Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Schunck, Henry Edward

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SCHUNCK, HENRY EDWARD (1820–1903), chemist, born in Manchester on 16 Aug. 1820, was youngest son of Martin Schunck (d. 1872), a leading export shipping merchant of that city, who became a naturalised Englishman. His mother was daughter of Johann Jacob Mylius, senator of Frankfort on the Main. His grandfather, Carl Schunck, an officer in the army of the Elector of Hesse, had taken part in the American war of independence on the British side. The father settled in Manchester in 1808, on removal from Malta, and founded the firm of Schunck, Mylius & Co., subsequently Schunck, Souchay & Co. After education at a private school in Manchester Schunck studied chemistry abroad. From Berlin, where Heinrich Rose and Heinrich Gustav Magnus were among his teachers, he proceeded to Giessen University, where he worked under Liebig, and graduated Ph.D. On returning from Germany he entered his father's calico-printing works in Rochdale, but after a few years relinquished business with a view to original research in chemistry, particularly in regard to the colouring matters of vegetable substances. To this unexplored field of inquiry he mainly devoted his career. In 1841 Schunck published in Liebig's 'Annalen' his first paper on a research conducted in the Giessen laboratory on the action of nitric acid on aloes. Next year he presented to the Chemical Society of London [Memoirs, vol. i.) an investigation made at Liebig's suggestion 'On some of the Substances contained in the Lichens employed for the Preparation of Archil and Cudbear.' This inquiry he pursued in the paper 'On the Substances contained in the Roccella tinctoria ' (ib. vol. iii. 1846). He isolated and determined the formula of the crystalline substance lecanorin.

From 1846 to 1855 he made new and exhaustive researches on the colouring matter of the madder plant (Rubia tinctorum), communicating the results to the British Association in 1846, 1847, and 1848. In the 'Philosophical Transactions' for 1851, 1853, and 1855 he gave further account of his investigation in his classical memoir 'On Rubian and its Products of Decomposition,' and described the peculiar bitter substance which he had isolated and named 'rubian.' Schunck's analyses first showed the chemical nature of alizarin, the colouring matter obtained from madder root by Colin and Robiquet in 1826, and of the other constituents of the root. He thus paved the way for the researches of Graebe and Liebermann, who synthesised alizarin. Subsequently Sir William Henry Perkin [q. v. Suppl. II] by further investigation made alizarin a commercial product (see Schunck's later communications in Manchester Lit. and Phil. Soc. Memoirs, 1871, 1873, and 1876). Hermann Roemer collaborated with him from 1875, and with his help Schunck published a series of eighteen papers in the 'Berichte' of the German Chemical Society and elsewhere on the chemistry of colouring matters (1875-80).

Schunck made researches on indigo which had much practical importance. In 1853 he extracted from the plant 'Isatis tinctoria' an unstable syrupy glucoside which he named indican (cf. Manchester Lit. and Phil. Soc. Memoirs, 1855, 1856, 1857, and 1865). He also published in 1901 a monograph, illustrated with coloured plates, 'The Action of Reagents on the Leaves of Polygonum tinctorium.' Study of the constitution and derivatives of chlorophyll, the green colouring matter of plants, occupied Schunck's later years. The initial results appeared in the 'Proceedings of the Royal Society' for 1884 and were subsequently continued with Marchlewski. A crystalline substance, 'phylloporphyrin,' chemically and spectroscopically resembling hæmatoporphyrin,' as obtained from the haemoglobin of the blood, was prepared. Schunck suggested that the chlorophyll in the plant performed a function similar to that of hæmoglobin in the animal, the former being a carrier of carbon dioxide in the same way as the latter acts as a carrier of oxygen. Schunck wrote on 'Chlorophyll' (1890) in Watts's 'Dictionary of Chemistry.' Schunck joined the Chemical Society in 1841, the year of its foundation. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 6 June 1850 (on the same day as James Prescott Joule [q. v.]), and he was Davy gold medallist for 1899. Elected into the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society on 25 Jan. 1842, he was secretary (1855-60), and president (1866-7, 1874-5, 1890-1, 1896-7), receiving in 1898 the society's Dalton bronze medal (struck in 1864 but not previously awarded). An original member of the Society of Chemical Industry, he was chairman of its Manchester section in 1888-9, president in 1896-7, and gold medallist in 1900 on the ground of his conspicuous services in applied chemistry. In 1887 Schunck was president of the chemical section of the British Association at the Manchester meeting. Victoria University, Manchester, conferred on him the honorary degree of D.Sc. in 1899. With R. Angus Smith and Henry Roscoe he had already communicated to the British Association (Manchester meeting, 1861) a comprehensive report, 'On the Recent Progress and Present Condition of Manufacturing Chemistry in the South Lancashire District.'

Schunck carried on his investigations in a private laboratory which he had built near his residence at Kersal, and housed there a fine library and large collections. He was deeply interested in travel, literature and art, and in works of philanthropy connected with his native city. He died at his home, Oaklands, Kersal, Manchester, on 13 Jan. 1903, and was buried in St. Paul's churchyard, Kersal. He married in 1851 Judith Howard, daughter of John Brooke, M.R.C.S., of Stockport, and had issue five sons and two daughters. His wife and three sons and a daughter survived him.

In 1895 Schunck presented 20,000l. to Owens College, Manchester, of which he was a governor, for the endowment of chemical research. By his will he bequeathed to Owens College, in trust, the contents of his laboratory (together with the building), which constitutes, with the previous endowment, the 'Schunck research laboratory' at the Victoria University of Manchester.

[Proc. Roy. Soc, vol. lxxv.; Journ. Soc. Chem. Industry, vol. xxii.; Memoir No. 6, Lit. Phil. Soc. Manch., vol, xlvii., and Report of Council, ib.; Ency. Brit., vol. vi. (11th edit.), p. 736; Roy. Soc. Catal. Sci. Papers; Poggendorff's Handworterbuch, Bd. iii. (1898); Proc. Roy. Inst., vol. ix.; Nature, 22 Jan. 1903; The Times, 14 Jan. 1903, 6 March (will); Manchester Courier, 19 Jan. 1903; Men of the Time, 1899.]

T. E. J.