Children, John George (DNB00)

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CHILDREN, JOHN GEORGE (1777–1852), secretary of the Royal Society, only son of George Children [q. v.], was born at Ferox Hall, Tunbridge, on 18 May 1777, his mother dying six days after. He was educated at Eton and Queens’ College, Cambridge, but left college in 1798 to marry a Miss Holwell, granddaughter of Governor Holwell [q. v.]; she died in 1800. After her death Children travelled much, and studied mechanics and mineralogy, and in March 1807 was elected F.R.S. In November 1808 he contributed to the Royal Society a paper on the most advantageous mode of constructing a voltaic apparatus for chemical research (Phil. Trans. 1809). His experiments were performed with a battery of twenty-one plates [see Children, George]. He built a good laboratory at Tunbridge, in which Sir H. Davy made numerous experiments (see Davy, Bakerian Lectures, 1809, and Phil. Trans. 1811, ‘On Combinations of Oxymuriatic Gas and Oxygen’), and in which Davy subsequently met with a severe accident during an experiment (October 1812). In 1808–9 Children, during a tour in Spain, met Blanco White, of whom he gives some interesting particulars (Memoir of Children, pp. 89–92), mentioning him as ‘my ever-to-be-remembered kind friend Blanco.’ On 2 July 1813 Children put in action the largest galvanic battery then constructed, each plate presenting thirty-two square feet of surface. The remarkable results obtained are recorded in the ‘Phil. Trans.’ for 1815. For these experiments Children in 1828 received the Royal Institution medal.

In 1816 the household at Tunbridge was broken up by the bankruptcy of Mr. Children, sen., in paying debts incurred by his bank, and Children accepted a post as librarian in the department of antiquities in the British Museum. In 1819 he published, with considerable additions, a translation of Thénard's ‘Essay on Chemical Analysis’ from his ‘Traité de Chimie.’ He married, 31 May 1819, his third wife, Mrs. Towers, who lived till 1839; his second wife, Caroline, daughter of George Furlong Wise of Woolston, Devon, whom he married in 1809, having died on 19 Aug. 1810.

In 1821 Children contributed to the ‘Journal of Science and Art’ a translation of a very curious old book on the ‘Calcination of Metals,’ by John Rey, published at Bazas, thirty miles south-east of Bordeaux, in 1630. In 1822 his translation of Berzelius's work on the use of the blowpipe in chemical analysis appeared. In 1823 he was transferred by Davy's influence to the department of zoology, but continued to analyse and describe minerals. In 1823 he published anonymously an abstract of Lamarck's ‘Genera of Shells’ in the ‘Journal of Science and Art.’ In 1824 he became a joint editor of the ‘Zoological Journal’ then established. In the same year he discovered a method of extracting silver without the use of mercury, which was purchased from him by several American mining companies. In 1826–7, and again from 1830 to 1837, he was one of the secretaries of the Royal Society. For some years he was joint editor with R. Phillips of the ‘Annals of Philosophy,’ although his name never appeared on the title-page. He was very active in the establishment of the Entomological Society in 1833, and was its president in 1834–5. He had a good entomological library and collection of insects, and wrote several papers on insects. He resigned his post at the British Museum in 1840, and occupied his closing years largely with astronomy. He died at Halstead Place, Kent, on 1 Jan. 1852. He was of a most lovable disposition, unsoured by frequent illnesses and misfortunes, free from arrogance or conceit, most careful in ascertaining facts, and equally zealous in friendship and in science.

Besides the works above mentioned Children wrote in defence of Sir H. Davy's safety-lamp, and also numerous papers on minerals in ‘Phil. Trans.,’ Thomson's ‘Annals of Philosophy,’ and the ‘Philosophical Magazine.’

[Memoir of Children by A. A. (his only child, Anna Atkins), privately printed, Westminster, 1853; Gent. Mag. 1852, i. 622.]

G. T. B.