Gurney, Goldsworthy (DNB00)

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GURNEY, Sir GOLDSWORTHY (1793–1875), inventor, son of John Gurney of Trevorgus, Cornwall, was born at Treator near Padstow in that county, 14 Feb. 1793. He was named after his godmother, a daughter of General Goldsworthy, and a maid of honour to Queen Charlotte. He was educated at the Truro grammar school, and in 1804, while spending his holidays at Camborne, was much impressed by witnessing one of Trevithick's earliest experiments with a steam-engine on wheels. He was placed with Dr. Avery at Wadebridge as a medical pupil, and while there first met Elizabeth Symons, to whom he was married in 1814. Gurney settled down at Wadebridge as a surgeon, but occupied his leisure in building an organ and in the study of works on chemistry and mechanical science. In 1820 Gurney, with his wife and daughter, removed to London, where he made the acquaintance of Sir Anthony Carlisle, Dr. Wollaston, and others. Gurney delivered a course of lectures on the elements of chemical science at the Surrey Institution, the lectures being subsequently published (1823). Faraday, who was then assistant to Sir Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution, admitted his indebtedness to these lectures, which dealt chiefly with heat, electricity, and gases, and anticipated the principle of the electric telegraph.

While engaged at the Surrey Institution Gurney invented the ‘oxy-hydrogen’ blowpipe. Before the invention of Gurney's blowpipe the risk of accident was so great that recourse was seldom had to oxy-hydrogen. Gurney experimented on different materials, and by fusing lime and magnesia he discovered the powerful limelight known as the ‘Drummond Light,’ because first used by Thomas Drummond (1797–1840) [q. v.] in his trigonometrical survey of Ireland in 1826–7. But Drummond, in a letter to Joseph Hume, chairman of a committee of the House of Commons on lighthouses, stated that ‘he had no claim to the invention of the light, for he had it from Mr. Gurney in 1826.’ Gurney, at the request of Sir Anthony Carlisle, made some experiments in crystallisation and the limelight before the Duke of Sussex and Prince (afterwards King) Leopold, and the duke personally presented him with the gold medal of the Society of Arts voted for the invention of the blowpipe. Gurney was present at Sir W. Snow Harris's experiment on Somerset House Terrace with wire for the ship lightning-conductor. He remarked to Carlisle at this time, in reference to the magnetic needle: ‘Here is an element which may, and I foresee will, be made the means of intelligible communication.’ The discovery of the instant starts of the magnetic needle, by meeting the poles of a galvanic battery over it, is claimed as unquestionably Gurney's, and a passage from his lectures in 1823 calls attention to the phenomenon. Gurney was devoted to music, and invented an instrument of musical glasses, played as a piano, which was afterwards performed upon at the Colosseum, Regent's Park.

Gurney began in 1823 his experiments in steam and locomotion. He took a partner in his profession of physic, and soon gave up the practice himself, much to the regret of his patients, in order to devote himself to these researches. He desired to construct an engine to travel on common roads. The weight of the engine was reduced from four tons to thirty hundredweight, and a sufficiency of steam was obtained by the invention of the ‘steam jet.’ Mr. Smiles (Life of Stephenson) attributes to George Stephenson the invention of the steam-jet or blast, and its application to locomotive engines. In 1814 Stephenson sent a steam-pipe up the chimney of his engines, as Trevithick had done ten years before; but this was not the principle of the high-pressure ‘steam-jet’ invented by Gurney. Up to its discovery waste steam from the engine was universally dispersed through the chimney. In 1827 Gurney took his steam carriage to Cyfarthfa, at the request of Mr. Crawshay, and while there applied his steam-jet to the blast furnaces. This gave an immense impetus to the manufacture of iron. The steam-jet caused the success of Stephenson's ‘Rocket’ engine on the Liverpool and Manchester railway in October 1829. Previously, on 6 Oct. this engine ran about twelve miles without interruption in about fifty-three minutes; when Gurney's discovery was first applied, a velocity of twenty-nine miles an hour was soon obtained. Gurney had applied the steam-jet to steamboats as early as 1824, when constructing his steam carriage, and on 6 Oct. 1829 it was applied by Hackworth to the Sanspareil.

