Clanny, William Reid (DNB00)

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CLANNY, WILLIAM REID, M.D. (1776–1860), medical writer and inventor of a safety-lamp, was born in 1776 at Bangor, co. Down, Ireland. He completed his medical education at Edinburgh, and served as assistant surgeon in the navy, being present in the action at Copenhagen. Leaving the navy he graduated M.D. at Edinburgh in 1803, and after a short residence at Durham settled at Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland, where he practised medicine till his death on 10 Jan. 1850.

Clanny's medical writings were unimportant. His claim to remembrance rests on his efforts to diminish the loss of life from explosions in collieries. Without any very great knowledge of chemistry he conceived the idea of insulating a candle by enclosing it in a metal lamp, with water chambers above and below it, through the lower of which air should be forced by bellows, and from the upper of which the surplus air should be expelled by the same action. This lamp was completed in 1812, and successfully tried in the Harrington Mill pit, a very fiery mine, on 16 Oct. and 20 Nov. 1815. A paper by Clanny was read before the Royal Society on 20 May 1813, 'On the Means of procuring a Steady Light in Coal Mines without the Danger of Explosion' (Phil. Trans. ciii. 200). He claimed that the gases might explode within his lamp without communicating the explosion externally. No details of experiments are given, and the lamp was exceedingly cumbersome; nevertheless considerable credit is due to Clanny, which he was not slow to claim. Sir H. Davy's first paper on the subject was read on 9 Nov. 1816, after seeing Clanny's experiments with his lamp. In 1816 and 1817 he received from the Society of Arts their large gold and silver medals for modifications of his original lamp. He afterwards modified his lamp so as to bring it down to a weight of thirty-four ounces, and in this form it was practically used in several collieries in Durham and Northumberland. A purse of gold, with a silver salver, was presented to him at the Athenæum, Sunderland, on 3 Feb. 1848, by the Marquis of Londonderry and others, in recognition of his inventions. Incomplete lists of Clanny’s writings are given in the ‘Royal Society’s Catalogue of Scientific Papers,’ and in Dechambre’s ‘Dict. Encyclopédique des Sciences Médicales,’ 1st ser. vol. xvii

[Gent. Mag, 1850, xxxiii. 436; Clanny's writings, especially Priority of Invention of the Safety Lamp, Gateshead, 1844, in British Museum.]

G. T. B.