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British Industrial History

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Robert Hunt

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Robert Hunt (6th Sept 1807 - 17 Oct 1887) F.R.S. (Fellow of the Royal Society) on 1st June 1854. [1][2]

1861. Keeper of mining records and secretary and superintendent of Class 1 in the 1862 London Exhibition. [3]

* 1887 Obituary [4]

WE regret to have to anuouncc the death of Mr. Robert. Hunt F. R. S. He died at his residence, No. 26, St. Leonard 's-terrace, Chelsea, early on Monday, the l7th inst. Mr. Hunt was born at Devonport on September 6th, l807. His father was drowned with the whole of the officers and ship's company of the Moucheron sloop-of-war carrying despatches, which foundered in the Aegean Sea in the same year. After passing his early years at Devonport, he went to London when about fourteen years of age, and was apprenticed to a surgeon with a view to entering upon a regular course of medical study, but after some years' service his health failed, and he returned to the West of England. In travelling through Devonshire and Cornwall he became a teacher of chemistry and natural philosophy, and subsequently, upon being appointed secretary to the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, he took up his residence at Falmouth, where he remained until, on the invitaticm of Mr. - afterwards Sir - H. T. De la Beche, he accepted the post of keeper of the mining records in the Museum of Practical Geology, which office he occupied in Craig's-court and Jermyn street successively until its duties were transferred to the Mines Department of the Home Office in 1883, when he retired from active service. The most important duty performed by this office was the preparation and publication of a volume of Mineral statistics, which, after a few years of tentative experiment, was elaborated into a complete form about 1853, and thenceforth appeared annually for about thirty years, and usually about six months after the close of the year to which it referred, in which respect it was a striking contrast to the similar returns published in foreign countries, which were often two or more years behind; and not less re-markable was the circumstances that Mr. Hunt's returns were entirely obtained by voluutary effort as the result of his personal influence upon the mine-owners and others at a time when proposals for compulsory returns were everywhere regarded with suspicion and dislike. Much of this influence was due to his extended personal acquaintance with the mines of the country he having for many years travelled regularly throughout the different mineral districts of the United Kingdom, and also to his extreme kindliness of manner and the readiness with which this great knowledge was placed freely at the disposal of all who sought for information at his office in Jermyn-street. Between 1866 and 1870 he was a member of the Royal Coal Commission, and produced the remarkable volume on the production, consumption, and export of coal, forming vol. iii. of the report of the Commission, a work which was done without intermitting the regular annual volume of general statistics, and with but a small addition to the regular staff of his office.

When living in Cornwall, and during the earlier years of his London life, Mr. Hunt was a zealous investigator of the chemical action of the spectrum, and his published "Researches in Light" is one of the earlier records of systematic investigation in this direction and among the most important of his discoveries may be mentioned that of the action of light upon chromium salta which has subsequently been developed into the Woodbury and other methods of photographic engraving. His popular guide to photography, published in 1841, wa the first English treatise on the subject, and the "Manual of Photography" which followed in 1851, went through four editions. In 185i he served as superintendent of the mineral and metallurgical classes of the Great Exhibition, and he filled the same office in 1862. In connection with the former he produced the well-known "Synopsis," which was compiled, from notes printed and published between the closing of the Exhibition at night and the opening ceremony on the following morning. He carried on researches on the effect of solar light on plants, and discovered the method of reducing the scorching effect by toning glass with cupric oxide, which principle was adopted with much success in the great palm house at Kew.

In 1855 he undertook the editorship of Ure's Dictionary, and in 1860 published a fifth edition, enlarged from two to three volumes which was followed by a sixth in 1861, and a seventh in 1875. The latter also in three volumes, but of considerably larger size than the earlier one, was completed by a supplemental volume in 1878. In 1884 shortly after his retirement from active service, he published a large volume on "British Mining," which embodies materials collected during the whole period of his official life and will form an enduring monument of his work.

In addition to scientific or technical works, Mr. Hunt was a considerable contributor to lighter literature. His early "Poetry of Science" was very favourably received, as was also "Panthee, or the Spirit of Nature," a novel with a scientific basis. A later work on the "Drolls, or Popular Legends of Cornwall and Devon" which were mostly collected orally during a pedestrian tour, has appeared in two editions, and forms a standard addition to English folk-lore.

Mr. Hunt was an extremely fluent and pleasant speaker, and in his best years was exceedingly resourceful as a public lecturer on physical science. His most important service to education has been the formation of the Miners' Association of Cornwall and Devon, of which he was the secretary and active manager for several years. Probably no similar Society has produced such excellent result upon very slender means, many of the students gaining worthy success having, through the knowledge acquired in the classes of the Association, risen to places of honour and profit, both in English and foreign mines; while among the former teachers are to be found some of the most prominent mining and smelting men of the present day. Of all the work accomplished by this great-hearted, kindly, and indefatigable man, none will be more enduriug than his efforts to raise the condition of the working men of his native country, and he will long be held in recollection by the large number of those who have benefitted by his unselfish labours.

See Also


Sources of Information

  2. The Engineer 1878/11/22
  3. The Engineer 1861/08/30
  4. The Engineer 1887/10/21