In July 1829 Gurney made a memorable journey with his steam carriage from London to Bath and back again, at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, on the common road. This journey, undertaken at the request of the quartermaster-general of the army, was the first long journey at a maintained speed ever made by any locomotive on road or rail. Sir Charles Dance, having witnessed the capabilities of the steam carriage, ran it in 1831 uninterruptedly between Gloucester and Cheltenham for three months without a single accident, when it was put a stop to by the passing of acts of parliament imposing prohibitory tolls. The carriages ran the distance of nine miles in fifty-five minutes on an average, and frequently in forty-five minutes. The prohibitory legislation against the use of steam on common roads ruined it as a commercial speculation, and Gurney threw up the subject in disgust. A committee of the House of Commons, appointed in 1831 to inquire into the subject, reported ‘that the steam carriage was one of the most important improvements in the means of internal communication ever introduced; that its practicability had been fully established; and that the prohibitory clauses against its use ought to be immediately repealed.’ As the clauses were not repealed, however, Gurney petitioned parliament on the subject. A second committee was appointed, which followed the conclusions of the former one as to the prohibitory clauses, and recommended a grant to Gurney for the injury he had sustained by the passing of the acts. But railways now intervened, and quickly engrossed public attention, and justice was not done to Gurney's claims.

Gurney proceeded to apply his high-pressure steam-jet to other important uses. By its means he extinguished the fire of a burning coal mine at Astley in Lancashire, and in 1849 the fire in another coal mine at Clackmannan, which had been burning for more than thirty years. The ‘Gurney stove’ was another invention most extensively used. The main feature of the stove was the same which the inventor had previously applied to his system of warming and ventilating the two houses of parliament. For a second time Gurney directed his attention to the subject of light, and introduced a new mode of lighting into the old House of Commons. A further advance was made in 1852, when he arranged the system of lighting and ventilation in the new houses of parliament. He held an appointment to superintend and extend the system from 1854 to 1863, and on his retirement in the latter year from his public duties his system in its main principles was still retained.

For several years after 1845 Gurney resided for portions of each year at Hornacott Manor, Launceston, Cornwall, which he had purchased, and where he gave much attention to practical farming. He was president of two clubs for the improvement of agriculture at Launceston and Stratton. In 1862 Gurney obtained a patent for the invention of a stove, by means of which he produced gas from oil and other fatty substances. It was intended for lighthouses, and experimentally applied under his own direction for lighting a part of H.M. ship Resistance. His ‘Observations pointing out a means by which a Seaman may identify Lighthouses, and know their Distance from his Ship, in any position or bearing of the Compass,’ were published in 1864. Gurney suggested the flashing of light (for which he had an ingenious contrivance) as a mode of signalling.

As the result of evidence given by Gurney after a colliery explosion at Barnsley, the government enacted that all coal mines should have two shafts. He planned and superintended, by means of his steam-jet (in 1849), the ventilation of the pestilential sewer in Friar Street, London, which could not be cleansed by any other means, and suggested to the metropolitan commissioners of sewers that a steam-jet apparatus should be placed at the mouth of every sewer emptying into the great Thames riverside sewer.

Gurney was a magistrate for Cornwall and Devon, and in 1863 was knighted in acknowledgment of his discoveries. The same year, while engaged in correcting his ‘Observations on Lighthouses,’ he had a stroke of paralysis. He was thus incapacitated for scientific investigation, and retired to his seat at Reeds, near Bude, where the remaining years of his life were cheered by the affectionate solicitude of his daughter, Anna J. Gurney, who was his constant companion for more than sixty years, and who had taken the deepest interest in his discoveries. Gurney died at Reeds on 28 Feb. 1875. A clock was placed in Poughill church tower, Stratton, Cornwall (25 April 1889), and a stained-glass window in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster (unveiled 28 July, 1892), by Miss Gurney to commemorate her father's inventions, which had ‘made communication ... so rapid that it became necessary for all England to keep uniform clock-time’ (tablet in the church).

Gurney's works are: 1. ‘Course of Lectures on Chemical Science, as delivered at the Surrey Institution,’ 1823. 2. ‘Observations on Steam Carriages on Turnpike Roads, &c., with the Report of the House of Commons,’ 1832. 3. ‘Account of the Invention of the Steam-jet or Blast, and its Application to Steamboats and Locomotive Engines (in reference to the claims put forth by Mr. Smiles in his Life of George Stephenson),’ 1859. 4. ‘Observations pointing out a means by which a Seaman may identify Lighthouses, and know their Distance from his Ship in any position or bearing of the Compass,’ 1864.

[Gurney's works; Times, 26 Dec. 1875; West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, 18 March 1875 and 8 April 1886; private memoranda. See also the bibliographical notices in Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, i. 198, 199, iii. 1212, 1213.]

G. B. S.