Godfrey, Ambrose (DNB00)

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GODFREY or GODFREY-HANCK-WITZ, AMBROSE (d. 1741), chemist, was employed for many years as operator in the laboratory of Robert Boyle (Addit. MS. 25095, f. 103). He was indebted to Boyle, whom he mentions with gratitude, for the first hints of ‘better perfecting that wonderful preparation, the phosphorus glacialis’ (Introduction to Account, &c., 1724, pp. x, xi). His laboratory was in Southampton Street, Covent Garden. In 1719 he examined and analysed the water of the medicinal spring at Nottington, near Weymouth, Dorsetshire, and made a report of the result of his inquiry to the Royal Society (Hutchins, Dorsetshire, 2nd edit., ii. 107). On 22 Jan. 1729–30 he was elected F.R.S. (Thomson, Hist. of Roy. Soc., Appendix iv.). His two contributions to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ are ‘An Account of some Experiments upon the Phosphorus Urinæ’ (xxxviii. 58–70), and ‘An Examination of Westashton Well-waters’ (vol. xli. pt. ii. pp. 828–30). He invented and patented a machine for extinguishing fires ‘by explosion and suffocation,’ an exhibition of which he announced to take place at Belsize. To his ‘Account of the New Method,’ 8vo, 1724, he appended a ‘short narrative’ of the dishonourable behaviour of Charles Povey of Hampstead ‘in relation to this useful invention, by which it will appear that the said Mr. Povey's pretended Watch Engine is at best a precarious and often dangerous remedy imperfectly stolen from Ambrose Godfrey's Method.’ A second edition of this pamphlet, without the narrative, appeared in 1743. Godfrey's method was tried in a house erected for the purpose by the Society of Arts in Marylebone Fields 19 May 1761, when it seems to have proved entirely successful (Gent. Mag. xxxi. 235). He died 15 Jan. 1741, and on the same day his will, dated 5 May 1732, was proved at London (registered in P. C. C. 12, Spurway). His wife Mary, widow of Joseph Pitt, apothecary to Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark (Lysons, Parishes in Middlesex, p. 163), died in 1754 (will registered in P. C. C. 106, Pinfold). His three sons, Boyle, Ambrose, and John, all able chemists, are noticed below. His letters to Sir Hans Sloane, 1721–1733, are in the British Museum, Addit. MS. 4045, ff. 299–314; one to Dr. J. Woodward, 1724, is Addit. MS. 25095, f. 103. A portrait of Godfrey, painted by R. Schmutz, was engraved by G. Vertue in 1718 (Noble, Continuation of Granger, iii. 289). He used his first surname only, but in formal documents the name always appears as ‘Godfrey-Hanckwitz.’

Boyle Godfrey (d. 1756?) developed, much to his father's annoyance, an unmistakable passion for alchemy, and ruined himself in the prosecution of costly futile experiments. The importunities of his creditors obliged him to retire to Rotterdam in 1731, where he attempted to practise medicine without having taken a degree. In December 1734 he was in Paris endeavouring to bring to the king's notice some wonderful remedy ‘contra profluvia sanguinis.’ By December 1735, while still in Paris, he had received from a foreign university the diploma of M.D. The following year he ventured to return to his home in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, only to lead a miserable existence in consequence of his debts. Sir Hans Sloane did what he could to help him (cf. his letters to Sloane, 1733–1742, Addit. MS. 4045, ff. 317–49). In the hope of obtaining practice he published about 1735 ‘Miscellanea vere Utilia; or, Miscellaneous Experiments and Observations on various subjects.’ A second edition, ‘with additions,’ came out in 1737. By his will his father, from whom he had had ‘many thousand pounds,’ which he ‘squander'd away in a very profuse manner,’ bequeathed him the sum of ten shillings a week ‘that he might not want bread,’ besides making a separate provision for his wife and children. Boyle ultimately sought a refuge in Dublin, from which he addressed a letter to Thomas Birch, dated 13 Jan. 1752–3, enclosing a few of his innumerable ‘observations’ for the edification of the Royal Society (ib. 4308, ff. 122–3). He died (presumably in 1756), aged seventy. A witty epitaph on him, made up of a long and appropriate string of chemical definitions, scientifically arranged, and forming a very curious specimen of the terminology of chemistry, written by Charles Smith, M.D. [q. v.], was read at a meeting of the Dublin Medico-Philosophical Society on 1 July 1756, and inserted in the minutes on the 15th of the same month. (An accurate copy is given in Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 213; cf. Hackett, Collection of Epitaphs, ii. 191–2). He married Elizabeth, sister of Towers Ashcroft, rector of Meppershall, Bedfordshire, by whom he left a son, Ambrose, and a daughter, Mary (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 128 et seq.).

Ambrose the younger (d. 1756) and John Godfrey (fl. 1747) carried on their father's laboratory in Southampton Street, but were declared bankrupts in 1746 (Gent. Mag. xvi. 45, 108). In 1747 they published ‘A Curious Research into the Element of Water, containing many … experiments on that fluid body. … Being the conjunctive trials of Ambrose and John Godfrey, chymists, from their late Father's Observations,’ 4to, London, 1747. Ambrose, who died in December 1756 (will registered in P. C. C. 338, Glazier), took into partnership his nephew Ambrose, son of Boyle. The name survives in the firm of Godfrey & Cooke, a partnership created in 1797 under the will of Ambrose Godfrey, the nephew, but it is believed that the latter's descendants are extinct.

[Authorities as above.

G. G.