Crosse, Andrew (DNB00)

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CROSSE, ANDREW (1784–1855), electrician, was born on 17 June 1784 at Fyne Court in the parish of Broomfield, Somersetshire. He was the son of Richard Crosse, the descendant of a family which had occupied the manor house from the time of its being built by one Andrew Crosse in 1629. At the age of four years Andrew was taken to France by his parents. On returning to England at the age of eight he was sent to school at Dorchester, and in 1793 he was placed under the care of the Rev. Mr. Seyer of The Fort, Bristol. In 1802 he entered Brasenose College, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner. After taking his degree he retired to his estates in Somersetshire. At an early age Crosse acquired a love for electrical science. In 1805 his mother died, and he was left in solitude. He writes: ‘I have lost a father, mother, sister, uncle, two of my best friends, and a most faithful and attached servant.’

At Fyne Court Crosse passed the quiet life of a country gentleman. He occupied his leisure by a rather desultory study of electricity, chemistry, and mineralogy, and became acquainted with Singer, the maker of electrical apparatus and the author of ‘Elements of Electricity,’ who appears to have spent some time at Crosse's retired home. The first recorded experiment made by Crosse was in 1807, the subject then being the formation of crystals under the influence of electricity. Crosse married in 1809, and in the succeeding ten years seven children were borne to him. His correspondence informs us that he was very happy, but unsettled and in confusion, ‘not ever being used to domestic affairs.’ We learn from Singer that Crosse had erected a mile and a quarter of insulated copper-wire in his grounds, and that he made rather irregular observations on the electrical phenomena exhibited by this apparatus. In 1817 Crosse writes: ‘Poor Singer died yesterday.’ He had now no scientific friends, and lived at Broomfield in perfect intellectual isolation, making little effort to rid himself of a settled melancholy.

In 1836 he was roused from his morbid state by the meeting of the British Association at Bristol. His conversations with several of the eminent men of science led to his being invited to inform the geological section of some of his experiments. He described those on the formation of various crystalline bodies, under the influence of a voltaic current generated in a water battery. In the chemical section he also spoke of his improvements on the voltaic battery, and of his observations on atmospheric electricity. Crosse returned home from the meeting an electro-chemical philosopher of eminence.

In 1837, while pursuing his experiments on electro-crystallisation, Crosse for the first time observed the appearance of insect life in immediate connection with his voltaic arrangements. These insects were proved to belong to the genus Acarus, and were observed in metallic solutions supposed to be destructive to organic life. Crosse, on publishing his discovery, was, to use his own words, ‘met with so much virulence and abuse … in consequence of these experiments, that it seems as if it were a crime to have made them.’ He communicated to Dr. Noad a full and clear account of the conditions under which this insect life was developed, and he says: ‘I have never ventured an opinion on the cause of their birth, and for a very good reason: I was unable to form one.’ After the notoriety gained by this publication of an accidental result Crosse retired to Broomfield and led the life of a recluse, giving very desultory attention to his electrical experiments.

In July 1850 Crosse married his second wife, who, being fond of science, was a valuable companion to him, working in his laboratory with him, and aided him in his electrical researches.

He experimented on a ‘Mode of extracting Metals from their Ores,’ and on the purification of sea-water and other fluids by electricity. He also communicated to the Electrical Society a paper ‘On the Perforation of Non-conducting Substances by the Mechanical action of the Electric Fluid,’ and he devoted much time in endeavouring to trace the connection between the growth of vegetation and electric influence. In 1854 he read before the British Association meeting at Liverpool a paper ‘On the apparent Mechanical Action accompanying Electric Transfer.’

After a tour in England with his wife Crosse returned to Broomfield in 1855, and arranged an experiment with Daniell's sustaining battery. This was the last scientific act of his life. On the morning of 28 May he had a paralytic seizure. He bore his illness, which lasted until 6 July, with great patience, when he died in the room in which he was born.

[Singer's Elements of Electricity and Electro-chemistry, 1814; Becquarel's Traité de l'Electricité, 1858; Noad's Manual of Electricity, 1855; Mrs. Andrew Crosse's Memorials, Scientific and Literary, of Andrew Crosse, the Electrician; Reports of the British Association, 1825, 1854.]

R. H-t.