Potter, Richard (DNB00)

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POTTER, RICHARD (1799–1886), scientific writer, was son of Richard Potter, a native of Westmoreland, who became a corn merchant and afterwards a brewer at Manchester. Born in that town on 2 Jan. 1799, he was educated at the Manchester grammar school, which he entered in 1811 and left in 1815. On leaving school he went into a Manchester warehouse, and was for some years engaged in mercantile life, but without success. His leisure time was devoted to scientific pursuits, more especially the study of optics and chemistry. In one or both of these subjects he had Dr. John Dalton [q. v.] as his tutor. In 1830 he wrote an article on metallic mirrors in Brewster's ‘Scientific Journal,’ and at the first meeting of the British Association in 1831 he read three papers. The next year he read two papers, and in 1833 three others. The attention given to these contributions induced the author to prepare himself for admission to one of the universities. He accordingly early in 1834 commenced to study classics under a private tutor, with the view of entering Queens' College, Cambridge. He obtained a scholarship at that college, and graduated B.A. in 1838, being sixth wrangler. In January 1839 he was elected a foundation fellow of his college, succeeding to the medical scholarship, then vacant, as he intended to study medicine. He proceeded M.A. in 1841, being then a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. He never practised medicine, but devoted himself to the teaching of the physical sciences. He was professor of natural philosophy and astronomy in University College, London, from October 1841 to April 1843. In the latter year he went to the university of King's College, Toronto, Canada, but in August 1844 returned to London, where he resumed his professorship at University College. This appointment he retained until July 1865. The remainder of his life he spent at Cambridge, where he died on 6 June 1886, aged 87. He married, on 11 April 1843, at St. Pancras Church, London, Mary Ann, daughter of Major Pilkington, of Urney, King's County, Ireland. She died, without children, on 16 April 1871.

He published the following works, in addition to fifty-nine or more contributions to journals and transactions of scientific societies: 1. ‘Elementary Treatise on Mechanics,’ 1846. 2. ‘Elementary Treatise on Geometrical Optics,’ 2 parts, 1847–51. 3. ‘Physical Optics: Nature and Properties of Light,’ 2 parts, 1856–9. 4. ‘Treatise on Hydrostatics and Hydrodynamics,’ 2 parts, 1859–87.

[Manchester School Register (Chetham Soc.), iii. 82; Manchester Guardian, 18 June 1886; Royal Society Cat. of Scientific Papers; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

C. W. S.