Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, John Arthur

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PHILLIPS, JOHN ARTHUR (1822–1887), geologist, born at Polgooth, near St. Austell in Cornwall, on 18 Feb. 1822, was son of John Phillips, who at one time was occupied as a mineral agent, and of Prudence Gaved of Tregian St. Ewe. After an education at a private school at St. Blazey he was placed with a surveyor, but soon turned his attention to metallurgy, especially in connection with electricity. Feeling the want of a more exact scientific training, he entered as a student at the École des Mines, Paris, in December 1844, and graduated in 1846. For about two years he held a post at a French colliery, but returned to England in 1848. Here, after serving as chemist to a government commission on the question of coal for the navy, and as manager to some chemical works, he started on his own account as a mining engineer and consulting metallurgist in London. From 1848 to 1850 he was also professor of metallurgy at the college for civil engineers, Putney; and again, later in life, lectured at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, in 1875 and 1877.

In 1853 he went to California, remaining there twelve months, but returning thither in 1865, and again in 1866. During these two visits he made a number of observations on the connection between hot springs and mineral vein-deposits, which were embodied in an important paper, published by the Geological Society of London (Journal, xxxv. 390). He continued to reside in London till 1868, but made frequent professional journeys to various parts of Europe and to North Africa, besides those already named. In the latter year he went to Liverpool to build and manage the works of the Widnes Metal Company. The undertaking proved to be so prosperous that he was able to return to London in 1877, and afterwards to retire from business. He married Mary Ann Andrew, daughter of George Andrew of Carne, St. Mewan, Cornwall, on 1 Jan. 1850, and died suddenly on 4 Jan. 1887, at 18 Fopstone Road, S.W., leaving a son and a daughter.

He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society in 1872, and was a vice-president at his death. He became F.R.S. in 1881, was also F.C.S. and member of the Institute of Civil Engineers. Of all these, his extensive and accurate knowledge, always at the service of his friends, his sound judgment, and sterling integrity, made him a valued member.

His scientific papers were numerous, and exceptionally valuable because of his scrupulous accuracy, his excellence as a chemist, and his wide and varied experience in the field. In addition to these qualifications he was one of the first to devote himself to the study of the microscopic structure of minerals and rocks, sections of which were prepared by himself with remarkable skill. Among his more important papers were two on the ‘Greenstones’ of Cornwall, one on the rocks of the mining districts of Cornwall, with others on the chemical and mineralogical changes in certain eruptive rocks of North Wales, on the constitution and history of grits and sandstones, and on concretionary patches and fragments of other rocks contained in granite—all published in the ‘Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London.’ He also contributed to the ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society,’ the ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ the ‘Chemical News,’ and other scientific journals. Besides sundry pamphlets, he also published a work in 1867 on the ‘Mining and Metallurgy of Gold and Silver;’ a ‘Manual of Metallurgy’ in 1852, on the fourth edition of which he was engaged, in collaboration with Mr. Bauerman, at the time of his death; and a ‘Treatise on Ore Deposits’ in 1884.

[Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis; Royal Society Cat. of Scientific Papers; obituary notices in Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. Proc. xliii. 41; Geol. Mag. 1887, p. 142; Times, 7 Jan. 1887; Boase's Collectanea; private information from A. G. Phillips, esq. (son).]

T. G. B.