Daubeny, Charles Giles Bridle (DNB00)

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DAUBENY, CHARLES GILES BRIDLE, M.D. (1795–1867), chemist and botanist, younger son of the Rev. James Daubeny, rector of Stratton in Gloucestershire, was born at Stratton on 11 Feb. 1795. He was educated at Winchester School and Magdalen College, Oxford, taking the B.A. degree in 1814. Being destined for the medical profession, he attended the chemical lectures of Kidd at Oxford, and met in his class-room Buckland, the Conybeares, and Whately, who aroused in his mind a desire to study natural science. He gained a lay fellowship at Magdalen, which he held throughout life. While studying medicine at Edinburgh in 1815–18 Daubeny attended Jameson's lectures on geology, and entered into the vigorous discussions then taking place between the Huttonians and the Wernerians. In 1819, during a tour through France, he collected evidence on the geological and chemical history of the earth, and sent to Professor Jameson from Auvergne the earliest notices which had appeared in this country of that remarkable volcanic region (‘Letters on the Volcanoes of the Auvergne,’ Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 1820–1). His bent towards the study of volcanic phenomena became intensified, and he made frequent journeys on the continent in search of facts. In 1826 appeared the first edition of his principal work, ‘A Description of Active and Extinct Volcanos,’ London, 1826. The careful collection of facts and the interest of the theory which he put forward to account for volcanic phenomena, namely, the admission of water to the uncombined bases of the alkalis and earths supposed to exist beneath the crust of the earth, made his work of considerable value. A second much enlarged edition was published in 1848.

In 1822 Daubeny was appointed to succeed Dr. Kidd as professor of chemistry at Oxford. He graduated M.D. at Oxford, and practised medicine till 1829. He was early elected F.R.S. In 1834 he was appointed professor of botany, and migrated to the Botanic Garden, where he resided during the remainder of his life, much occupied in experimental science, and participating in many scientific and educational movements of his time. He was appointed also professor of rural economy in 1840. He did not resign the chemistry chair till 1855. He died on 13 Dec. 1867, aged 72. He never married.

Daubeny's principal line of work was chemical, even in his geological and botanical studies. Thus, he investigated the chemical nature of mineral and thermal waters, the distribution of potash and phosphates in leaves and fruits, the conservability of seeds, the effect of varied proportions of carbonic acid on plants analogous to those of the coal measures, the phosphatic deposits of Estremadura. One of his more important papers was ‘On the Action of Light upon Plants, and of Plants upon the Atmosphere’ (Phil. Trans. 1836). His ‘Sketch of the Writings and Philosophical Character of A. P. De Candolle,’ whom he knew intimately, is one of the best accounts of that eminent botanist which have appeared in English (Edin. New Phil. Journ. 1843). Perhaps Daubeny's discernment is best displayed in his paper ‘On the Influence of the Lower Vegetable Organisms in the Production of Epidemic Diseases’ (ib. new ser. vol. ii. 1855), in which he adopts and supports with great acuteness the fungus theory of epidemics, giving reasons for believing that the organisms concerned are extremely minute. Soon after Darwin's ‘Origin of Species’ was published, Daubeny gave it strong support in a paper ‘On the Sexuality of Plants,’ read before the British Association in 1860, and published in his ‘Miscellanies,’ vol. ii.

Professor Phillips says of Daubeny (loc. cit.): ‘He was rich in chemical knowledge … always prompt and sagacious in fixing upon the main argument and the right plan for following up successful experiment or retrieving occasional failure.’ In his public relations he was always enlightened and inclined to progress. He was one of the first members, and took part in the first meeting, of the British Association in 1831; in 1856 he was its president at Cheltenham. His address on that occasion, like his address in 1865 to the Devonshire Association, is of considerable value. His earnest spirit gained him great influence in the Oxford of his time. No project of change ever found him indifferent, prejudiced, or unprepared. His opinions were impartial and unflinchingly expressed. Firm and gentle, prudent and generous, cheerful and sympathetic, pursuing no private ends, calm amid contending parties, he was in many ways a model scientific man in a university town.

Daubeny published, besides his principal work on volcanoes: 1. ‘A Tabular View of Volcanic Phenomena,’ folio, 1828. 2. ‘An Introduction to the Atomic Theory,’ 1831; 2nd edition 1850. 3. ‘Notes of a Tour in North America’ (privately printed), 1838. 4. ‘Lectures on Roman Husbandry,’ 1857. 5. ‘Lectures on Climate,’ 1863. 6. ‘Essay on the Trees and Shrubs of the Ancients,’ 1865. 7. ‘Miscellanies on Scientific and Literary Subjects,’ 2 vols. 1867. Eighty-one scientific papers by him are enumerated in the Royal Society's ‘Catalogue of Scientific Papers,’ vols. ii. and vii. A volume of fugitive poems, connected with natural history and physical science, by Conybeare, Whately, Edward Forbes, Whewell, Sir J. Herschel, Daubeny, and others, collected by Daubeny, was published in 1869.

[Obituary Notice by Professor J. Phillips, in Proc. Royal Society, xvii. pp. lxxiv–lxxx; Gent. Mag. January 1868, p. 108; Devon. Assoc. Trans. vol. ii. 1868.]

G. T. B.