You are on page 1of 21

Abraham Bennet, F.R.S.

(1749-1799): A Provincial Electrician in Eighteenth-Century England

Author(s): Paul Elliott
Source: Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Jan., 1999), pp. 59-
Published by: The Royal Society
Stable URL: .
Accessed: 10/06/2014 11:02

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

The Royal Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Notes and Records of
the Royal Society of London.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Notes Rec. R. Soc. Lond. 53 (1), 59-78 (1999) C 1999 The Royal Society





172 ClarendonPark Road, Leicester LE2 3AF, UK


Abraham Bennet was a clergyman and electrical experimenterwho invented the

gold-leaf electroscopeandthe doublerof electricity.He used a mechanicalrevolving
version of the latter to devise a concept of 'adhesive electricity', which had an
importantinfluenceon Voltain the formulationof his contacttheoryof electromotivity.
Bennet managed to balance his clerical position, obtained by patronage,with the
friendship and assistance of the local philosophical community, which included
Erasmus Darwin, White Watson and the members of the Lunar and Derby
Philosophical Societies. The Lunarmembershelped him to publishhis researchand
supportedhis nominationas F.R.S. in 1789; however, the relative harmonyof the
philosophicalcommunityrepresentedby the Royal Society,which temporarilyunited
provincesandmetropolis,was shatteredby the politicalturbulenceof the revolutionary
era. The delicate balancingact that allowed Bennet to claim supportfrom Banks and
Kaye at the same time as from Priestley and Darwin became more difficult and
Bennet's researchactivity foundereddue to ill health and political division.


Announcing the discovery of the pile in 1800, Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) paid
tributeto threeBritishelectricianswho had stimulatedhis work;these were William
Nicholson (1753-1815), TiberiusCavallo(1749-1809) andAbrahamBennet.1Bennet
remains by far the least known of the three despite the fact that contemporaries
includingDavy andErasmusDarwinrecognizedhis importance.This neglecthas been
due in part to the fact that Bennet was based in the small Derbyshire town of
Wirksworth.Yet in the later18thandearly 19thcenturies,therewas a vibrantscientific
culturein the Englishprovincesexemplifiedby the LunarSociety of Birminghamand
the Manchester and Derby Philosophical Societies. Bennet had connections with
both the Derby Society and the Lunar Society. Provincialism did not mean
parochialismor irrelevanceand a reappraisalof Bennet's position in the history of
science is long overdue.


This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
60 Paul Elliott


Born in 1749, the son of AbrahamBennet, schoolmasterof Whaley Lane, Cheshire,

and his wife, Ann Fallowes of Cheadle, AbrahamBennet was baptised at Taxal,
Derbyshire,on 20 December. He was probablythe eldest son, but had at least one
brother,named William.2Abrahammarriedand his widow, Jane,was to survive him
for 27 years, dying at Mappletonin July 1826.3They had six daughtersandtwo sons.
In September1775, he was ordainedin Londonandappointedto curaciesat Tideswell
and a year later at Wirksworth,on a double stipendof 60 per annum.4A memorial
tablet in Wirksworth church records that he was additionally, 'Rector of Fenny
Bentley; Domestic Chaplainto his grace the Duke of Devonshire;PerpetualCurate
of Wobur andLibrarianto his gracethe Duke of Bedford.'He was the authorof New
Experiments on Electricity (1789) which 'established his reputation for science
amongst the philosophers of all countries'. Bennet's name is recordedin the list of
schoolmastersat WirksworthGrammarSchool, where he is describedas M.A.5His
notebookhas survivedanda portraitof him hangsin the vestryof WirksworthChurch
which is half-length, done in oils and about 10.5 by 9 inches in size (figure 1). The
picture,thoughin need of a clean, clearlyshows a profiledfigurein clericaldresswith
grey hair,a largeforeheadanda straight,aquilinenose. It can be datedto between 1789
and 1799 because Bennet is shown holding a copy of his New Experimentswith
anotherbook and a roll of parchment,probablyrepresentinghis scientific papers.In

Figure 1. Portraitof Abraham Bennet by an unknown artist kept in the vestry of St Mary's
Church, Wirksworth, showing him with copies of his works. Reproduced from Ann. Sci. 1,
plate v, pp. 98-99 (1936), with the kind permission of Taylor & Francis.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AbrahamBennet, F.R.S.and eighteenth-centuryelectricity 61

additionto his own speculations,Bennet's notebook contains extracts from books,

periodicalsandnewspapersdemonstratingthe thoughtprocesses of a man of the 18th
century'well versedin differentbranchesof naturalphilosophy'.6Bennetdied in 1799
aftera 'severe illness' and was buriedon 9 May.7


TheNew Experimentswas publishedby subscriptionandcontaineda summaryof all his

electricalworkto date.Of mostimportancearehis inventionof thegold-leafelectroscope,
inventionof the doublerof electricityand anticipationof Volta'scontacttheory.8In the
NewExperiments, Bennetdescribedhis generalelectricaltheoryandthenew electroscope
before giving an account of experiments with a Lichtenberg electrophorus with
reproductionsof chalk figures and patternsthat he produced.The phenomenonof
electricitycausedby evaporation-forexamplefromheatedmetalsplungedintowater-
was illustrated,followed by a descriptionof the doubler.The work concludedwith a
theoryof atmosphericelectricityandhow differentelectricalstateswere associatedwith
of the doublingprocessandthe experimentson 'adhesiveelectricity'.
Variousphenomenahad always betrayedthe existence of electricchargeproduced
in differentways, such as rubbingwool on glass. Threadsandpieces of leaf brasshad
been used in the early 18thcenturybecausethey would divergeif electrified.The first
real electrometerwas inventedby John Canton(1718-1772) and used a pair of pith
balls hung on fine linen threads.On the airbeing electrifiedin a room,the balls would
diverge.The inventionof the Leydenjar showed thatelectricitycould be 'stored'and
perhaps the strength of the charge estimated. The jar consisted of a bottle partly
filled with water that contained a metal rod projectingthroughthe neck. Foil was
placed inside and outside the bottle to prevent damage to the leaves. If the rod was
connectedto the primeconductorof a staticgeneratingmachineandthenthejar taken
away, it was found thatthe chargecould be kept and transported.9
Electrical theories followed the suggestions in the queries of Newton's Optics
(1723), which had speculatedaboutthe propertiesof the mysteriousetherapparently
inhabitingthe universeand seeming to obey the laws of attractionandrepulsion.The
electricaltheoryof BenjaminFranklin(1706-1790) whichbecamewidely knownafter
1750-primarily in connectionwith experimentsculminatingin the inventionof the
lightning conductor-was no exception. According to the Franklin'stheory,largely
acceptedby Bennet, therewere three states of electric charge,positive, negative and
the stateof equilibrium.In the positive state,chargedbodies held an abundanceof the
electrical 'fluid' and in the negative state, therewas a privationor lack of fluid. The
state of equilibriumwas the naturalstate of chargeof a body. The Franklinistsystem
suffered from one obvious problem,how to explain the fact that negatively charged
bodies repulsedeach other.One answerwas a rival theorywhich held thattherewere
actuallytwo electricalfluids, the vitreous(positive) andthe resinous(negative) fluid,
thus, the chargingof a body by rubbingwould representthe rushingof one kind of

