Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, William (1775-1828)

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PHILLIPS, WILLIAM (1775–1828), mineralogist and geologist, born on 10 May 1775, was the son of James Phillips, a printer and bookseller in George Yard, Lombard Street, London, and a member of the Society of Friends. Catherine Phillips [q. v.] was his grandmother. William engaged in his father's business as printer and bookseller, and at his father's death succeeded to the full control. About 1796 he and his younger brother, Richard [q. v.], took a leading part in founding a society, called the Askesian (ἄσκησις), for the discussion of scientific and philosophical questions.

Though actively engaged in trade, he ‘devoted his leisure to the pursuit of natural knowledge,’ and attained a high position as a mineralogist, in which study he made great use of the goniometer, then recently invented by William Hyde Wollaston [q. v.], his success with it being mentioned by William Whewell [q. v.] in his ‘History of the Inductive Sciences.’ Later in life he endeavoured to popularise science by giving lectures at Tottenham, then his place of residence. He contributed about twenty-seven papers to the ‘Transactions’ of the Geological Society and other scientific journals, most of them on mineralogy, and several on Cornish minerals; but he also discussed the geology of the Malvern Hills, and of the French coast, opposite to Dover. But his most important contribution to geology was a 12mo volume published in 1818, entitled ‘A Selection of Facts from the best Authorities, arranged so as to form an Outline of the Geology of England and Wales.’ This became the basis of a joint work by the Rev. William Daniel Conybeare [q. v.] and himself, entitled ‘Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales,’ 1822. He was also the author of ‘Outlines of Mineralogy and Geology,’ 1815, the fourth edition of which appeared in 1826 (his last literary labour); and of the well-known ‘Elementary Introduction to the Knowledge of Mineralogy,’ 1816. This reached a third edition in 1823. After Phillips's death a fourth (augmented) edition, by R. Allan, was published in 1837, and a fifth, when the book was practically rewritten, by H. J. Brooke and William Hallowes Miller [q. v.], in 1852. William Phillips was elected a member of the Geological Society in 1807, and F.R.S. in 1827; he was also F.L.S. and an honorary member of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. He died 2 April 1828.

A portrait is at Devonshire House, Bishopsgate.

[Obituary notice, Proc. Geol. Soc.; Knight's Dictionary of Biography; Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis; Joseph Smith's Cat. of Friends' Books; Biog. Cat. of Devonshire House Portraits.]

T. G. B.