Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 149,755 pages of information and 235,473 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Robert Angus Smith

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Dr. (Robert) Angus Smith (1817-1884) FRS, analytical chemist, a pioneer in experimenting upon impurities in the air, and known for his "composition" which was used for coating metal pipes, to protect them.

1817 Born in Glasgow, son of John Smith and Janet Thomson[1]

Attended university in Glasgow.

Worked as a private tutor

1841 Gained a PhD at Giessen in Germany working with Justus Liebig

1842 Became assistant to Lyon Playfair at Manchester Royal Institution

Became a consulting chemist

1847 Published his first paper on health effects of the components of the air.

1856 Wrote a tribute to Dalton in 'History of Atomic Theory'.[2]

Prominent in the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society

1864 Elected chief inspector under the Alkali Act

1874 Developed a method for internal lining of water pipes

1881 Robert Angus Smith 64, Chemist FRS, PhD etc, and Government Inspector of Alkali works, lived in Chorlton with his niece Jessie K. Smith 45[3]

1884 Died in Colwyn Bay[4]

1884 Obituary[5]

THE announcement of the death of this distinguished man, which appeared in our columns last month, was too short to call the requisite attention to the great events of his life, and we propose now to supplement it with some information to which attention ought to be directed. He was one of the most conscientious and zealous workers in the field of chemistry. He died after an illness extending over several months, at Colwyn Bay, near Llandudno. He was born in Glasgow in 1817, and was educated at the grammar school, and afterwards in the university of that city. His aptitude, which early showed itself for classical studies, induced his parents to regard the Scotch Kirk as a suitable profession for their son ; but his early experience of the arbitrary dogmatism of the religious sect proved such a profession to be incompatible with his opinions, and he, like many others for the same reason, sought other more consistent channels into which to direct his energy. After spending several years as private tutor in Scotland, and ultimately in London, Dr. Smith went in 1839 to the University of Giessen to study science. Here he had as companions and fellow-workers men, many of whom have become well known by their scientific investigations. Returning to England in 1842 he became assistant to Dr. Lyon Playfair, who was at that time engaged on a sanitary commission, and it was the investigations connected with this occupation that formed the starting-point of Dr. Smith's subsequent work on sanitary matters, which are especially linked with his name.

His first papers appeared in 1846 in the Journal of the Chemical Society. Two years later he read a highly important paper at the meeting of the British Association at Swansea, "On the Air and Water of Towns," several of the conclusions which he arrived at being remarkably interesting with regard to the presence of putrescible organic matter in the air of crowded rooms, and the existence of nitrates in well waters in the neighbourhood of houses and towns, indicating previous pollution of the water by sewage or other animal matter. These papers were followed by two others, " On the Air of Towns ," and " On the Air and Rain of Manchester, " both of much sanitary value.

In 1856, as a tribute to the memory of Dalton, Dr. Smith compiled a valuable " History of the Atomic Theory, and a Memoir of Dalton, " a work which, although now out of print for many years, was of considerable importance, due to the author's analyses of Richter's and Wenzel's claims to the discovery of the law of reciprocal decomposition.

Between the years 1855 and 1863 he contributed several papers to the Chemical Society and the Philosophical Society of Manchester, "On Sewage and Sewage Rivers," "Disinfectants," "On the Composition of Rosolic Acid," and "On Putrefaction in Blood," some of his conclusions being of much value from a sanitary point of view. In 1863 he was appointed Inspector- General of Alkali Works, and for this post probably a not more fit person could have been selected, as the work connected with it was essentially of that character to which he had devoted many years of experimental research. His "Report on the Air of Mines and Confined Spaces" was published in 1864, and his annual "Report under the Alkali Act" form important contributions to sanitary science. In 1869 Dr. Smith published his work on " Disinfectants and Disinfection," and three years later his work on "Air and Rain." In 1876 Dr. Smith, in conjunction with the late Dr. J . Young, F.R.S., collected and printed in one large volume, for presentation only, the "Chemical and Physical Researches of Thomas Graham," and in 1883, to commemorate the centenary of the Manchester Philosophical Society, he wrote a long and highly interesting history of this Society, with biographical sketches of many of its most notable members.

Dr. Smith was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1857; he was a corresponding member of the Royal Bavarian Academy, vice-president of the Chemical Society, of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, and of the Institute of Chemistry. He assisted in the Jury of the Exhibition of 1862, and of the French Exposition in 1878. In 1882 the degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the University of Edinburgh.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. BMD
  2. The Engineer 1884/06/06
  3. 1881 census
  4. National probate calendar
  5. The Engineer 1884/06/06 page 432
  • Biography, DNB