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
62 Paul Elliott

'fluid' into the place previously occupied

by the other. The two theories were
incommensurable,as no experimentshad :,i:
been devised which could conclusively
proveeither.10 iiiii
Bennet's electroscope was based on
another instrument made by his friend
Cavallo. Instead of threads or pith balls, '
Cavallo used silver wire terminated by
pieces of cork contained in a glass bottle
and held in place by a glass tube. A wire
ran from the tube to the large brass cap i
and strips of tin-foil (earthed)allowed the
electricity to be 'conveyed off' when the
corks touched. Many of these innovations.
were adopted by Bennet, but his
electroscope was largerwith a 5-inch tall
glass case (figure 2). Two inches in
diameter,it restedon a wood or metalbase. i i ; ;
Two slips of leaf-gold were suspendedin
the glass, and the peg and tube holding
them touchedthe outercap. Two pieces of
tin foil were fastened on opposite sides of
the internalsurfaceof the glass." Bennet's
electroscope was important because the
glass case allowed atmosphericelectricity Figure2. Bennet'sgold-leafelectroscope
to be easily detected without interference andsimpledoubler.
fromaircurrents.The instrumentwas more
sensitivethanotherkindsbecause it was largerandbecausethe gold leaves were finer
and lighter than other materials. Bennet put the electroscope to use in a series of
experimentsdetectingthe presenceof charge,such as when differenttypes of powder
were blown at the electrometerand foundto registerelectricity.He compiled a diary
of the chargepresentin differentweatherconditions.To carryout some of these tests
he utilized an extraordinaryapparatusconsisting of a candle (found to increase the
detectionsensitivity)held in a small lanternfixed to a tinnediron funneland fastened
to the end of a 10-foot deal rod. To the lower end of the funnel a brass wire was
fastenedwhich could be used to communicatethe electricity inside to the cap of the
electroscope(figure 3). This must have been an interestingspectacle for the locals as
their curatecarriedit about.12
For the detection of even smaller charge,Bennet found that he could use Volta's
condenser.In 1778, Voltahad announcedthe inventionof the electrophoruswhich was
a 'perpetual'electrical creatorconsisting of a dish of metal containingthe dielectric
cake, a wooden shield covered with tin-foil and an insulatinghandle. The dielectric
cake was a mixtureof turpentine,resin andwax. Operationwas simple. The platewas

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Abraham Bennet, FR.S. and eighteenth-century electricity 63

Figure3. Thedeal-rodapparatus electricity,a devicefordiffusing

describedin theNewExperiments.
powdersto revealtheircharges,andotherof Bennet'sapparatus

chargedfroma machineandthen dischargedby touchingthe shield andplatetogether

or alternately.When the shield was removedits negative chargecould be given to the
hook of a Leydenjar, then replaced,touched,broughtback to the hook, etc., until the
condenserwas sufficientlycharged.Volta'scondenserwas in fact an electrophorethat
had a layer of varnish as cake. Bennet used both the larger and smaller of Volta's
condensersremarkingon their 'amazingpower'. The idea of using both was actually
Cavallo's, but, even with both, Bennet found that some charges still could not be
detected. Solving this problemled to his second importantinvention,the doublerof

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
64 Paul Elliott

The discovery of the doublerwas announcedin a papersent to the Royal Society

by ReverendRichardKaye, F.R.S., in 1787. This instrument,the 'simple doubler',
consisted of two polished brass plates (B and C) with insulatinghandles one in the
middleandthe otheron the side (figure2). Theplateswerevarnishedon the underside,
with the handlesinsulatedby glass coveredwith sealing wax. Collectedelectricityin
the Leydenjar was appliedto the cap of the gold-leaf electroscopeupon which was
placed the plate B, touching it with the forefingerstretchedover the insulatingnut.
Thus the electricity 'spreadsupon the cap', which served as a condensingplate and
electrifiedthe plate B contrarily(because it was earthed)with the varnishinterposed
as a chargedelectric.14 Thejar was thenremovedandthe forefingerliftedup. Theplate
B was separatedfromthe cap andthe plate C placed on its upperside andtouchedby
stretching a finger over the nut of its insulating handle. Then the last plate was
electrifiedcontraryto B, andthe fingerwas removedwith the plate C separatedfrom
B. It would then be evident 'to electriciansthat the electricityof the cap and that of
the plate C will be of the same kind, andnearlyof equal quantity'.'5Thusthe original
chargewas effectively doubled.Next the edge of the plate C was appliedto the side
of the cap, and touching and placing B as before, the electricityof C and that of the
cap both acted on the plate B. The result was that in Bennet's terms, the 'intensity'
of its contrary electricity became equal to both. When C was removed in an
unelectrifiedstate, and the forefingerswere taken off from B, then B was lifted up.
Once C had been placed upon it, the process could proceed as before, repeateduntil
the gold leaves diverged.Bennettook the factthatthe gold leaves divergedabouttwice
the distance on each operationas a rough indicationthat the electricity was being
There were problems. Cavallo announced that though the merit of Bennet's
inventionwas considerable,the use of it was 'far fromprecise and certain'andit was
'not an instrumentto be dependedupon'.16The primarypurposeof the doublerwas
manifestingsmallchargesby augmentation,butit was foundthatthe doublerproduced
electricityeven when no chargewas given to it in the first place. Suspectingfriction
to be a cause, Cavallo designed a collector of electricitywhich needed no touching
duringdoubling. Bennet too had noticed the problem of adherentor 'spontaneous'
chargeand suspectingfriction,andtriedto devise a doublerwith sliding or revolving
parts.But beforehe hadfinished,WilliamNicholson,a Londonteacherandinstrument
maker,senthim an ingeniousrevolvingdoublerthathe had constructed.This consisted
of two insulatedand immovable plates about 2 inches in diameterand a moveable
plate, also insulated, which revolved in a vertical plane parallel to the two other
plates passing alternately(figure4). A ball 'I' was made heavieron one side thanthe
otherandplaced on the axis oppositethe handleto counterbalanceplate B so it could
be stopped at any part of its revolution. The plate A was constantlyinsulatedand
received the communicatedelectricity.Plate B revolved and when opposite to plate
A, the connectingwires at the end of the crosspiece D touched the pins of A and C
at EF. A wire proceeding from the plate B touched the middle piece G, which was
supportedby a brass conductingpillar in connectionwith the earth.In this position,
if electricity was given to A, then B would acquire a contrarystate and revolving

