Humphry Davy bigraphy, stories - English physicist and chemist

Humphry Davy : biography

17 December 1778 - 29 May 1829

Sir Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet FRS MRIA FGS (17 December 177829 May 1829) was an English chemist and inventor. He is probably best remembered today for his discoveries of several alkali and alkaline earth metals, as well as contributions to the discoveries of the elemental nature of chlorine and iodine. Berzelius called Davy's 1806 Bakerian Lecture On Some Chemical Agencies of Electricity "one of the best memoirs which has ever enriched the theory of chemistry.", This paper was central to any chemical affinity theory in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1815 he invented the Davy lamp, which allowed miners to work safely in the presence of flammable gases.

Legacy and honours

  • A plaque to honour him was included on the wall of the Royal Panopticon of Science and Arts in 1854.
  • A lunar crater (Davy) is named after Sir Humphry Davy. It has a diameter of 34 km and coordinates of 11.8S, 8.1W.
  • In his hometown of Penzance, Cornwall, a statue of Davy stands in front of the imposing Market House (now owned by Lloyds TSB) at the top of the town's main street Market Jew Street. Nearby is a house on which a commemorative plaque claims the location as the site of his birth.
  • Penzance also has a secondary school named Humphry Davy School. Similar to James Prescott Joule and Isaac Newton, Davy is also remembered in his hometown by a pub – "The Sir Humphry Davy" at 32 Alverton Street, west of the Market House.
  • Davy was the subject of the first ever clerihew.
  • Davy was a founding Fellow of the Zoological Society of London
  • A satellite of the University of Sheffield at Golden Smithies Lane in Wath upon Dearne (Manvers) was called Humphry Davy House and was home to the School of Nursing and Midwifery, until April 2009.
  • There is a street named after Sir Humphry Davy (Humphry-Davy-Straße) in the industrial quarter of the town of Cuxhaven, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.
  • The University of Plymouth has named one of its science buildings after the chemist
  • The Royal Society of London has awarded the Davy Medal annually since 1877 "for an outstandingly important recent discovery in any branch of chemistry."
  • Davy is the subject of a humorous song by Richard Gendall, recorded in 1980 by folk-singer Brenda Wootton, each verse of which recalls one of Davy's major discoveries.
  • English playwright Nick Darke wrote Laughing Gas (2005) a comedy script about the life of Sir Humphry Davy, unfinished at the time of Nick Darke's death; completed posthumously by actor and playwright Carl Grose and produced by the Truro-based production company O-region.


See Fullmer's work for a full list of Davy's articles.Fullmer, 1969

Davy's books are as follows:

  • (on Davy's safety lamp)

Davy also contributed articles on Chemistry to Rees's Cyclopaedia, but the topics are not known.


Davy was born in Penzance, Cornwall, England, on 17 December 1778. The Madron parish register records ‘Humphry Davy, son of Robert Davy, baptised at Penzance, January 22nd, 1779.’ Robert Davy was a wood carver in Penzance and pursued his art more for enjoyment than for profit. As the representative of an old family (monuments to his ancestors in Ludgvan parish church date as far back as 1635), he became possessor of a modest patrimony. His wife, Grace Millet, came from an old but no longer rich family. Her parents died within a few hours of each other from malignant fever, whereupon Grace and her two sisters were adopted by John Tonkin, a surgeon in the town. Robert Davy and his wife became the parents of five children — two boys, Humphry, the eldest, and John, and three girls.

In Davy's childhood the family moved from Penzance to Varfell, their family estate in Ludgvan. Davy's boyhood was spent partly with his parents and partly with Tonkin, who placed him at a preparatory school kept by a Mr. Bushell, who was so much struck with the boy's progress that he persuaded Davy's father to send him to a better school. Davy was at an early age placed at the Penzance Grammar School, then under the care of the Rev. J. C. Coryton. Numerous anecdotes show that Davy was a precocious boy, possessing a remarkable memory and being singularly rapid in acquiring knowledge of books. He was especially attracted by John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, and he delighted in reading history. When but eight years of age he would collect a number of boys, and standing on a cart in the market-place address them on the subject of his latest reading. He delighted in the folklore of this remote district, and became, as he himself tells us, a ‘tale-teller.’ The ‘applause of my companions,’ he says, ‘was my recompense for punishments incurred for being idle.’ These conditions developed a love of poetry and the composition of verses and ballads.

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