Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turner, Matthew

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TURNER, MATTHEW (d. 1788?), chemist and freethinker, was a man of unusual attainments. ‘A good surgeon, a skilful anatomist, a practised chemist, a draughtsman, a classical scholar, and a ready wit, he formed one of a group of eminently intellectual men, who did much to foster a literary and artistic taste among the more educated classes at Liverpool’ (Meteyard, Life of Wedgwood, 1865, i. 300). In 1762, while residing at John Street in Liverpool, and practising as a surgeon, he was called on to attend Josiah Wedgwood [q. v.], and introduced him to Thomas Bentley (1731–1780) [q. v.] He afterwards supplied Wedgwood with ‘varnishes, fumigations, bronze powders, and other chemical appliances’ for his establishment at Burslem (ib. ii. 16, 80). He also introduced Joseph Priestley [q. v.] to the subject of chemistry in a series of lectures delivered at Warrington about 1765 (Rutt, Memoirs of Priestley, 1831, i. 76). He was one of the founders of the Liverpool Academy of Art in 1769, and in that year and afterwards, upon the two revivals of the academy in 1773 and 1783, he delivered lectures upon anatomy and the theory of forms (Hist. Soc. Lancashire and Cheshire, Proceedings and Papers, 1853–4, v. 147, vi. 71, 72).

Turner was a man of powerful and original mind. In politics he was not merely a whig, but a republican, and openly sympathised with the American colonies. He was also an atheist, and, though he did not venture to display his religious views with the same frankness, yet in 1782 he published ‘An Answer to Dr. Priestley's Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever,’ London, 8vo, under the pseudonym of ‘William Hammon,’ in which he attacked Priestley's argument from design with considerable cogency. A new edition was published by Richard Carlile [q. v.] in 1826. Turner's attack drew from Priestley ‘Additional Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever,’ 1782; 2nd edit. 1787. In 1787 Turner attested a codicil in the will of his friend John Wyke (ib. p. 75). His name does not appear in the Liverpool ‘Directory’ for 1790, so that it is possible he died between these two dates.

[Authorities cited above; information kindly given by the Rev. A. Gordon.]

E. I. C.