Williams, William Mattieu (DNB00)

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WILLIAMS, WILLIAM MATTIEU (1820–1892), scientific writer, son of Abraham Williams, a fishmonger of London, and his wife Louise, daughter of Gabriel Mattieu, a Swiss refugee, was born in London on 6 Feb. 1820. He lost his father in infancy, and his mother married again when he was only four years old.

After receiving the usual elementary education of that period, he was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to Thomas Street, mathematical and optical instrument maker in Lambeth. Although his hours for work were from 7 A.M. till 8 P.M., he found time to attend the evening classes at the London Mechanics' Institution in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane (now the Birkbeck Institution).

In 1841 he inherited a sum of money, and, his apprenticeship being over, he passed two years at the university of Edinburgh, and about a similar period on a walking tour through Europe, paying his way by working as an artisan. He thus spent much time in Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. On his return to England he went to Edinburgh to study medicine, but proved too sensitive to become a surgeon. He accordingly set up as an electrical instrument maker and electrotyper in Hatton Garden. He also delivered lectures about his tour in different parts of the country, as well as lectures on other subjects at the Mechanics' Institution, where he was a member of the committee of management. He was largely instrumental in forcing on that body the acceptance of William Ellis's offer of money to found a school, which, as the ‘Birkbeck School,’ was opened on 17 July 1848 [see Ellis, William, 1800–1881)]. The immediate success of this school led George Combe [q. v.] (whose acquaintance he had formed when in Edinburgh), with the monetary aid of Ellis, to found a similar institution in Edinburgh; Williams undertook the headmastership, and it was opened on 4 Dec. 1848 under the title of the ‘Williams Secular School’ in the Trades' Hall, Infirmary Street. Shortly afterwards it was removed, owing to the rapid increase in its numbers, to the premises of the former anatomical school of Dr. Robert Knox (1791–1862) [q. v.] 1 Surgeons' Square.

In 1854, having been appointed ‘master of the science classes’ in the recently opened ‘Birmingham and Midland Institute,’ Williams removed to that town and delivered his opening lecture on 17 Aug. 1854. In 1856 he introduced the ‘Institute penny lectures,’ which were a marked success. In 1857 he became acquainted with Orsini, of whom he was the innocent instructor in the method of manufacturing some of the explosive compounds subsequently put to nefarious uses by Orsini and Pieri.

Later on he turned his attention to the chemistry and manufacture of paraffin, and his knowledge of this illuminant led to his being appointed manager of the Leeswood Oil Company in 1863, when he left Birmingham for Caergwrle, Flint. After the breaking up of the Welsh oil-distilling industry, consequent on the discovery of the oil-springs in America, Williams went in 1868 to Sheffield as chemist to the Atlas Iron Works of Sir John Brown & Co.

In 1870 Williams removed to London, and devoted his time to scientific writing. He delivered the Cantor lectures in 1876, taking for his subject ‘Iron and Steel Manufacture,’ and again in 1878, when he dealt with ‘Mathematical Instruments.’ On the death of his stepfather's brother, Zachariah Watkins, early in 1889, he was freed from pecuniary anxiety, and began at the age of sixty-nine what he described as his life-work, the ‘Vindication of Phrenology.’ While revising the completed manuscript he died suddenly at his residence, The Grange, Neasden, on 28 Nov. 1892.

On 21 Dec. 1859 he married Alice, eldest daughter of Joseph Baker, surveyor, of Birmingham.

Williams, who was elected a fellow of the Chemical Society on 18 May 1857, and of the Royal Astronomical Society on 14 June 1872, was author of: 1. ‘Who should teach Christianity to Children?’ Edinburgh, 1853, 8vo. 2. ‘Through Norway with a Knapsack,’ London, 1859, 8vo, 2 edits.; new edit. 1876. 3. ‘A Vindication of Garibaldi,’ London, 1862, 8vo. 4. ‘The Intellectual Destiny of the Working Man,’ Birmingham, 1863, 8vo. 5. ‘Shorthand for Everybody,’ London, 1867, 8vo. 6. ‘The Fuel of the Sun,’ London, 1870, 8vo. 7. ‘Through Norway with Ladies,’ London, 1877, 8vo. 8. ‘A Simple Treatise on Heat,’ London, 1880, 8vo. 9. ‘Science in Short Chapters,’ London, 1882, 8vo. 10. ‘The Science of Cookery,’ London, 1884, 8vo, for the International Health Exhibition. 11. ‘The Chemistry of Cookery,’ London, 1885, 8vo. 12. ‘The Chemistry of Iron and Steel Making,’ London, 1890, 8vo. 13. ‘The Philosophy of Clothing,’ London, 1890, 8vo. 14. ‘A Vindication of Phrenology,’ London, 1894, 8vo. He edited Mrs. R. B. Taylor's ‘A B C of Chemistry’ in 1873, and wrote articles on ‘Iron and Steel,’ ‘Explosive Compounds,’ and ‘Oils and Candles’ for Bevan's ‘British Manufacturing Industries’ in 1876. He also contributed the ‘Science Notes’ to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ from 1880 to 1889, and some twenty-five or more papers on various scientific subjects to different journals of learned societies.

[Memoir prefixed to the Vindication of Phrenology, by his son, George Combe Williams, who kindly supplied further information; Monthly Notices of the Roy. Astronom. Soc. liii. 224; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Roy. Soc. Cat.]

B. B. W.