Mann, Robert James (DNB00)

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MANN, ROBERT JAMES (1817–1886), scientific writer, son of James Mann of Norwich, was born at Norwich in 1817, and educated for the medical profession at University College, London. At the hospital connected with the college he acted as dresser to the celebrated Liston. He practised for some years in Norfolk, first in Norwich, and afterwards at Buxton. In 1853 considerations of health led to the partial abandonment of the practice of his profession, and he devoted himself more exclusively to literary pursuits. His first work, published in 1845, ‘The Planetary and Stellar Universe,’ was based on a course of lectures delivered to a country audience, and this was followed by a long series of popular text-books on astronomy, chemistry, physiology, and health. Many of these ran through a large number of editions, and entitled him to a notable place among those who first attempted to make science popular, and its teaching generally intelligible. He was also a frequent contributor of scientific articles to many periodicals, chief among which were the ‘Edinburgh Review’ and ‘Chambers's Journal.’ In the ‘Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers’ he appears as the author of no fewer than twenty-three memoirs in transactions of societies and scientific periodicals. In 1854 he graduated M.D. in the university of St. Andrews, and in 1857, on the invitation of Bishop Colenso, he left England for Natal, where he resided for nine years. Two years after his arrival he was appointed to the newly established office of superintendent of education for the colony, and this gave him the opportunity of establishing there a system of primary education, which still continues in force. The climatic conditions of the country, with its severe and frequent thunderstorms, led him to the special study of meteorology, and the careful series of observations which he carried out during the whole of his residence in Natal are of considerable value. In 1866 he returned from Natal with a special appointment from the legislative council as emigration agent for the colony, and for the remainder of his life he resided in or near London, devoting himself to the study of science and to literary work. His was a familiar figure in many scientific circles. For three years he was president of the Meteorological Society, and for about a similar period one of the board of visitors of the Royal Institution. From 1874 to 1886 he acted as secretary to the ‘African’ and the ‘Foreign and Colonial’ sections of the Society of Arts. He was also a member or fellow of the Astronomical, Geographical, Photographic, and other societies. He took an active part in the organisation of the loan collection of scientific apparatus at South Kensington in 1876, and at every international exhibition to which Natal contributed he had a share in the colonial representation. He superintended the collection and despatch of the Natal collections to the International Exhibition of 1862, and one of the last acts of his life was the compilation of the catalogue of the Natal court at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886. Mann died at Wandsworth on. 8 Aug. 1886, and is buried at Kensal Green.

In addition to the writings already mentioned, Mann's chief works were; 1. 'The Book of Health.' 1850. 2. 'The Philosophy of Reproduction,' 1850. 3. 'Lessons in General Knowledge,' 1855-6. 4. 'Tennyson's "Maud" vindicated; an Explanatory Essay,' 1850. 5. 'A Guide to the Knowledge of Life,' 1858. 6. 'A Guide to Astronomical Science,' 1858, 7. 'A Description of Natal,' 1860. 8. 'The Colony of Natal,' 1860-2. 9. 'Medicine for Emergencies,' 1861. 10. 'The Emigrant's Guide to Natal,' 1868; 2nd ed. 1873. 11. 'The Weather,' 1877. 12. 'Drink: Simple Lessons for Home Use,' 1877. 13. 'Domestic Economy and Household Science,' 1878. 14. 'The Zulus and Boers of South Africa,' 1879, 15. 'The Physical Properties of the Atmosphere,' 1879. 16. 'Familiar Lectures on the Physiology of Food and Drink,' 1884.

[Personal knowledge; Soc. of Arts Journ. 1885, xxiv. 961; Royal Astron. Soc. Monthly Notices, February 1887; British Medical Journal. 21 Aug 1895; Times, obituary, 9 Aug. 1886; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

H. T. W.