Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fox, Robert Were

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

FOX, ROBERT WERE (1789–1877), scientific writer, born at Falmouth in Cornwall on 26 April 1789, belonged to a quaker family. His father, a shipping agent, was also named Robert Were Fox; his mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Joseph Tregelles of Falmouth. He was privately educated, and showed a special taste for mathematics. His mother taught him to study natural phenomena. He married in 1814 Maria, fourth daughter of Robert Barclay of Bury Hill, Surrey, and during his wedding trip, taken that year on the continent, he formed lasting friendships with Humboldt and other foreign savants. In 1848 Fox was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He was one of the founders of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1833, and was several times vice-president. Fox died at his house, Penjerrick, near Falmouth, on 25 July 1877, in the eighty-eighth year of his age. He was buried in the Friends' burial-ground at Budock. His wife, who was born in 1780, died 4 June 1858.

Fox's original scientific researches were commenced in 1812, when he made, in conjunction with Joel Lean, a series of costly experiments on the elasticity of high-pressure steam, hoping to improve Watt's engines employed in pumping the Cornish mines. Fox aided Trevithick in several of his mechanical inventions. In 1815 Fox commenced an important series of researches upon the internal temperature of the earth, which he continued to prosecute more or less throughout his life. His lifelong connection with the Cornish mines gave him great facilities for this work; and, commencing in the 'Crenver' mine, the temperature was tested regularly at intervals of a few feet, by means of thermometers embedded in the rocks, down to the greatest depths attainable in the Dolcoath and other deep mines in Cornwall. Fox was the first to prove definitively that the heat increased with the depth; he also showed that this increase was in a diminishing ratio as the depth increased. The results are contained in a series of papers, of which we may mention those 'On the Temperature of Mines,' in Thomson's 'Annals of Philosophy' for 1822; 'Some Facts which appear to be at Variance with the Igneous Hypothesis of Geologists,' 'Philosophical Magazine' for 1832; 'Report on some Observations on Subterranean Temperature,' 'British Association Report,' 1840; and ' Some Remarks on the High Temperature in the United Mines,' 'Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal' for 1847. Fox contributed fifty-two papers to various scientific periodicals. The first of these is on the 'Alloys of Platinum,' and was published in Thomson's 'Annals of Philosophy' for 1819. A very important discovery made by Fox was the 'Electro-Magnetic Properties of Metalliferous Veins in the Mines of Cornwall' ('Philosophical Transactions' for 1830). Continuing this work Fox published in the 'Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal' for 1838 a paper on the 'Lamination of Clay by Electricity,' showing that miniature mineral veins could be formed in clay by the long-continued passage of an electric current.

Fox devoted much time to the study of magnetic phenomena, especially those belonging to the earth's magnetism. In 1831 and 1832 he read papers before the Royal Society on the 'Variable Magnetic Intensity of the Earth,' and on the 'Influence of the Aurora on the Compass Needle.' To aid in the study of these subjects Fox constructed a new dipping-needle of great delicacy and accuracy. This instrument was afterwards employed by Sir James Clarke Ross in his voyage to the Antarctic Ocean in 1837, and by Captain Nares in the last expedition to the North Pole in 1875-7.

[Athenæum, 4 Aug. 1877; Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers, 1868; Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society's Report for 1877; J. H. Collins's Catalogue of the Works of R. W. Fox, F.R.S., 1878; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, i. 162-5, iii. 1188-9, where a full list of Fox's scientific papers is given.]

W. J. H.