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AbrahamBennet, FR.S. and eighteenth-centuryelectricity 65

Figure4. Nicholson'srevolvingdoubler.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
66 Paul Elliott

further-the wires also moving with it by means of the same insulating axis-the
plates were again insulatedtill the plate B was opposite to C. Then the wire at H
touchedthe pin on C, earthingit and giving the same kind of electricityas thatof A.17
By moving the handle still further,B was again brought opposite to A with the
connectingwiresjoining A andC. Theseboth actedon B, which was earthedas before
hence nearlydoubling'its intensity'.Simultaneously,the electricityof C was absorbed
into A because of the increasedcapacity of A while opposed to B. This was capable
of acquiringa contrarystatebecauseit was earthed'sufficientto balancethe influential
atmospheresof both plates'. By continuingto revolve the plate B the process was
performed'in a very expeditiousand accuratemanner'.18
Nicholson's doublerwas found by Bennet to still retain its spontaneouscharge,
which he thoughtwas due to 'the increasedcapacity'of approximatingparallelplates
that 'might attractand retaintheir chargetho' neitherof them were insulated'.19The
idea that substancesalways containeda residual charge either positive or negative,
regardlessof whetherthey were insulatedor not, proved to be a very fruitfulline of
research. Bennet tried various methods to deprive the doubler of all spontaneous
charge, such as earthing and rapidly rotating it before any experiment. In one
experimenta copperplatewas appliedto plate A while A andB were parallel(so that
B was earthed).After only five revolutionsof B the gold leaf divergednegatively by
a quarterof an inch. But where was this electricitycoming from?Bennet concluded
that different substances had different 'adhesive affinities' to the electrical fluid.
They could be eitherpositive or negative, the chargebeing attractedby the position
of differentplates in parallel.20
After findingthatdifferenttypes of flower on the plates
could change the chargeproduced,he drew the following pregnantconclusion:
It easily occurred,that if the spontaneouselectricityin the beginningof the processwas
sufficientlyweak,themerecontactof metalsor othersubstanceshavinga differentadhesive
affinitywith the electricalfluidmightalso changeit.2'

This was a momentousdiscovery in the history of electricity,and Bennet confirmed

his suppositionin a seriesof experimentswith differentsubstances.First,with the plate
B parallelto A but insulated,A was touched with a steel blade and B touched with
softenedironwire. After 16 revolutionsthe gold leaf divergedpositively.On reversal
of the experiment,with the knife appliedto B andthe soft wire to A, negative charge
was registered. Similarly, other metals were applied to the plates and the charge
doubled.Reversalof the metalschangedthe stateof the final charge;thereforeBennet
proved to his satisfactionthat the metals were causing the charge.
Varioussingle metals were then tested on differentplates. In one experimentthe
metal was applied to plates A and C and the crosspiece, then to plate B with B
standingin the lower partof its plane. The resultsof these single contactexperiments
were twofoldandof crucialimportance.Bennethadidentifieda methodof determining
the natureof the 'adhesive affinity' of electricityto differentmetals, in otherwords,
the natural electrical state of metals. Second, as the number of revolutions
approximatedinverselyto the strengthof the 'adhesive affinity',then metals could in
theory be gradedaccordingto the strengthof affinity.When lead ore was appliedto

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AbrahamBennet,ER.S. and eighteenth-centuryelectricity 67

plates A, C and the crosspiece, positive electricity was registered. Zinc produced
negative charge,so the 'adhesive affinity' was positive for lead ore and negative for
zinc. Gold, silver, copperandbrasswere also foundto be positive, while tin and zinc
were negative. Bennet widened his theoryto includenon-metalsubstanceswith pure
antimony,bismuth,tutenag,anddifferentwoods andtypes of stoneproducingpositive
charge.He proved thatthe shape of the substanceaffectedthe strengthof the charge
registered,with thin plates of zinc being strongerthan a large lump.22


