Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Grove, William Robert

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GROVE, Sir WILLIAM ROBERT (1811–1896), man of science and judge, only son of John Grove, magistrate and deputy-lieutenant for Glamorganshire, by his wife Anne, born Bevan, was born at Swansea on 11 July 1811. He was educated under private tutors, and at the university of Oxford, where he matriculated from Brasenose College on 6 Feb. 1829, graduated B.A. in 1832, proceeded M.A. in 1835, and was created D.C.L. in 1875. He received the degree of LL.D. from the university of Cambridge in 1879. On 11 Nov. 1831 he was admitted student at Lincoln's Inn, and was there called to the bar on 23 Nov. 1835. His professional course was retarded by ill-health, and the respite thus gained enabled him to follow his natural bent towards scientific investigation. In 1835 he became a member of the Royal Institution, of which in 1844 he was elected vice-president. The invention in 1839 of a gas voltaic battery, since known as the Grove battery, brought him into notice, and on 26 Nov. 1840 he was elected F.R.S. In the same year he was appointed to the chair of experimental philosophy in the London Institution, which he retained until 1847. He proved an unusually active member of the Royal Society, both by his contributions to its 'Transactions,' and by the leading part which he took in its reconstitution in 1847, in which year he was awarded the royal medal for his paper 'On the Gas Voltaic Battery' (Phil. Trans. 19 June 1845), and his Bakerian lecture 'On certain Phenomena of Voltaic Ignition and the Decomposition of Water into its Constituent Gases by Heat' (ib. 19 Nov. 1846). This tribute, however, did but crown a reputation already European. A professorial lecture 'On the Progress of Science since the Foundation of the London Institution,' delivered in January 1842, and printed for private circulation, contained the germ of the grand generalisation which, as developed in a subsequent course of lectures published in 1846 under the title 'The Correlation of Physical Forces' (London, 8vo), reduced the apparent plurality of forces to virtual unity by demonstrating their mutual convertibility, thus anticipating by a year the essay of Helmholtz on the same subject. The 'Correlation of Physical Forces' has passed through six editions and been translated into French (1866). The sixth English edition (1874) gathers together the more important of Grove's minor contributions to science, including in particular the Bakerian lecture, a paper 'On the Electro-chemical Polarity of Gases,' read before the Royal Society on 1 April 1852, another 'On the Striae seen in the Electrical Discharge in Vacuo,' reprinted from the 'Philosophical Magazine ' for July 1855, and an address on 'Continuity,' delivered by him as president of the British Association in 1866, Other papers by Grove will be found in 'Notices of the Proceedings of the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution,' vols. i–xii.

Grove's scientific eminence brought him briefs in patent cases, and, as his health improved, he threw his main energies into his practice. He took silk in 1803, and for some years had a lead on the South Wales and Chester circuits. In 1856 he appeared for the defence in the great Rugeley murder case [see Palmer, William, 1824–1856]. He was a member of the royal commission appointed on 1 Sept. 1864 to inquire into the law of patents. On the transference of Sir Robert Collier [q. v.] from the court of common pleas to the judicial committee of the privy council, Grove was appointed to the vacant judgeship, invested with the coif (30 Nov. 1871), and knighted (27 Feb. 1872). The consolidation of the courts effected by the Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875 gave him the status of justice of the high court, and the order in council of 16 Dec. 1880 transferred him to the queen's bench division. He proved an efficient judge, but, as he was not specially assigned to the hearing of patent cases, it may be doubted whether his services to suitors were such as to compensate for his withdrawal from scientific investigation. He retired from the bench in September 1887, and was sworn of the privy council (28 Nov.) On his release from official duty, Grove returned to his scientific studies with unabated zest (cf. his interesting lecture 'On Antagonism; or, the Conflict of the various Forces by which the Equilibrium of Nature is maintained,' delivered on 20 Feb. 1888 at the Royal Institution; Proceedings, vol. xii.) He was, however, no exception to the rule that a philosopher's best work is done comparatively early. He died, after a slow decline, at his residence, 115 Harley Street, London, on 1 Aug. 1896.

Grove married, on 27 May 1837, Emma Maria (d. 1879), daughter of John Diston Powles of Summit House, Middlesex, by whom he left issue; a daughter married William Edward Hall [q. v. Suppl.]

Grove was an original member of the Chemical Society, a member of the Accademia dei Lincei of Rome, and a knight of the Brazilian order of the Rose.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1714-1886. and Men at the Bar; Lincoln's Inn Records; List of the Royal Soc. 1842; List of Members of the Royal Institution, 1856; Phil. Trans. 1847 , Memoirs of the Chemical Society, vol. i. ad fin.; Journ. of the Chemical Society, xvi. 263; Weld's History of the Royal Society, p. 575; Parl. Papers (H.C.), 1864, c. 3419; Burke's Peerage, 1895; Men of the Time, 1884; Men and Women of the Time, 1891; Pump Court, May 1885; Times, 3 Aug. 1896; Athenæum, 8 Aug. 1896; Nature, 27 Aug. 1896; Ann. Reg. 1896, ii. 170; Law Times, 8 Aug. 1896; Law Journ. 15 Aug. 1896; Solicitor's Journ. 8 Aug. 1896; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

J. M. R.