Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fownes, George

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1044195Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 20 — Fownes, George1889William Jerome Harrison

FOWNES, GEORGE (1815–1849), chemist, born on 14 May 1815, was educated first at Enfield in Middlesex, and afterwards at Bourbourg, near Gravelines, in France. He was intended for commerce, but at an early age he resolved to adopt chemistry as a profession. When seventeen years old he attended a philosophical class at the Western Literary Institution, a London society. In January 1837 he became a pupil of Professor Thomas Everitt at Middlesex Hospital, and afterwards studied at Giessen in Germany, where he became Ph.D.

Fownes was assistant to Professor Graham in the laboratory of University College, a post which he resigned about 1840 to become lecturer on chemistry at Charing Cross Hospital. In 1842 he became professor of chemistry to the Pharmaceutical Society, and in the same year he resigned his post at Charing Cross to succeed Professor Everitt as chemical lecturer at Middlesex Hospital. In 1844 Fownes delivered an able course of lectures at the London Institution. Symptoms of pulmomary disease compelled him to resign his post at Middlesex Hospital in 1845, and at the Pharmaceutical Society in 1846. But in 1846 he accepted the professorship of practical chemistry in the Birkbeck laboratory at University College, a post which he held till his death. He visited Barbadoes in search of health in the spring of 1847, but caught cold on his return in 1848, and died at his father's house in Brompton on 31 Jan. 1849.

Fownes was an excellent public lecturer, and at the time of his death was secretary of the Chemical Society, in whose journal many of his papers appeared. He also wrote a capital general text-book of chemistry, which was published in 1844, and which, under the careful editorship of Mr. Henry Watts, has since passed through twelve editions. He won the prize offered by the Royal Agricultural Society in 1842 for an essay on the ‘Food of Plants,’ and the Actonian prize of one hundred guineas for an ‘Essay on Chemistry, as exemplifying the Wisdom and Beneficence of God.’ He published eighteen papers in various scientific periodicals. The first of these, ‘On the Equivalent of Carbon,’ appeared in the ‘Philosophical Magazine’ for 1839; and the last, ‘On the Equivalent or Combining Volumes of Solid Bodies,’ in the ‘Pharmaceutical Journal’ for 1849. Of the others we may name those on the ‘Direct Formation of Cyanogen from its Elements’ (‘British Association Report,’ 1841); ‘Artificial Yeast,’ ‘Action of Oil of Vitriol on Ferrocyanide of Potassium,’ ‘Hippuric Acid,’ ‘Phosphoric Acid in Felspar of Jersey’ (all in the ‘Proceedings of the Chemical Society’). Organic chemistry was his special study. He succeeded ‘for the first time in the artificial production of a vegeto-alkali or organic salt-base (furfurine), and was also the discoverer of benzoline.’ For his researches on these substances (see Philosophical Transactions, 1845) Fownes was awarded a royal medal by the Royal Society.

[Journal of the Chemical Society for 1850, ii. 184; Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers, 1868.]

W. J. H.