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British Industrial History

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Cornelius Varley

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Cornelius Varley (1781–1873), artist and inventor of optical apparatus.

1781 Born on 21 November at the Blue Post tavern, Hackney, the third of five children of Richard Varley (d. 1791) and his second wife, Hannah Fleetwood.

c.1793 Two years after his father's death, Cornelius's uncle, Samuel Varley, a watchmaker, jeweller, and natural philosopher, took charge of him. Cornelius began to make lenses and microscopes and assisted his uncle in his chemical experiments and public lectures when Samuel founded the Chemical and Philosophical Society at Hatton House in 1794, one of the forerunners of the Royal Institution.

1800 Samuel Varley gave up his business; Cornelius became an artist like his elder brother, concentrating on landscapes.

c.1805 Some draft autobiographical notes [2] [1]

1809 Varley invented the graphic telescope, a drawing instrument which combined the portability of the camera obscura with the two-way mirror arrangement of William Hyde Wollaston's camera lucida.

1811 Varley patented the graphic telescope but found that manufacturers were unable to work to his exacting specifications; this was perhaps a reason why he set up his own workshop.

From 1814 Varley's main occupation was as an optical manufacturer.

1821 Married Elizabeth Livermore Straker; ten children including C. F. Varley (1828 - 1883), S. A. Varley (1832-1921), Theophilus Varley (1833-1906), Octavius Varley (1838 - 1871) and Frederick Henry Varley (1842–1916) all of whom worked in electrical engineering and/or telegraphy; also Cornelius John Varley (1827- ) and several daughters.

1831 and 1833 received silver medals from the Society of Arts for his microscopes.

1839 Varley co-founded the Royal Microscopic Society and contributed a series of communications to it's transactions.

1841 Received the Isis gold medal for improvements in the construction of microscopes.

1845 Varley published a Treatise on Optical Drawing Instruments.

1851 Varley's distinction as a manufacturer was acknowledged when he and his sons (sic) mounted a display at the Great Exhibition. He was awarded a prize medal for his graphic telescope and its supporting table, widely used by artists such as John Sell Cotman and the land surveyor Thomas Hornor.

1873 Died at 19 South Grove West, Stoke Newington, London, on 2 October.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] [1802-5] Cornelius Varley’s Narrative written by himself. Curious Travellers editions website
  • Biography, ODNB [3]