Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Foster, Peter Le Neve

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FOSTER, PETER LE NEVE (1809–1879), secretary to the Society of Arts, born 17 Aug. 1809, was the son of Peter le Neve Foster of Lenwade, Norfolk. He was educated under Dr. Valpy at Norwich grammar school, whence he went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, graduating in the mathematical tripos in 1830. He was elected to a fellowship at his college as thirty-eighth wrangler. In 1836 he was called to the bar, and for fifteen or sixteen years he practised as a conveyancer. In 1853 an association of some years with the Society of Arts led to his being appointed secretary to the society on the retirement of George Grove, and this post he held till his death. In association with Sir Henry Cole [q. v.], Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke [q. v.], and others, he had much to do with the organisation of the first Great Exhibition of 1851 and its successor in 1862, though his share of the work was not recognised by any of the honours or rewards which fell to the lot of many of his companions. He was also connected in various capacities with several of the earlier foreign exhibitions. He was one of the first to practise, as a scientific amateur, the art of photography, and was one of the founders of the Photographic Society. He served for thirteen years as secretary of the mechanical science section of the British Association, and was for a still longer time a regular attendant at its meetings. He was a constant contributor to several of the scientific and technical journals. In the journal of his own society he wrote a good deal, generally anonymously. He read two papers before the Society of Arts, one on ‘Aluminium’ (in 1859), and the other on the ‘Electric Loom’ (in 1860). As secretary to the Society of Arts, he took part in many public movements originated by the society, but being a man of simple tastes, and singularly devoid of personal ambition, he was never anxious to obtain recognition for his labours or to dispute with others the credit which was often justly his due. He died at Wandsworth, Surrey, 21 Feb. 1879.

[Personal knowledge; fuller notices (by the present writer) will be found in Journ. Soc. Arts, 1879, xxvii. 316; and Nature, xix. 385. Also see Athenæum, 1879, i. 282; Engineering, xxix. 178; Engineer, xlvii. 160, &c.]

H. T. W.