Bennet's research had an importantinfluence on Volta in the formulation of his

contacttheory,though Voltahad alreadyinfluencedthe British electricians.Bennet,
Cavallo and Nicholson had met Volta in London in 1782 when he demonstratedthe
work of his condenserduringa Europeantour.23 In the Commentariusof 1791, Luigi
Galvani (1737-1798) demonstratedhow frogs' legs jerked under certain electrical
conditions, such as when touchedby metals. This was taken as proof that an animal
electricityexisted which was secretedby the brainand distributedthroughthe nerves
causing motion. Volta disagreed, arguing that the mere contact between metals
generated a charge, with animal parts being unnecessary, and proceeded to rank
metals accordingto their electromotivepower; he wondered, like Bennet, if metals
were mere passive agents. Indeed the frogs' legs served for Volta an analogous
positionto thatof the revolvingdoublerin Bennet'sexperiments.Voltafoundthattwo
metals in contact with the legs producedno convulsions, unlike one metal. After
various experiments,includingthe applicationof metals to the tongue (producingan
acid taste), Volta made this explicit statement: 'Metals are thus not only perfect
conductors,but motors of electricity.'The earliest announcementof this theorywas
June 1792, three years after Bennet's New Experimentshad been published.24From
1796, Voltadispensedwith the frogs' legs for good, using Nicholson's doublerinstead
to detect small contactcharge.In one conclusive experiment,metal stripsof zinc and
silver were held together and allowed to touch a condenser plate, with negative
chargebeing registered.He then used Nicholson's doublerto test the effects of two
metals in contact. These experiments led to the invention of the pile, which was
thoughtby Voltato be decisive proofthatGalvaniwas wrong.Thusthe letterto Banks
was entitled 'On electricity generatedby the contact of conductingsubstances' and
Voltapaid little attentionto the chemical effects of the pile.25
Nicholson, the inventorof the revolving doublerwrote that:
With regardto the principleof the electric-motorsof SignorVolta,I must observethat
Bennetmademanydirectexperimentsby the applicationof differentmetals,by the single
contactanddoubletouch,to theplatesof thedoubler,followedby theproductionof electricity,
whichwerepublishedin his New Experiments...

He did not know the date of Volta's experimentsbut believed them:

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
68 Paul Elliott

to be much laterthanthose of the same kind by Bennet.This last philosopher,as well as

Cavalloappearsto thinkthat differentbodies have differentattractionsor capacitiesfor
electricity ...26

Cavallo'sexperimentswere made afterBennet, so thatas Nicholson indicated,it was

Bennetwho anticipatedVolta'sconceptof electromotivepotential.Volta'sexperiments
with the doubler, notably those using different metals in contact, were strikingly
similar and other contemporariesrecognized this, including Davy and Darwin.27
Bennet's concept of adhesive affinity was similarto Volta's electromotivepotential
of substances.When he spoke of the fact that 'the mere contact of metals or other
substanceshaving a different adhesive affinity with the electrical fluid might also
change it' and the 'method of single contact' which 'appearedto cause a positive
charge'28this equatedto Volta'selectromotivity.Only the terminologywas different.
CertainlyVolta was a much greaterexperimenterand his formulationswere more
precise; but when he investigated the electromotivepotential of metals and other
substanceshe was following a lead alreadytaken by Bennet, who had extendedhis
concept of 'adhesive affinity' to non-metals such as wood, and substancessuch as
bismuth,antinomyand tutenag.These he had then gradedaccordingto the strength
of their adhesive affinity.
DoubtlessVolta'sprimarymotivationfor investigatingcontactpropertiescamefrom
the rivalrywith the Galvanists.In 1792 Volta stated that 'Metals are thus not only
perfect conductors,but motorsof electricity ... This is a new virtueof metals, which
no one has yet suspected,andwhich I havebeen led to discover'.29 Thiswas threeyears
afterBennet's book, which if Voltahad closely readwould have preventedhim from
making this statement.Thereforethe relationshipbetween Volta and Bennet is not
straightforward.Volta subscribedto the New Experiments,but may have not read it
until 1795, or perhapshe read it quickly and was only remindedof it afterCavallo's
work. Whateverthe precise details, the closeness of Volta's experimentswith the
doublerto those undertakenby Bennet confirm the influence, as does Volta's own
tributeto Bennet in the letterto Banks announcingthe discovery of the pile.30


TheNew Experimentssubscriptionlist demonstratesthe breadthof Bennet'sscientific

contacts.The most importantrelationshipswere with the LunarSociety and various
Derbyshire philosophers, notably Erasmus Darwin. From the middle of the 18th
centurygroups of professionals,prosperoustradersand philosopherscame together
in different provincial towns to form societies that had scientific and literary
aspirations.Theirappearancereflectedthe new economic prosperityand importance
of manyMidlandtowns, which enjoyeda growthin populationandgeographicalarea.
Bennet's own Wirksworthwas at the centreof the Derbyshirelead mining industry,
which had enjoyed a boom in the 18th century. The constructionof fashionable
classical houses and public buildings, the beginnings of industrializationand the
deliberateemulation of London culture all markedthe onset of a provincialurban

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AbrahamBennet, FR.S. and eighteenth-centuryelectricity 69

renaissance.The ideal of scientific educationwas prized often as a markof social

success-by the middle classes and was satisfied by the philosophical societies and
rovingitinerantlecturerswho advertisedin the local press,deliveringcoursesfor those
who could afford it. The most importantof the Midland societies were the Lunar
Society and the Derby PhilosophicalSociety.31
RobertSchofield has describedthe LunarSociety as:
A brilliant microcosm of that scattered community of provincial manufacturers and
professional men who found England a rural society with an agricultural economy and left
it urban and industrial.32

The original members of the Lunar Society included: Darwin; John Whitehurst;
MatthewBoulton (1728-1809), mechanical engineer;William Small (1730-1775),
physician, chemist and machinist;Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), industrialistand
chemist;RichardLovell Edgeworth(1744-1817), authorandphilosopher;andJames
Watt (1736-1819), chemist and engineer. Other members included Thomas Day,
JamesKeir and Joseph Priestley (1733-1804). Most of these subscribedto Bennet's
New Experimentsand supportedhis election to the Royal Society in 1789. Priestley
was an English UnitarianministerfromLeeds who attendeda Dissenting academyin
Daventry,later teaching at the WarringtonAcademy. A meeting with Franklinand
other London electricians inspiredhis electrical work culminatingin the History of
Electricity(1767). He moved to Birminghamin 1780, wherehe continuedto work on
airs and wrote controversialphilosophicaland theological books. The LunarSociety

