Wigner, George William (DNB00)

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WIGNER, GEORGE WILLIAM (1842–1884), chemist, was eldest son of John Thomas Wigner (d. 1857), pastor of the baptist church at King's Lynn, of which he wrote a ‘Brief History’ from its foundation in 1687 down to 1849. Born in the London Road, Lynn, on 19 Oct. 1842, George was educated at Lynn grammar school. He early showed a liking for chemistry and science generally. At the age of seventeen he became clerk to a private banking firm in London, where he remained for five years, giving, however, all his leisure to scientific work. After hearing him give a scientific lecture Mr. Frank Hills of Deptford offered him a post in his chemical works, where he remained for four years. During the latter part of the time he took out several patents for sewage treatment, which led to a connection with the Native Guano Company. In 1872 he began business on his own account as an analyst in Great Tower Street. He took an active part in promoting the Sale of Food and Drugs Act of 1875. He was the founder of the Society of Public Analysts in 1875; was honorary secretary of the society from the commencement till 1883, when he was elected president; and edited the ‘Proceedings’ in 1875, and, in conjunction with Dr. John Muter, the ‘Analyst,’ the official organ of the society, from its origin in 1876 till his death in 1884. In 1880 he was awarded a prize of five hundred dollars by the national board of trade of the United States for the draft of an act to prevent adulteration of food and drugs without hampering commerce unnecessarily, and an essay on this subject. In 1884 he acted as juror at the International Health Exhibition, South Kensington, and undertook the analysis of some hundreds of food samples exhibited. His wife died in January 1884, and from that time his health gave way; he died of stricture of the œsophagus on 17 Oct. 1884, leaving a son and a daughter.

Wigner was one of the earliest public analysts. He acted as analyst for Plumstead, Greenwich, and Deptford; he was also consulting chemist to the Thames conservancy board, and in these capacities he frequently gave evidence as an expert witness. He was a fellow of the Chemical Society and of the Institute of Chemistry. In 1868 he published, in conjunction with William Cameron Sillar and Robert George Sillar, a book on the ‘A.B.C. Sewage Process;’ and in 1878 ‘Seaside Water,’ an abstract of a series of reports upon the water-supply of coast resorts, previously published in the ‘Sanitary Record.’ The Royal Society's ‘Catalogue’ (down to 1884) contains a list of twenty-one papers published by Wigner alone, one published in conjunction with Professor Arthur Herbert Church, F.R.S., and three with Robert Harland. Nearly all of these papers deal with various points of analytical chemistry.

[Journ. Chemical Society, 1885, xlvii. 344 (obituary); Analyst, 1884, ix. 193 (obituary), x. 42 (presidential address of Dr. Alfred Hill); Brit. Mus. Cat.]

P. J. H.