Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Henry, William (1774-1836)

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HENRY, WILLIAM (1774–1836), chemist, son of Thomas Henry, F.R.S. [q. v.], born at Manchester on 12 Dec. 1774, was educated at the Manchester academy under the Rev. Ralph Harrison [q. v.] After five years spent with Dr. Thomas Percival he removed, in the winter of 1795–6, to the university of Edinburgh, where he attended, among other lectures, those of Dr. Black on chemistry. He afterwards assisted his father in general medical practice at Manchester, but returned to Edinburgh in 1805, and took the degree of M.D. in 1807, the title of his inaugural dissertation being ‘De Acido Urico et Morbis a nimia ejus secretione ortis.’ Meanwhile he had communicated to the Royal Society a paper on carbonated hydrogenous gas (1797), another on muriatic acid (1800), and the results of important experiments he had carried on with regard to the quantity of gases absorbed by water at different temperatures and under different pressures (1803). Other contributions on the results of investigations into the chemistry of aeriform bodies were subsequently made to the same society up to 1824, as well as to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. In 1799 he delivered a course of lectures on chemistry at Manchester, and published ‘A General View of the Nature and Objects of Chemistry, and of its application to Arts and Manufactures.’ In 1801 he issued ‘An Epitome of Chemistry’ (4th edit. 1806, 8vo, pp. 525). This was afterwards much expanded, and the title changed to ‘The Elements of Experimental Chemistry.’ It went through eleven editions, the last published in 1829, in two large volumes octavo. To medical science he contributed several papers on calculi, diabetes, &c., as well as observations on cases which fell under his notice as physician to the Manchester Infirmary. An elaborate report on cholera from his pen appeared in the report of the British Association for 1834. He was admitted a fellow of the Geological Society of London soon after its formation. In 1808 he was elected F.R.S., and was awarded the Copley gold medal. He wrote several literary essays, including one called ‘Cursory Remarks on Music’ (‘Edinburgh Monthly Magazine’), besides able and graceful biographical notices of Davy, Wollaston, and others. His estimate of Priestley was read at the first meeting of the British Association at York in 1831. He collected materials for a history of chemical discovery, but did not live to carry out the project.

A severe accident in boyhood stopped his growth. In later years ill-health caused him to relinquish the medical profession, and to devote himself partly to science and partly to his father's lucrative chemical business. Refined in manner and eloquent in speech, his society was much courted. ‘He was an accomplished and original man; one who advanced science, and took a prominent place among the chemists of the age’ (Smith).

He died on 2 Sept. 1836, and was buried at the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, Manchester. He married, on 27 June 1803, Mary, daughter of Thomas Bayley of Manchester. She died in 1837. The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society possesses a bust of Henry by Chantrey and a portrait by James Lonsdale. The latter was engraved by Henry Cousins in 1838.

[Biographical notice by his son, William Charles Henry, M.D., in Memoirs of Manchester Lit. and Phil. Soc. 2nd ser. vol. vi.; John Davies's Sketch of his Character, 1836; R. Angus Smith's Centenary of Science in Manchester, 1883, p. 123; Baker's Memorials of a Dissenting Chapel, p. 99; Encycl. Brit. 9th edit. xi. 677; Royal Society's Cat. of Scientific Papers, containing titles of thirty-nine papers by him; communication from Dr. W. C. Henry.]

C. W. S.