Figure 5. Electrical pattern made with an electrophorus and formed from powdered resin.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
70 Paul Elliott

crystallizedduringthe 1760s, thoughsome of the members,such as Darwin,Boulton

andWhitehurst,alreadyknew each other.It was known as the LunarSociety because
they met at member'shouses once a month in the afternoonof the Mondaynearest
the time of the full moon. The Society was informal and had no fixed rules or
constitution.Even if it is an exaggerationto talk of these men as having 'manipulated
a revolution', they were certainlya successful group of technological and scientific
innovators.Wedgwoodfoundeda potterybusiness, and the Boulton and Wattsteam
enginesthatemergedfromtheirSoho plantwere more efficientthenpreviousdesigns.
Thiswas a uniqueperiodin Britishhistorywhen an aspiringmiddle-classintelligentsia
helped to make provincialscience and industryof paramountimportance,though in
blurringthe distinctionbetween inventor,manufacturingprocess and final product,
they tendedto ignorethe oppressiverealitiesandsocial dislocationof the new 'satanic
mills'. This was the context of Bennet's work.33
Priestley received the dedication of Bennet's 1786 paper on the gold-leaf
electroscope,which alreadyhad 'the honour'of his 'approbation'.Bennethad carried
his electrometer'from Birminghamto London, [and] anotherfrom Wirksworthto
Etruriain a portmanteauon horseback,yet without injury'.34This was a tour of the
Lunarmap, taking in Derby,Birminghamand Wedgwood'sEtruria.Bennet used an
electrophorusto createLichtenburgfigures-beautiful patternsmade on the resinous
electrophorusby drawingover it the knob of a chargedglass-which were shown by
projectingfine powderedresin over the plate. One such figurewas representedin the
New Experiments'frontispiece(figure 5). Wedgwoodhad the idea of commercially
producingthe figuresby using fine powderedenamelinsteadof resin andthenbaking
the plate or vessel, hence Bennet's visit to Etruria.35In 1785, John Southern,one of
the 'Soho Group' of Birminghaminventorsand industrialists,publishedA Treatise
UponAerostaticMachines,one of the earliestEnglishbooks on balloon construction.
He was a 'special subscriber' to Bennet's New Experimentsand included in his
treatisea descriptionof a process for manufacturinginflammableairand a methodof
pasting sheets together for making experimentalpaper balloons given to him by
Bennet. In Bennet's notebook there is evidence that he worked on the problemsof
lighting, likewise a Lunarinterest.He recordeda design for 'a convenient fountain
lamp' using a glass vial placed in a socket of tin with the neck downwardsand a
looking glass to concentratethe light which was illustratedwith five drawings.From
about 1784 to 1786, lamp designs often featuredin Lunarcorrespondence.Aime
Argand(1755-1803) hadcreateda new oil lampincorporatinga tubularwick andglass
chimney. An upwarddraughtof air reduced smoke and smell while increasingthe
light. Boulton and Watt became involved in the manufacture and Wedgwood
correspondedwith Darwinon the subjectof creatingmarketablelamps.36 Nicholson,
the creatorof the revolvingdoubler,was also closely involvedwith the LunarSociety,
having worked for Wedgwood's pottery company and been a member of J.H.
Magellan'sLondonPhilosophicalSociety in the 1780s with Wedgwood,Whitehurst
and otherLunarMemberswho travelledto London.37
Darwin was the most importantof Bennet's philosophical friends. A successful
physician, inventorand writer,Coleridge said that 'Dr Darwin possesses perhapsa

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AbrahamBennet, RR.S.and eighteenth-centuryelectricity 71

Figure6. Bennet'spendulumdoubleras picturedin ErasmusDarwin'sPhytologia.

greaterrange of knowledge than any otherman in Europe,and is the most inventive

of philosophical men. He thinks in a new train on every subject except religion'.38
Darwin'sletters and books reveal a close collaborationbetween himself and Bennet
duringthe 1780s. Darwin had invented a mechanical doubler,which he passed to
Bennet for development, and he continually praised Bennet's work in his books,
probablyencouragingJoseph Johnsonthe publisherto sell the New Experimentsin
London. Darwinhad known Franklinsince the 1750s and in his last letterto him of
1787, he describedBennet's doubler.39 In the Zoonomia,Darwinsingled out Bennet's
'ingenious' experiments with metals and the doubler,calling it 'the greatestdiscovery
made that science since the Coated Jar and the eduction of lightning from the
Skies'.40In The Templeof Nature,Darwinagain describedthe doublerand associated
the metal contact experimentswith galvanism and Volta'spile. Darwin's first Royal
Society paperhad concernedelectricity,being an attemptto refutea theorythatcloud
formationwas only the result of the electric fire forcing vapourparticlesinto the air
andthatrainwas the resultof the loss of electricity-hence lightning.41 Laterhe argued
that cloud formationwas due to adiabaticexpansion,the expansion of a gas (in this
case water vapour) from a region of high pressureto a region of low pressure;in
conditionsof low pressureheat was removed from the water,which then condensed
to form precipitation.By contrast,in the New Experiments,Bennet tended to stress
the electrical origins of various naturalphenomena,such as weatherconditions,the
auroraborealisandmeteors.He confirmedthatascendingwatervapourwas electrified
positivelyandso feltjustifiedin interpretinglightningas the releaseof the chargefrom

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
72 Paul Elliott

Figure 7. Bennet's magnotometer, which utilized spider's thread.

clouds and thereforethe cause of rain.42

Darwindealtextensivelywith electricalphenomenain TheEconomyof Vegetation,
ranging from Bennet's electroscope to electrical fish and lightning. The creationof
the electroscopeandthe doublerwere partlymotivatedby Darwin,as Bennetrecorded:
I therefore contrived the following doubler for the purpose of more easily making an electro-
meteorological diary, which I undertook at the request of my friend Dr Darwin, who hoped
that from thence some light might be thrown on the causes of the sudden changes of aerial
currents, a circumstance of so much importance to the early growth and maturity of
Togetherthey investigated the role of electricity in the germinationand growth of
plants.In Phytologia, Darwinsuggestedthatwaterwas decomposedinto oxygen and
hydrogenby the action of electricityin plants, 'by the decompositionof water in the
vegetablesystem when the hydrogenuniteswith carbonandproducesoil, the oxygen
becomes superfluous,and is in partexhaled'.44To test this hypothesis, a Leydenjar
or revolving doublerwere of no use, because the supply needed to be continuous,so
Bennet invented the pendulum doubler portrayed in Phytologia, which kept the
flower pots 'perpetuallysubjectto more abundantelectricity' (figure 6). The device
incorporatedthree plates, two of which were fixed and a thirdthat swung between

