DAVY CHEMICAL LANDMARK PLAQUE ERECTED IN PENZANCE
BY MICHAEL JEWESS
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This work was published in the Newsletter and summary of papers of the Royal Society of Chemistry, though in the text linked above a printer’s error at page 33 is corrected.
Davy was apprenticed to an apothecary, John Bingham Borlase from 1795 to 1798 at No 1 Market Place, Penzance, Cornwall. Like Faraday, a decade and more later, Davy benefited from a generous master, who in his case released him early from his indentures so that he could pursue a career in scientific research.
A National Chemical Landmark plaque was erected at No 1 Market Place in September 2015, with strong local support: Davy had long been regarded as “Penzance’s most famous son”, but this was the first national recognition of Davy in the town. The author acted as master of ceremonies, with Professor Frank James of the Royal Institution giving a lecture.
The plaque reinforces two lessons:
(i) That Davy was indeed a great chemist. He worked on the physiological effects of gases, established electrochemistry (superseding Volta’s contact theory), disproved Lavoisier’s “oxygen” theory of acids, and used electricity to isolate 7 elements.
(ii) That his Cornish origins affected his outlook on life, imbuing him with a Romantic spirit, so that his condition in London was one of “alienation”.
Additional keywords: Medical Pneumatic Institution, Royal Institution.
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