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British Industrial History

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Edward Davy

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Edward Davy, inventor of a telegraph system

1806 Born in Ottery St Mary, Devon, , the son of Thomas Davy, a doctor.

Edward trained as a doctor (MRCS 1829), but soon extended his interest to chemistry.

He purchased a chemist's shop on the Strand and began work which resulted in several inventions.

1835 Invented "Davy's Diamond Cement", a glue for repairing china which was to prove a steady source of income to him.

1836 Began work on his major invention, an electric "needle telegraph".

1836 Published "An experimental guide to chemistry"

1837 Laid a cable around Regent's Park to demonstrate his system to Directors of Railway Companies, including Brunel. He also exhibited his machine in a room in Exeter Hall, before he had a patent for it.

1837 Davy opposed Cooke's and Wheatstone's patent and submitted his own. The Solicitor General agreed that his invention was distinct and different but only after adjudication by Michael Faraday. Davy's patent was granted in 1838.

Davy had married and had a child, but the marriage was a disaster and Davy tried to remove the child from its mother. She took action against him through the ecclesiastical courts.

1839 Faced with financial difficulties and the impossibility of reaching a settlement with his wife, Davy left the country for Australia in April, just as his telegraph was on the point of being accepted by various railway companies.

Davy thought that the negotiations could be handled by an agent but this proved very difficult. Various people, including Alfred Bunn, tried to help in selling Davy's telegraph ideas, but they had problems demonstrating the machinery. His family were nervous of drawing attention to his name given the continuing legal problems with his wife, and so they did not do all that might have been done to push forwards Davy's invention and soon his system was abandoned in favour of Cooke and Wheatstone's system. His patent was eventually sold to the Electric Telegraph Co for £600.

Davy had a long and eventful life in Australia, first brewing gin in Adelaide, editing a newspaper there, working as Assay Master in Adelaide (1852) and then Melbourne, before eventually settling in Malmesbury, Victoria, where he tried farming without much success and also worked as a doctor. He was a JP and on the town council.

He married a further 3 times, having two children by his fourth marriage.

After Fahie rescued his name from obscurity, he was honoured for his role in the development of the electric telegraph by the Royal Society of Victoria, by the town of Malmesbury and he was elected an Honorary Member of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians. However, efforts to obtain a Civil List pension for him were in vain.

1885 He died on 26 January, aged 79

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