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AbrahamBennet, ER.S. and eighteenth-centuryelectricity 73

them. A system of springywires completedconnectionsduringdifferentstages of the

doublingprocess. The loose plate swung fromthe pendulumof a Dutchwooden clock
and electricitywas passed to the plant pot via anotherconnection.45
Analogies and shared concepts and terminology abound in the works of both
Bennet and Darwin, such as the analogy of a cork smearedwith oil placed on water
as an illustrationof electricity flowing from points, which first appearedin Bennet's
notebook and then in Darwin's Economy of Vegetationand was used again in The
Templeof Nature.46 But Bennetwas an individualphilosopherandnot merely an actor
reading a Darwinian monologue. Their magnetic theories reveal an interchangeof
ideas and a theoreticaldivergencebetween the two. In his final Royal Society paper,
Bennet announcedthe discoveryof a magnetometerfor the detectionof minuteforces
(figure 7). Previousmagnetometershadused materialsthattwisted out of shape,such
as cotton;butBennet'sutilizedspidersthread,47 which hadremarkabletenuityandonce
took 18,500 revolutionsbefore the threadbroke, with the line never deviating from
the meridian. Darwin borrowed Cavallo's book on magnetism from the Derby
Philosophical Society libraryand asked Bennet to investigate Cavallo's claim that
inflammableair caused magnetismusing the magnetometer.Later 'at the requestof
Dr Darwin' Bennetrepeatedanotherexperimentof Cavallo'swhich claimedthatiron
filings increasedtheirmagneticattractionsby effervescencewith dilutedhydrochloric
acid. Cavallo,Bennet andDarwinwere testing the degreeto which chemical changes
inducedby heat could effect electric or magnetic forces.48
Darwin had been primarily responsible for the foundation of the Derby
PhilosophicalSociety in 1783. Memberssubscribedto Bennet'sNew Experimentsboth
individuallyand collectively, thoughhe neverjoined. The membershipof the Derby
Society, which was dominatedby medical men, included:Brooke Boothby,the poet,
philosopherand political theorist;Robert Bage the radical novelist; William Strutt
(1756-1830), the inventor and industrialist(later F.R.S.); and individuals from the
Wedgwood and Evans industrial families. Other local philosophers included the
geologist John Whitehurst,F.R.S. (1713-1788), and James Pilkington, the radical
minister and authorof A Viewof Derbyshire (1789), which describedthe geology,
antiquities,industryand botany of the county.49 Duringthe 1790s, Darwinand Strutt
moved away fromBennet's Franklinistunitarianposition towardsa dualistelectrical
theory.This situationwas mirroredby magnetism.In The Templeof Nature Darwin
advocatedtwo magnetic fluids, an 'arctic' and an 'antarctic',partlyon the basis of a
kind of symmetrywith his electricaldualism.
Bennet and Darwinfavoureddifferentearthquaketheories.After an earthquakein
November 1795 thatappearedto centreon DerbyshireandNottinghamshire,Bennet
sent an account to the Royal Society which was printedin a paperby Gray.Bennet
suggested thatthe:
circumstancesseemto favourthe suppositionof earthquakes beingcausedby electricity,but
it is only froma collectionof numerousfacts,thatanyrationaltheorycan be formedupon
the subject.50

The theorythatearthquakeswere causedby electricityhadbeen held by the antiquarian

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
74 Paul Elliott

William Stukeley and repeated by Priestley. Evidence for the electric origins of
earthquakeswas said to include the appearanceof fireballs-one of which had
reportedlybeen seen at Derby-wind direction,the fact that vegetables grew more
quickly, the sight of a bright auroraborealis and even medical complaints.Bennet
wrote for more descriptionsof the earthquaketo his Derbyshirefriends including
ReverendPeachof Edensor,JohnChattertonof DerbyandWhiteWatsonof Bakewell.
The Chattertons,John I (1742-1800) and John II (1771-1857), were plumbersand
glaziers living in Derby.JohnII, presumablyBennet's correspondent,was a chemist,
inventor,friendof Darwin and memberof the Derby PhilosophicalSociety.5'White
Watson (1760-1835) was a geologist, fossil dealer and lecturer who supplied
specimens to Darwin, Wedgwood, Strutt,AlexandreBrogniartin Paris and Joseph
Banks (1743-1820), the President of the Royal Society, who had an estate in
Derbyshire.Watsonproducedstratigraphical sectionsof Derbyshireinlaidwith actual
rock and mineral samples. He was a corresponding member of the London
MineralogicalSociety and the authorof A Delineation of the Strata of Derbyshire
In TheEconomyof Vegetation,Darwinhad describedthe earthas a 'largemass of
burninglava' in 'basaltic caves imprisn'ddeep' with 'vaulted roofs of adamantine
rock'.53He arguedthatthe evidence for the existenceof the 'billowy lavas' came from
the heat found in mines andhis own observationson warmspringssuch as St Anne's
Well at Buxton, which he contributedto Pilkington'sViewofDerbyshire.Whitehurst
held that volcanic activity deep in the Earth's crust caused many geological
phenomena.Stratawere thrustup into mountainsand the size and depth of oceans,
riversandvalleys were the resultof pressurefromthese forces.54 Darwinacceptedthis
position and following Whitehurst saw evidence in the geology Derbyshire.It was
these 'centralfires' of fluid lava that caused earthquakes,like a strokeon liquid in a
bladderwhich would be felt on the otherside. ThusBennet andDarwinhad different
views of the causes of earthquakes,with Bennet suggestingelectricityto be involved
while Darwin saw heat from fluid lava to be important.Relatedto this, the two had
different theories about the cause of the Earth'smagnetism, Darwin holding that
molten iron in the Earth'score causedthe field, while Bennetthoughtthata magnetic
atmosphereexisted over the Earth,being rarifiedat one pole and condensed at the
other.55An electricaltheory for earthquakeorigin was less ideologically challenging
than a gradualisticdevelopmentalgeological theory based on centralvolcanic fires
which challengedthe Mosaic account.


Bennet was a clergymanwho owed his position to patronage.He was dependenton

his contacts in the church for his living and for the publication of his scientific
research.His most importantpatronsincluded:ReverendRichardKaye, F.R.S,Dean
of Lincoln and Vicar of Wirksworth;Joseph Banks; the Dukes of Devonshire and
Bedford;GeorgeAdams,the instrumentmakerto GeorgeIII;andmembersof the Gell

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
AbrahamBennet, FR.S. and eighteenth-centuryelectricity 75

family, the local Wirksworthgentry of Hopton Hall. Bennet also managedto obtain
the supportof other provincial philosophers, notably the Derby philosophers and
membersof the LunarSociety. The Royal Society servedas the official forumfor the
announcementof his discoveries and sanctionedtheir authenticityin the scientific
community.However, Bennet's researchesended abruptlyby the mid-1790s due to
ill healthand possibly because the balancingact between supportfrom radicalssuch
as DarwinandPriestleyand 'establishment'figures such as Banks andRichardKaye
was no longer tenable.Britishprovincialscience sufferedin the 1790s because of its
associationwith radicalism.This had been heightenedby the FrenchRevolutionand
forcedthe only Anglicanmemberof the DerbyPhilosophicalSocietyto resignin 1791.
Bennet was among those who signed a loyalist petition againstJacobinismwith his
patronsthe Gells in 1795.56Two years before, an address of the Derby Society for
Political Information,whose membershipincluded some of his erstwhilesupporters
such as Darwinandthe Strutts,had been condemnedby the Governmentas seditious
and libellous.57


I am gratefulto Lindaandthe staffof DerbyLocal StudiesLibraryfor theirassistance,

and to Mr Michael Handley of Wirksworthfor sharing some of his knowledge of
Bennet's personal backgroundand showing me the portrait.ProfessorW.H. Brock,
then of the Universityof Leicester,readthroughan early draftand made some useful


1 A. Volta, 'On the electricity excited by the mere contact of conducting substances of different
kinds', Phil. Trans.R. Soc. Lond. 90, 403-431 (1800), English translationfrom, W. Ostwald,
Electrochemistry;History and Theory, (Leipzig, 1896), translatedby N.P. Date, pp. 115-141
(Washington, 1980).
2 D.C. Witt, 'Abraham Bennet', Dictionary of National Biography, Missing Persons, p. 58
(Oxford University Press, 1993), written with the assistance of Michael Handley.
3 Derby Mercury (5 July 1826), Derby Reporter (6 July 1826).
4 D.C. Witt, op. cit., note 2.
5 No record of Bennet has been discovered in the registers of Cambridge, Oxford, Dublin,
Aberdeen or Glasgow universities.
6 A. Bennet, memoranda miscellania, mss., Derby Local Studies Library.
7 Derby Mercury (23 May 1799). The bicentenary of Bennet's death is to be commemorated
by a special service on 6 May 1999, at St Mary's Church, Wirksworth.
8 A. Bennet, New Experiments on Electricity Wherein the Causes of Thunder and Lightning
are Explained... Also, A Description of a Doubler of Electricity... (Drewry, Derby, 1789),
prefaced by a list of over 400 subscribers; A. Bennet, 'Description of a new electrometer',
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 76, 26-34 (1786); A. Bennet, 'An account of a doubler of
electricity', Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 77, 288-296 (1787); A. Bennet, 'A new suspension
of the magnetic needle invented for the discovery of minute quantitiesof magnetic attraction',

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
76 Paul Elliott

Phil. Trans.R. Soc.Lond.82, 81-98 (1792);generallysee, F.W.Shurlock,'AbrahamBennet

FRS', ScienceProgress,452-464 (1925); W.C.Walker,'The detectionand estimationof
electricchargesin theeighteenthcentury',Annalsof Science1, 66-100 (1936);D. King-Hele,
Doctor ofRevolution, the Life and Genius of Erasmus Darwin, pp. 117, 179 (London, 1977);
W. Ostwald, Electrochemistry, pp. 74-86, trans. Date; R. Schofield, The Lunar Society of
Birmingham: a social history of provincial science and industry in eighteenth-century
England, pp. 8, 166, 275 (Oxford, 1963); J. Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th
Centuries: a study of early modernphysics, pp. 450-451, 457-458 (California, 1979); P.L.
Mottelay, A Bibliographical History of Electricity and Magnetism, pp. 289-291 (London,
9 Heilbron,op.cit,note 8, pp. 312-334; Walker,op. cit., note 8, pp. 70-72.
10 J. Priestley, The History and Present State of Electricity, with Original Experiments, pp.
455-479 (London,1767);Heilbron,op. cit., note 8, pp. 337-339, 384-387.
11 T. Cavallo,'Some new experimentsin electricitywith the descriptionanduse of two new
Phil. Trans.R. Soc.Lond.70, 15-29 (1780);A. Bennet,'Description
of a new electrometer', Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 76, 26-34 (1786).
12 Bennet, New Experiments...,op. cit., note 8, pp. 112-114 and plate III.
13 Heilbron,op.cit.,note 8, pp. 412-417, 457; Bennet,op. cit., note 11,p. 32.
14 Bennet, 'An account of a doubler...', op. cit., note 8, pp. 289-291; New Experiments..., op.
cit., note 8, pp. 75-79.
15 Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, p. 78.
16 T.Cavallo,'Of themethodsof manifestingthepresence,andascertaining thequalityof small
quantitiesof naturalor artificialelectricity',Phil. Trans.R. Soc. Lond.78, 2 (1788).
17 W.Nicholson,'A descriptionof an instrument whichby theturningof a winch,producesthe
two statesof electricitywithoutfrictionorcommunication withtheearth',Phil. Trans.R. Soc.
Lond. 78, 403-407 (1788); Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, p. 83.
18 Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, p. 83.
19 Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, p. 83.
20 Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, pp. 83-89.
21 Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, p. 91.
22 Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, pp. 97-100.
23 Walker,op. cit., note 8, pp. 82-84.
24 L. Galvani, De Viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius cum Joannis Aldini
dissertatione et notis, (Modena, 1792); M. Pera, The Ambiguous Frog: the Galvani-Volta
controversyon animalelectricity,translatedby J. Mandelbaum,
p. 111(Princeton,1992).
25 Ostwald,op. cit., note 1, p. 126.
26 C.H. Wilkinson, Elements of Galvanism in Theoryand Practice, vol. II, p. 23 (London, 1804).
27 E. Darwin, The Temple of Nature: or the origin of society, additional note, pp. 50, 62
(Johnson,London, 1803); H. Davy, 'Bakerianlecture, on some chemical agencies of
electricity', Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., 97, 1 (1807).
28 Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, pp. 91, 100.
29 Pera,op. cit., note 24, p. 111.
30 A. Volta,'Onthe electricityexcitedby themerecontactof conductingsubstancesof different
kinds', Phil Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 90, 431 (1800).
31 R.P. Sturges,'The membershipof the DerbyPhilosophicalSociety 1783-1802', Midland
History,4 (1978);E. Robinson,'TheDerbyPhilosophicalSociety',Ann.Science,9, 359-367
32 Schofield,op. cit., note 8, p. 3.
33 M. McNeil, Under the Banner of Science, Erasmus Darwin and His Age, 14-24 (Manchester
34 Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, p. 21.
35 Bennet, New Experiments..., op. cit., note 8, p. 50.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Abraham Bennet, FR.S. and eighteenth-century electricity 77

36 Schofield, op. cit., note 8, pp. 252-253; D. King-Hele (ed.) The Letters of Erasmus Darwin,
lettersto Wedgwood,pp. 169, 170-171 (CambridgeUniversityPress, 1981).
37 Musson and Robinson, Science and Technology In the Industrial Revolution, pp. 126-127
(Manchester,1969); E. Robinson,'R.E. Raspe,Franklin'sclub of thirteenand the Lunar
Society',Ann.Sci. 11(1955);S. Lilley,'Nicholson'sJournal',Ann.Sci. 6, 78-101 (1948-50).
38 E.L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, vol. I, p. 99 (London,
1956-59);forDarwinsee, D. King-Hele,Doctorof Revolution(London,1977);McNeil,op.
cit., note 33; D. King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin and the Romantic Poets (London, 1986); D.
King-Hele (ed.) The Essential Writingsof Erasmus Darwin (London, 1968); D. King-Hele,
Erasmus Darwin: a life of unequalled achievement (de la Mare, 1998).
39 E. Darwin,letterto Franklin,29 May 1787, King-Hele(ed.) op. cit., note 36.
40 E. Darwin,Zoonomia,or theLawsof OrganicLife,vol. I, p. 120 (Johnson,London,1794).
41 E. Darwin,'Remarkson the opinionof HenryEeles Esq.,concerningthe ascentof vapour',
Phil. Trans.R.. Soc. Lond.. 50, 240-254 (1757).
42 Darwin,op. cit., note 27, additionalnoteXII,pp. 46-79; E. Darwin,'Frigorificexperiments
on the mechanicalexpansionof air', Phil. Trans.R. Soc. Lond. 78, (1788); King-Hele,
Doctor of Revolution, op. cit., note 38, p. 184.
43 E. Darwin, The Botanic Garden: a poem in two parts: Part I: the Economy of Vegetation
(Johnson,London,1791);Bennet,'An accountof a doublerof electricity',op. cit., note 8,
p. 289.
44 Bennet, 'An accountof a doubler',op. cit., note 8, p. 289; Darwin,Phytologia:or the
Philosophy ofAgriculture and Gardening, p. 194 (Johnson, London, 1800).
45 Darwin,op. cit., note 44, p. 312.
46 Bennet,memoranda miscellania,136;Darwin,op. cit., note43, noteXIII,p. 25; Darwin,op.
cit., note 27, additionalnote XII, p. 52.
47 In 1775GregorioFontanahadsuggestedthatspider'sthreadbe usedas a substituteforwires,
Mottelay, A Bibliographical History of Electricity and Magnetism, p. 290.
48 A. Bennet,'A new suspensionof themagneticneedle',Phil Trans.R. Soc.Lond.82, 81-82,
92-96 (1792);King-Hele,op. cit., note 36, letterto ThomasBeddoes,pp. 173-174.
49 J. Whitehurst,Enquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth, 1st edn (London,
1778); J. Pilkington, A Viewof the Present State ofDerbyshire, 2 vols (Drewry, Derby, 1789).
50 E.W.Gray,'Accountof an earthquakefelt in variouspartsof England,November18, 1795:
with some observationsthereon',Phil. Trans.R. Soc. 86, 361 (1796).
51 S. Glover, History and Gazeteer of the Townof Derby, vol. II, p. 601 (Derby, 1833); Derby
Mercury(2 October1832);DerbyPhilosophicalSocietycashledger(1813-1845)mss. 7625,
DerbyLocal StudiesLibrary;DerbyLocal StudiesLibrary,queriesanswered153 (1966).
52 T. D. Ford,'WhiteWatson(1760-1835) andhis geologicalsections',Proc. Geol.Assoc. 71
53 Darwin,op. cit., note 43, cantoI, 1. 137-142, additionalnote VI.
54 J. Whitehurst, Enquiry (1778).
55 Gray,op. cit., note 50, pp. 353-381; Darwin,op. cit., note 27, additionalnote XII, pp.
68-72; Bennet,'A new suspensionof themagneticneedle...', op. cit.,note 8, p. 92. Forlater
researchesin Palaeomagnetism, notablyevidenceforthereversalof theearth'smagneticfield,
see, P. Bowler, The Fontana History of the Environmental Sciences, pp. 413-416 (London,
56 DerbyMercury(3 December1795);A letterfromRichardFrenchto WilliamStruttapparently
datedAugust 1792,urgedStruttto persuadeDarwinthata local clergyman'Mr.B' should
not be recommendedfor prefermentto Sir FrancisBurdettas he was 'not even a Whig in
politics', 'superstitiouslyreligious'andhad signedan addressin supportof the warwhilst
urginghis scholarsto do likewise. Given that Bennet signed a loyalist address,sought
prefermentandwas a schoolmaster,this may havebeen him,but this cannotbe confirmed
as the letteris now missingfromthe Struttcorrespondence in Derby.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
78 Paul Elliott

57 Address to the Friends of Free Enquiry and the General Good, Derby Society for Political
broadsheet(Derby,December1791);D. King-Hele,'The 1997WilkinsLecture:
Erasmus Darwin, the Lunaticks and evolution', Notes Rec. R. Soc. Lond. 52, 153-180

This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 11:02:53 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Related Interests